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  • Last modified 94 days ago (Feb. 16, 2022)

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A matter of dollar stores and sense

Marion appears headed down yet another rabbit hole of legal peril as the mayor, administrator, and misled city council members try to bully their way into powers they don’t possess.

Their sham excuse for cutting the city’s planning and zoning commission out of considering zoning changes in Marion’s industrial park appears to be contrary not just to the law but also to the primary advice from their own city attorney. The only justification appears to come from selective reading of details accompanying his opinion.

For the city to yank a matter away from planning and zoning requires that the zoning group have conducted a hearing to which all affected property owners are personally invited. Then the group must have sent a formal recommendation to the council. Next, the council must communicate that it disagrees. Then the zoning commission must fail to acknowledge the council’s objections.

Absolutely none of that happened. But even if it had, the city wouldn’t be able to yank back its original request but rather would have to consider the planning commission’s recommendation and act to approve, disapprove, or alter details of that.

This sounds like persnickety hoops that the mayor, administrator, and council valiantly are attempting to bypass in a noble crusade to encourage prompt economic development.

It’s not. And it isn’t just the rule of law that suffers when the city’s game plan appears to consist of little more than trick plays and end runs.

It’s too late to suggest anything in the current dollar store debate, but imagine what might have happened if the city had started out with open and inclusive discussions instead of secretive negotiations in which officials wanted to be seen as solitary decision makers, able to instantly gratify every whim of any potential developer.

Other than having a lot of unsold lots, the biggest problem with Marion’s industrial park is traffic flow. Roosevelt St., with its huge dip leading into the area, is not an arterial street, yet it already carries an undue amount of traffic through residential neighborhoods. Adding traffic to a second dollar store to traffic bound for an existing dollar store, a hardware store, and other businesses would be too much.

If planners didn’t have to spend most of their time defending themselves against attacks on their authority, perhaps they would have been able to come up with innovative alternatives.

One might have been to create a retail strip along the south side of US-56 from Cedar St. to Industrial Rd. One of our dollar stores already is there. With some inducements, perhaps both could waive whatever location restrictions they might have sought and peacefully coexist.

That inducement could come in the form of a new frontage road, connecting both dollar stores to Cedar St. as well as to Industrial Rd. and Roosevelt St. leading into it.

Prairieland Partners owns a portion of that land. An access road along the front of its lot might increase the value of that lot enough that the implement dealer would donate the land. The state might see this as a huge safety advantage along US-56 and be persuaded to pick up at least part of the tab for the project.

Allowing traffic to the new and existing dollar store to come from Cedar in addition to Roosevelt — or, worse yet, swinging up onto US-56 — would benefit everyone.

Instead of trying to shoehorn a dreamed-for hotel and convenience store into lots way off the highway, these then could be slotted onto the north side of US-56 since they would appeal mainly to travelers who wouldn’t have to cross the highway to visit them. We then would have a thriving and safe business district, and money spent improving lots of industrial use would not have been wasted.

Countless other solutions undoubtedly exist. We as a community just need greater openness and inclusiveness so everyone can be allowed to take part instead of letting all power be concentrated in the hands of a few people who then try to manipulate the city council into following their will as sole negotiators.

At some point, someone is going to realized that an alternative to dealing with the City of Marion would be to develop land outside the city along the west side of Cedar St., south of the state highway shops. Cheaper electric power already is available there from a rural cooperative, and most retail stores have only minimal needs for sewer and water. The thought of losing a business to land outside the city ought to be enough to persuade city officials to work more collegially.

It’s not as if the proposed dollar store is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The city is giving away the land and promising to spend $80,000 or so to develop a street for it. A decade of property tax revenue, which could instead help build a US-56 frontage road, will be needed to pay that off. Sales tax revenue is unlikely to increase much, as it’s more likely business will shift from one store to another than new business be created. And the jobs created are of the precise type that local merchants are having great trouble filling.

When a developer insists on something, rather city officials trying to boost their egos by guaranteeing that they can kowtow to them, perhaps they should instead hum a few lines from the Rolling Stones:

You can’t always get what you want,

But if you try sometimes,

Well, you might find,

You get what you need.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 16, 2022

 

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