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GENTRY -- The city planning and zoning commission on Thursday approved two lot splits, a lot-line adjustment and two special use permits to allow for the construction of multi-family housing units.

Following a public hearing held at the beginning of the meeting, the commission approved two special use permits to allow the building of multi-family housing units in residential-office zones for M4 Construction LLC.

The first will allow the construction of a duplex to be built at 213 S. Rust Ave. in Gentry. The second will allow the building of a triplex on North Giles Ave., on property just north of the Main Street alley behind the new D&J Bulkworks in Gentry.

Commission members said the zoning allows for multi-family housing in the RO zone by special use permit. They voiced approval for the permit, saying these were fitting places for multi-family units to be built.

A sketch plan for Phase 5 of the Sunset Ridge subdivision was approved, but the preliminary plat was denied until the developer can include public access to a commons area in the subdivision with a 6-foot wide paved walkway.

A final plat for Grand Estates, Phase 2, was on the agenda but not yet ready for the February meeting but is expected in March.

Lot splits were approved for properties owned by Katrena Wesson on Shankles Road and for William and Delia Haak on Dawn Hill East Road. The Haak property is outside the city limits but within the city's planning jurisdiction.

The commission discussed setbacks for a new zoning designation of RN (residential neighborhood) being considered for properties located between N. Railroad and N. Collins avenues and north of Arkansas Street and south of McKee Drive.

Because many of the lots are too narrow for the R-1, single-family residential zoning, the commission is recommending setbacks from the property lines of 15 feet in front of a home and 10 feet on each side and in the back of homes. Uses allowed will be the same as in R-1 zoning.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on March 18, just before the regular planning and zoning meeting, to receive public comment on amending the city's zoning code to add the RN (residential neighborhood) zoning designation. Before the new zone can be created, it will need to be sent to the council with the planning and zoning commission's recommendation and passed on three readings by the council. Once the zone is created, the properties between N. Railroad and N. Collins could be rezoned to RN by the council.

The city council in Gentry, at its Nov. 2 meeting, held off on a rezoning ordinance to change the zoning of the above properties to R-1 (allowing only single-family residential homes) but passed an 180-day moratorium on new building permits within the area (effective on Dec. 2) for anything but R-1 construction to allow time for the planning and zoning commission and the council to come up with a zoning plan to reserve the area for single-family homes.

The reason for the moratorium instead of the rezoning ordinance proposed by the planning commission is that numerous properties within the area are on lots narrower than R-1 zoning allows. Passage of the ordinance would have restricted property owners from making major improvements or from building single-family housing units on those properties. The 180 days was to allow time for the city to come up with a zoning ordinance that will preserve the area for single-family housing but not restrict lot owners from building homes on vacant lots or prevent major remodeling or renovation projects to existing homes.

The matter of rezoning the area from R-3 (which allows multifamily units) and RO (which allows for residential and office use) was brought before the planning commission and council by a petition signed by 65 residents of the affected area following the start of a four-plex housing unit in the area. The group initially asked that the area be changed to R-2 but agreed that R-1 would be better (except for the lot-size restrictions).

James Ferguson and Barry Jarnagan, property owners in the affected area, addressed the council saying they were OK with the moratorium as long as a zoning change followed in a timely manner to preserve the historic district for single-family housing and prevent it from becoming an area where historic homes were torn down and replaced with multi-family rental units.

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