Tuesday night, the Merrill City Planning Commission unanimously approved an updated City Comprehensive Plan and reached Common Council development recommendations, as a result of two public hearings.
The most recent City Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2007.
First on deck for public hearings on Tuesday, was that of a request by the Merrill Historical Society for the rezoning of property located at 103 E. Fourth St., from residential to public use.
According to City Administrator Dave Johnson, the current home owner of the residence located at 103 E. Fourth St. has accepted an offer of purchase.
The request by the Historical Society would include demolition of the current residence upon vacation of the current home owner, to be replaced by an Agricultural Exhibit and artifact storage building.
Upon convening of the hearing, local property owner Dawn Pilecky spoke in opposition of the proposal based on concern of increased traffic in the area of East Fourth Street.
“I own property on that street and it is a narrow, quiet, family-friendly area. I’m concerned with increased traffic due to this being built,” she explained.
Johnson advised Pilecky parking for the proposed exhibit would remain at the Historical Society’s current parking lot on Third Street and traffic for the exhibit would be limited to Third Street.
Upon no other public speakers stepping forward on the topic, the commission unanimously approved a recommendation for the progression of the proposal.
The second hearing of the evening would prove to be much more controversial.
Several community members-many being neighbors- gathered in the council chambers to address a proposed Home Occupation Conditional Use Permit for a counseling office by Noreen Salzman, at 607 Cedar St.
Steve Schenck was the first to speak on the matter, citing concern of violent crime related to the clients the office will serve.
“I understand the need for services like this, but I have done research,” he explained. “I’m not stereotyping, but I found from a very credible web site there is a strong correlation between drug and alcohol abuse and violent crimes, as well as non-violent crimes. I moved here a few years ago to a nice neighborhood. Now we are looking at bringing a counseling center which will be having a high volume of people coming in with drug and alcohol abuse. I chose this area to raise my family and I’m not sure if I’m ok with my kids outside playing, if this is a place where people are seeking help with drug and alcohol abuse.”
Others spoke in opposition citing both Schenck’s concerns, as well as concerns of a commercial business disrupting the historical integrity of the neighborhood.
“Once it’s changed to commercial, who will change it back?” questioned Ryan Martinovici, who lives in close proximity to the proposed office. “It’s wonderful someone may come in and live there, but I am not in favor of this and it would make me reconsider staying here in this community.”
Salzman was one of only a few who spoke in favor of the proposal.
“I am intending to actually live in the home,” she stated. “I’m planning to make this my personal home and so the idea of bringing people in who are committing crimes is not something I would be interested in, either.”
Salzman further explained the population her office would serve is primarily elderly and traumatized children. As Salzman indicated, plans call for her to make the residence at 607 Cedar St. her permanent residence, while employing three part-time staff during hours of operation.
“We specifically chose a residential area for a reason,” she indicated. “We feel a home-like setting is therapeutic and works positively for what we do. We want the children we serve to feel safe.”
Common Council president John Burgener also spoke in favor of the proposal Tuesday night, citing personal experience when a residential treatment service was established in his neighborhood.
“We had a similar situation two years ago in my neighborhood. The neighbors were all worked up about parking and everything else. We have had not one incident in two years. The area is well kept. People were going to sell out, worried about their houses dropping in value. I have yet to see anything like that.”
Following nearly an hour of discussion which became rather heated at one point, the commission voted 3-1 in favor of approving the measure as a recommendation for council approval.