MONMOUTH -- Zoning restrictions may foil a proposal by a longtime industrial business just outside Monmouth to expand its operation.
A rezoning request by Marr Bros. Bark has also raised the ire of residents of the upscale Edwards Addition neighborhood to the east.
The issue cropped up in late January, then appeared before the city's Planning Commission on March 6, where it was rejected by a slim margin. There will be another hearing during Monmouth City Council's May 15 meeting.
Frank Walker, a land-use consultant representing the bark dust and wood recycling outfit, said the situation was unfortunate.
"Marr Bros. feels it has a right to expand and the neighborhood doesn't want an impact from operations," Walker said. "Neither party is in the wrong here."
Marr Bros. owners Jim and Penny Marr want Polk County to rezone 16.3 acres of unused land they own from being a "suburban zone" -- it has carried the designation for 25 years -- to heavy industrial.
The Marrs seek to move concrete bins of landscape products from its adjoining 10-acre processing yard, and to lower debris piles on the property, Walker said.
The sales site would be further north on the property and the piles spread out when needed.
"And we would keep the other acreage as a buffer to the residential area," Walker said.
The property is in Polk County's zoning jurisdiction, but sits within Monmouth's urban growth boundary -- part of the complexity of the issue.
The town's comprehensive plan map slates the Marrs' unused land for future low-density neighborhoods. The county has final say, but its rezoning must be consistent with Monmouth's long-range plans.
In short, the Marrs can't proceed unless Monmouth redesignates their land on the comprehensive map.
Monmouth staff recommended denying the request in January. And the Planning Commission voted 4-3 against it on March 6.
The proposal falls short in some criteria, said Community Development Director Mark Fancey. Residential development east of the property since Marr Bros. moved here in the mid-1980s is one issue, with hundreds of lots platted for home building since, Fancey said.
It also lacked specific details on how the entire expansion area would be used if the property was zoned heavy industrial, he continued.
The request is to rezone 16 acres, but only 7 acres would actually be used for industrial purposes, Walker said.
"We were willing to make concessions ... to keep it away from the eastern boundary and more toward the highway," he said.
The applicants also proposed a 300-foot buffer on the east side.
Walker said the county's suburban zoning was meant as a "holding zone" when the land was purchased back in 1986 and that Marr Bros. can't grow without this change.
"It wasn't the intention to be locked into this in perpetuity," Walker said.
Lowering the existing debris piles would further reduce odor and dust from spreading, he said, though he added the business hasn't violated any state air quality or noise standards.
Some residents of Edwards Addition have opposed the zone request and have showed up en masse at meetings in February and early March.
Don Isensee lives about 1,100 feet from the yard and said the open-ended nature of a rezoning bothers him.
"Looking at the Polk County code, it would basically allow them to do anything ... from rendering to an asphalt plant," he said. "Most Monmouth residents wouldn't be thrilled about that."
Laurel Sharmer lives 300 feet from the eastern edge of the property. That she should expect some level of operational activity living next to the plant is "a fair point," she said.
She also noted 157 people in the older subdivision north of hers signed a petition asking the city to deny the rezoning.
"Most who signed ... were aghast when they heard the operation might move even closer to them," she said.