By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — Plans to locate an artists incubator and gallery in downtown Jeffersonville off Michigan Avenue cleared another hurdle Tuesday night.
The Jeffersonville Plan Commission approved zoning changes for 628 Michigan Ave. and 200 W. 8th Street from medium-to-large commercial, C2, to downtown commercial, DC.
With the zoning change, the city will move forward on its plan to locate an arts incubator in the former Gray and Wells building along Michigan Avenue, and the 8th Street property — a former sign company — would be used as a gallery space, said Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz.
The planning commission has previously presented plans to turn the properties, along with the former Bales Auto site on Spring Street, into an arts and cultural district for downtown Jeffersonville. The commission has already moved forward on plans to move the Clark County Museum to a site along Michigan Avenue.
But along the way there has been opposition to the concept, and it continued Tuesday night.
Councilman Mike Smith, District 1 representative where the buildings are located, said he was against the change. Smith explained the city paid $1.4 million for the Gray and Wells property and $137,000 for 8th Street site.
“That’s how much money we have invested of tax payer dollars in these buildings,” he said. “This is a flooding area. These businesses were paying taxes to the city and they were paying taxes in the TIF (Tax Increment Finance) districts.”
He added if the museum property were included in the price tag, the city had paid about $2.4 million for the properties. The properties were purchased by the previous administration to make way for a canal planned project that was design to mitigate flooding and spur economic development.
Nearby resident Fred Collins also voiced his objections to the zoning change and said the infrastructure in the area needs to be addressed first.
But Waiz said developing the properties is “just an opportunity for the city to expand and make some good use out of this area.”
He added that the building on 8th Street would only be used for a couple of years as a gallery space because the interceptor project — the current administration’s plan to address flooding and an agreed order with the EPA — is set to run through the property and the structure would need to be razed.
“These properties were basically slated to be torn down,” Waiz said. “What we’re trying to do is find a use for them in the meantime.”
He said the city would look to lease the properties to the Jeffersonville Arts Council and Arts Alliance and it would mirror the lease drafted for the Clark County Museum to occupy the adjacent site at 721 and 725 Michigan Ave. Both leases include an out clause that would allow the city to reclaim the property with 90 days notice.
The out clause was added to resolve the concerns of some Redevelopment Commission members and City Council members who were concerned with the $1, 50-year lease. It also would allow the city to reclaim the property if a developer were interested in purchasing and developing the area.
Jeffersonville recently issued a request for proposals, or RFP, to develop 38 properties in downtown. A range of proposals could be accepted that would include a portion of the properties or all of the properties.
Plan commission member and City Council President Connie Sellers said before the vote that she was against the zoning change because the city had issued the RFP and was waiting on offers to be returned.
City Attorney Les Merkley reminded the board that the only decision before the board was whether or not the zoning requested was appropriate for the properties in question.
The plan commission approved a favorable recommendation be passed along to the city council by a vote of 5-2, with Sellers and Lisa Gill, who is also a city councilwoman, voting against.
The zoning change will now go before the city council for approval.