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Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Celina council rejects ordinance to vacate alley

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Council members suspended the rules and unanimously voted down an ordinance on Monday night that would have vacated an alley on Main Street between The Potter House and Dollar General.
Owners of The Potter House, Kim and Vance Nation, will have the option to seek a permit from the city to erect a temporary structure such as a fence in the alley to use the space for outside dining.
The issue was discussed at a committee meeting last week. On Monday, some council members voiced disappointment that city administrators didn't inform the Nations of the likely refusal by the full council.
"I want to make sure that if we do suspend and defeat this particular ordinance, that the owners that were requesting the vacation understand that we're doing that with the understanding that they'll still have commercial use of the alley," councilman Bill Sell said. "That would be my concern, that they had not been contacted officially by the city."
Councilman June Scott agreed.
"If they can do what they want to do, and that's to retain the property, then that's what we ought to do," he said. "It would have been nice for them to officially know this."
Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel said he went to the coffee shop a couple of times but the owners were not in.
Councilman Jeff Larmore said he informed the Nations of the status of the alley vacation request. He recommended council move the ordinance off the docket quickly to allow the couple to seek the necessary annual permit to expand their business into the alley.
Safety service director Tom Hitchcock will review and approve the permit request when filed.
"I like the consistency that we're going to be treating everybody the same way underneath the existing ordinance that we have," Larmore said. "We put a lot of time into that ordinance and I think that would help."
Council's actions on Monday night likely set a precedent for future alley vacation requests in the downtown business district, according to city law director George Moore. Most previous requests have been in residential areas.
The city's planning commission recently recommended that city council vacate the alley on condition a full utility easement and pedestrian ingress/egress are established.
A vacation would have essentially split the alley in half, giving businesses on both sides possession of the land. Some concerns voiced by council members included loss of control of the alley - especially if the ownership of the The Potter House and Dollar General changes hands in the future - and pedestrians losing access to the alley.
In a letter to the mayor and the planning commission, Kim Nation had requested the alley vacation so the business could provide outdoor seating and "to transform this empty dead space into a visual attraction that enhances our downtown landscape."
Council members support the couple's plans but still want to maintain control of the alley.
"We're still pro-business, we're still letting them do what they want to do," Hitchcock said at the committee meeting. "But yet we're still maintaining control for future generations."
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