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July 22, 2013

Park not required for Cristiani property in New Albany

Residents wanted vacant site converted to greenspace

NEW ALBANY — Residents in the neighborhood want the issue addressed, but the New Albany Plan Commission has ruled it cannot force a property owner to turn a vacant lot into a greenspace such as a park.

East Main Street resident JB Hawkins presented the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals with a petition last month signed by 21 residents. The petition alleged the property at 1320 E. Main St., which is owned by Dan Cristiani Excavating and adjacent to the vacant M. Fine Shirt Factory and Earth First building, is in violation of zoning ordinances.

Residents requested the city “compel the property owner to install landscaping and associated improvements that result in a park, playground or greenspace,” said Scott Wood, director of the city’s plan commission. Or instead of filing a zoning violation, the city could purchase the property and use it in conjunction with the planned East Main Street improvement project, Wood said the petition requested.

But in his report given to the plan commission last week, Wood stated the alleged violation isn’t accurate.

The zoning ordinance cited by the petitioners states any part of a lot not used for buildings, off street parking or other commercial or pedestrian uses “shall be landscaped with a lawn or other planted ground cover which may include trees and shrubs.”

The plan commission was asked to review the case by the board of zoning appeals, and Wood said in his remarks to the body on July 16 that “the lot is vacant, but it is not entirely unused.”

Construction materials, heavy equipment and Dumpsters are periodically stored on the property, Wood said.

“In this regard, it appears that gravel portions of the lot are, in fact, being used for drives, pedestrian walks and loading and maneuvering areas in according” with city zoning ordinances, he said.

Instead of being required to convert the area to a greenspace, the property owner would have to pave those gravel areas to conform with city code if a violation is issued, Wood continued. The plan commission voted to accept Wood’s recommendation and thus didn’t ask the property owner to convert the lot into a park or greenspace.

Hawkins wasn’t allowed to respond to Wood’s report during the meeting because it wasn’t a public hearing. Hawkins can appeal the ruling to the board of zoning appeals.

Wood told the News and Tribune on Monday the city hasn’t confirmed who the land owner of 1320 Main St. is, but no violations have been cited to the property in the past decade. He said the city will likely alert the property owner in the coming weeks that the gravel portions of the lot used for the unloading and loading of heavy equipment should be paved.

The News and Tribune confirmed the property belongs to Dan Cristiani Excavating of Clarksville, and the company’s president, Dan Cristiani, said Monday the lot has been in his possession for about 20 years.

Cristiani said Hawkins contacted him in the past about people illegally dumping items on the property, and added “I’ve always cleaned it up.”

Only Hawkins, who lives adjacent to the property, has complained to him about any problems with the lot, Cristiani said.

“He’s been wanting me to make a greenspace out of it, and I said I didn’t have a problem if the city wants it, or if he wanted to pay for it,” he said.

In an e-mail to the News and Tribune, Hawkins said he’s been pursuing a landscaped greenspace on the property since February 2012, and that his effort has been “met with resistance and excuses” by Cristiani and the city.

“The property owner considers the condition acceptable as-is, and is unconcerned about the adverse effects upon the neighborhood and residents,” Hawkins said.

Frankly there are other properties the city’s zoning department is concentrated on that are more of a concern than 1320 Main St., Wood said. He added that only Hawkins had contacted the zoning department about the issue.  

“This is not a huge priority for us as far as my office is concerned,” Wood said. “The property has been like that for decades.”

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