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Businessman walks away from project
December 13, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Its been several years since Gering businessman Neal Smith started developing his property at 1475 and 1515 M St. for storage units, but now hes ready to move on.

Monday night, the Gering City Council voted 7-1 to deny a special zoning exemption requested by Smith to construct additional storage units on the property.

Smith told council members he made the request to complete a project that was only half finished, even though he has no need for more storage units. He said hes applied for and received permits for every piece of construction hes done so far. He added he was disappointed one of the media outlets perpetuated the falsehood he constructed a building without a permit.

More than a decade ago, Smith had originally proposed to build office and retail space at site. However, once he investigated the restrictions on off-street parking, he realized the property wasnt large enough to accommodate a retail complex. He also discovered there wasnt the demand for office space that would make the project feasible.

Saying the project had changed drastically, council member Larry Gibbs read minutes from May 22, 2000 meeting where council members approved Smiths special exemption because he said he was planning to build retail and office space on the M St. side, with storage units on the rear of the lot.

Since then, Smith has built storage units on the site, along with appropriate landscaping. Many of his commercial neighbors supported the proposed expansion, but the medical clinic adjacent to his site did not. They claimed the area was currently zoned for professional use, not strictly business.

During the hour-long discussion, City Engineer Paul Snarr told council members Smiths proposal for three additional storage units required an exemption from city zoning regulations, which had not been approved at previous meetings.

City Administrator Lane Danielzuk said that rules previously adopted by the citys planning commission didnt allow for storage units at the M St. location under current zoning regulations. Consequently, the current planning commission might have been unaware of the rules when they narrowly recommended giving Smith the necessary zoning exemption.

Council member Dan Smith said maybe its time for the city to look at its master plan to determine what amount of retail space is feasible. He said Gering currently has a lot of empty retail space and hes not sure if and when that will change in the future.

If you dont want the project, Ive got other things to invest in and put tax dollars somewhere else, Smith told council members. I hope this wont be the case. Id hope youd encourage business in the City of Gering.

Gibbs suggested a compromise that would be acceptable to the medical office physicians if Smith didnt build the third storage unit closest to their offices.

Council member Dan Smith moved to approve Smiths request for a zoning variance, but the motion died without a second. Gibbs then moved to deny the request as currently presented, which passed on a 7-1 vote.

I dont see anything more happening than a vacant lot, Smith said after the meeting. I bought the land on the idea you had relative freedom of use. Id be willing to sell if anyone is interested.

In other action, the council reorganized. City Clerk Kathy Welfl administered the oath of office to new council members Troy Cowan and Justin Allred, as well as members Larry Gibbs and Don Christensen, who were re-elected in November.

Council members voted a 4-all tie on whether to appoint Christensen or Gibbs as council president. Mayor Ed Mayo broke the tie by appointing Christensen.

Council members also selected the Gering Citizen as its official newspaper for publishing legal advertising.
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