The City Council has rezoned property in west Lawton for industrial use, action that upset and angered residents of an adjacent housing addition.
But, the council’s ultimate decision takes those residential concerns into account, council members said.
The final action, approved by a 7-1 vote, sets I-1 Heavy Industrial District zoning on 142 acres of property stretching between Goodyear Boulevard and Southwest 82nd Street. The tract, which had held residential and agricultural zoning, is essentially all the property one mile north of West Lee Boulevard and north of the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks, with the exception of the 46 residential lots of Wyatt Village.
Although developer Jim Eason (who has a residential housing addition north of the tract) was among those opposing the rezoning, the rest of the opposition is coming from Wyatt Village residents who fear the effect industrial development will have on their quality of life and their housing values. But, representatives of the Lawton Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), which wants to buy the land, said the site is important because of the adjacent railroad tracks, a feature most industrial prospects want.
LEDC members have been negotiating with the Clayton L. Green Revocable Trust for months to buy the property and said the rezoning was part of what must be done before the site is purchased and added to property LEDC is working to develop into “shovel ready” tracts that will attract new industries and bring new jobs to Lawton.
The council’s final recommendation was to approve the I-4 zoning with a 500-foot-wide buffer zone on the west and north sides of Wyatt Village, to shield that neighborhood from the effects of industry (in its rezoning request, LEDC had committed to a 300-foot-wide buffer). In addition, council members said LEDC must come back to the council for approval before anything is built (LEDC already had pledged to start development on the western edge of the property, keeping less-intense uses for the acreage closest to Wyatt Village).
Of the 19 people who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing, 14 were opposed to the rezoning and most left the council chambers angry, or resigned to what they said was a foregone conclusion, despite their opposition.
“It’s just not fair to us,” said Carla Scott, who said she didn’t want to see industrial development in her backyard.
Scott said the rezoning is a disservice to residents who have invested in expensive homes, only to watch as nearby industrial development devalues their property. She said residents can sell their homes for less than they paid for them, “but we don’t want to sell them.”
Kendall Reffett said she and her husband purchased their lot in 2008, and was told the nearby vacant property (they face the buffer zone) held residential zoning and would someday have houses. She said existing industries already create problems, noting the stench from Republic Paperboard (the plant and the city are working on that issue) is so bad, “no amount of trees or walking trails can fix that problem.”
“Our neighborhood is small, but we matter,” Reffett said.
Tolbert Wyatt said while he is as “pro growth as anyone else here,” his home already has dropped in value by $24,000 between the time he purchased it in 2014 through the 2018 assessment. He asked if the rezoning would cause his property value to drop even more.
David Holcomb said the city’s economic development teams have the option of going south of the existing site for developable land without affecting residents, while Mike Gill said bringing new industries into that specific tract is going to affect more than Wyatt Village. Gill cited four nearby residential additions that also would be affected by air and noise pollution caused by additional development.
LEDC Chairman Ron Nance said his board is sensitive to residential concerns. He said it was LEDC’s idea to include the 300-foot-wide buffer zone in their zoning request, and less intrusive uses will be placed closest to Wyatt Village. He also said the property is important to the city’s economy.
“It’s a great location for industry,” Nance said, adding everyone will benefit from the new industries and the jobs they bring to Lawton.
“This particular location is ideal,” he said, noting the proximity of rail is one of the driving factors.
LEDC President Brad Cooksey said the Comanche County Industrial Development Authority already has purchased 320 acres directly north of the existing industrial park, and LEDC began looking at this tract — located to northeast — when it became available. He said while he respects the residents of Wyatt Village, industrial development of this site “makes the most sense.”
“This is one of the last pieces of industrial land with Lawton Public Schools (district) in the middle of it,” he said, of the fact the ad valorem taxes from development there would go to Lawton Public Schools.
John Mackey, an attorney who specializes in real estate, said the value of the land is its proximity to rail.
“They (industrial prospects) turn away from you and leave, if you don’t have rail access,” he said, adding that bringing those new industries to Lawton will benefit everyone because new jobs and payroll will improve property values. “It all stops tonight if you vote no.”
Council members acknowledged the difficulties of the decision.
Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk said the council promises to do what it can to mitigate the effect of industrial development on nearby residents, noting the city has a tool through its Tax Increment Financing district project plan to prompt concessions from developers.
But, Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh, the only “no” vote, said the council wasn’t using its head, noting I-4 is the city’s least restrictive zoning while R-1 Single-Family Dwelling (the zoning over Wyatt Village) is the most restrictive “and we’re going to pinch them together.”
“We’re not doing enough to protect these residents,” Fortenbaugh said, adding there are “plenty of other spaces” for development.
Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said industrial development will help solve some of Lawton’s problems, which stem from a lack of jobs.
“The only way to fix it is bring in jobs,” he said.