Norton City Council fails in bid to halt mixed-use development

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The fallout from the Brookside Greens divider housing estate in Norton continued this week, with the mayor’s veto of a proposed six-month moratorium on similar projects surviving an attempted waiver by city council.

Following persistent complaints from residents and council dissatisfaction with the so-called MUD – mixed-use district – which allowed the development of 488 homes, Norton lawmakers had voted on July 11 for a six-month freeze of any new MUD approval.

After:Brookside Greens in Norton: The torturous path from golf course to housing project

A few days later, on July 20, Mayor Mike Zita vetoed the ordinance, citing a negative effect it might have on future development. In a letter to council, the mayor said MUD projects give council extensive control over projects in the early stages of development. The board, he writes, voted to approve every step of the Brookside Greens project.

With its 4-2 vote on Monday, the council was just short of the five votes needed to override the veto and put the proposed moratorium into effect.

Council member Charlotte Whipkey, a critic of the Brookside Greens development and the MUD zoning that allowed it, said Tuesday she was not surprised by the vote.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t bring him back,” she said. “We can always bring him back for another vote.”

Like other board members, Whipkey wants to change the MUD requirements; unlike others, she would like to see it eliminated entirely.

Complaints continue as Brookside Greens grows

Some residents have complained that the high-density development of Brookside Greens clashes with adjacent neighborhoods and will cause traffic safety issues in the area as more families move in. Although three new members were elected to the board last November, the complaints continue. During Monday’s meeting, a resident criticized aspects of the development and urged council to override the veto.

Council Speaker Pat Tousley said he voted to override the veto to show residents he understood their concerns.

“The perception from residents, partly in the surrounding areas, was that the council was more growth-oriented than the residents,” he said. “I hear you. I hear your frustrations. I want residents to know that I am aware of their frustrations.

Tousley said it is likely the council will act to change the details of MUD zoning in the future. During the meeting, he and other members said they intended to make the process more open to lawmakers and residents. City Administrator Robert Fowler recently said that no MUD developments are currently on the drawing board.

“I believe there are members of council, myself included, who would like to see the mixed-use (zoning) revised,” Tousley said.

Council member Jamie Lukens, who voted against the moratorium, said he agreed with Zita and Fowler that it would send the wrong message to developers.

“I didn’t feel like the moratorium was a good option for us,” he said. “The MUD district in itself is not a bad (thing).”

The councilman said, however, that council has broad power to vote against high-density projects with current MUD zoning rules and can make changes to improve the process.

After:Community Spotlight: Norton retains its rural, family vibe

The new neighbors are caught in the middle of the battle

Lukens said he was concerned that criticism from some community members would give the new owners of Brookside Greens the wrong idea. Although many current residents believe the new development will clash with existing neighborhoods due to the small lot size, that’s a choice homebuyers are making — and they should have that option, he said. .

“We are very grateful that they are part of our community,” he said. “If this is their chosen home, then we want to support them.”

On social media, some locals criticized the new owners and the properties they bought. Most criticism, however, has focused on the traffic the development will bring and its unusual appearance with surrounding neighborhoods.

New council member Doug DeHarpart said he voted to override the veto because changes are needed in the process.

“I have really mixed emotions about it,” he said. “…I felt like the board kind of dropped the ball in maybe doing their due diligence.”

Several votes on the project took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the attention of council and residents was directed elsewhere. DeHarpart said he wants to make informed changes to the MUD process that satisfy his critics and still allow the city to develop.

“I want to see growth,” he said. “I want the right growth…I want everyone to thrive and the community to be united (about it).”

On the one hand, DeHarpart said he would need a stamp on any future MUD residential development before he gets his vote. The councilman said some towns have been more accommodating to growth than he would like for Norton.

DeHarpart also stressed that he wants residents of Brookside Greens to feel comfortable in their new town.

“They are now residents of the wonderful town of Norton,” he said. “…I certainly want to welcome them.”

Not overriding doesn’t mean the fight is over

Whipkey said his opposition will continue. At Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, she asked members and developer Jason Friedman about landscaping plans for surrounding streets.

“I’m interested in a buffer zone for Golf Course (Drive), Shellhart (Road) – it might even be on Greenwich (Road), as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, however, she still had no answers to some of her questions.

On Tuesday, ahead of the commission meeting, Whipkey said her experience with Brookside Greens had soured her on MUD zoning.

“From now on, they say (MUD), my vote is no,” she said. “When he raises his ugly little head, my vote is no. I don’t think the board feels like he knew what he was doing.

Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.

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