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Council nods to zoning changes
August 14, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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At their Monday meeting, members of the Gering City Council amended a Planning Commission recommendation and changed packing plants from a permitted use to special exemption in the city’s heavy industrial and manufacturing zones.

Under permitted use in industrial zoning, packing plants can build with only the needed building permits. Under the change for special exemption, plant management would need to get council approval prior to construction.

At its July meeting, the Planning Commission had recommended the special exemption restriction not only on meat and poultry slaughtering plants, but also on “livestock auction and sale barn.” Jerry Weekes of Platte Valley Livestock objected, saying the restriction would limit the use of his business and what he could do with his property.

“I’m not sure how this happened,” said council member Larry Gibbs during Monday’s meeting. “Between what the city council approved and recommended to the Planning Commission and what they received and considered are not the same thing. The city council unanimously recommended that we change the requirements for packing plants only. We never mentioned livestock auctions and sale barns.”

According to minutes from the July 15 Planning Commission meeting, they added “livestock auction and sale barn” into the wording with the intent of getting public input. All of the feedback they received at that meeting was negative.

Council members spent about 40 minutes discussing the fine points of which group can make and approve amendments to proposed zoning changes. Councilman Phillip Holliday said the proposed change needed to go back to the Planning Commission for approval before the council considers it again.

In addition, Holliday and fellow council member Dan Smith were both concerned the special exemption could adversely affect existing meat packing plants.

The restriction wouldn’t preclude meat packing plants from coming to the area. It would only require them to come to the council for an exception to build in an area zoned heavy industrial. “We want to have an extra check on what they want to do before they can do it,” Gibbs said.

Planning Commission Chairman Dick Ross told the council he would like members to deny the recommendation and then send it back to the commission for changes. However, that would take another month to notify affected businesses and make legal publication of the meeting.

“One of the concerns the council had when we first took this action was time,” Gibbs said. “I’m really concerned if we keep pushing this off we’re going to get burned.”

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, ag producer Leo Hoehn objected to the change. “Why do we want to cherry pick an industry or a business based on rumor?” he asked.”I don’t know if there’s even been a proposal made for a meat packing plant. I’m not sure we have that many business opportunities and this doesn’t send a good message to someone who might want to move to this community.”

However, Gibbs explained the change would only add one addition hoop for a potential meat packing plant to jump through. If it’s a solid business with a good business plan, he saw no problem with council approval.

City Administrator Lane Danielzuk said the council has the authority to amend the Planning Commission recommendation and vote on the new proposal.

The vote with 6-2, with council members Smith and Holliday wanting to send the proposal back to the Planning Commission. They also wanted additional protections for existing meat packing plants to be included in the revised proposal.

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