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Hearing on Zoning Request for Energy Center Thursday AM at City Hall

October 17, 2007 Events/Meetings, Politics/Policy, South City 9 Comments

Those who support and oppose the conditional use zoning request of Larry Rice’s Energy Center in Dutchtown will have their say Thursday morning at City Hall (8:30am in Room 208). At issue is whether or not the city should grant Rice’s request for occupancy of the former Held Florist building which is in the middle of the 47xx block of Tennessee Ave, an otherwise residential street (see prior post).

Rice did a mass mailing in the area (presumably to property owners) to gather support (view PDF of letter).

The following is the most relevant paragraph from the letter:

nlec_letter1

Above, Rice admits to being ignorant about the basic concept of zoning and occupancy — something every purchaser of real estate should investigate. But are we really to believe that he made an innocent mistake given that he bought the property from a close friend and supporter? While I can offer no evidence it is my belief that Susan Jansen acted as a straw party to purchase and renovate the 1950s storefront and greenhouse. Once ready to open as the Energy Center, the deed was switched to the New Life Evangelistic Center. There is nothing illegal about this —- in fact it is done all the time by entities that wish to acquire property and not be noticed by using their name initially.

Rice probably figured that had he simply put an option on the property contingent to obtaining conditional use zoning for his operation that opposition would have been high and he would not prevail (a likely outcome in my estimation). So instead he gambled and figured it was better to make it look like an oversight — by not knowing the process. Indeed, many do not know. An innocent mistake?

Once again Rice is indeed using wrong words to describe the zoning. He indicates in his letter that “the zoning on it had changed to residential.” Wrong. I’ve been unable to find out prior zoning for the area but most likely it has been a residential zone for some time — at least a decade. The trick was that while the Held Florist was still in operation it was grandfathered in — allowed to continue as what is known as a nonconforming use. Rice continues, “there will be a hearing to change the zoning back to commercial.” Wrong again. The hearing is about a conditional-use permit to allow him to operate as a nonconforming use in a residentially zoned area — not permanently change the zoning.  In fact, the city cannot legally change the zoning on a single parcel to a classification different than anything around it — that is known as spot zoning.

The hearing is Thursday 10/18/2007 at 8:30am in Room 208 (aka The Kennedy Hearing Room).  If you wish to share your views with the NLEC on this issue you can call the number listed in the letter (314-421-3020).  Alternatively you can email Larry Rice at [email protected].

 

Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. neighborhood says:

    Can anyone summarize exactly what Rice is proposing to do with this property? How does a small site in Dutchtown turn into a renewable energy center? It sounds fishy. What is renewable energy? Is he talking solar and wind power? Homeless guys running on treadmills? Will this be a place for school kids to get trained in energy technology? Will the homeless do the training? What is Rice’s qualification to be in the energy business? I thought he was a pastor and homeless shelter operator. Maybe he has a team of consulting engineers or scientists working on this project? If so, who is his team and what are their credentials? What is the total development budget for this project, and what is the status of his financing? What is the annual operating budget for this proposed business and from what sources of revenue? Who are his investors? What are his parking, securing, and maintenance plans? I’d be more interested in the answers to these questions than purely the issues of zoning and conditional use. If Rice wants to open a business with a conditional use permit, he should be prepared to thoroughly answer all of the questions above and more if he is seeking community support.

     
  2. James says:

    “While I can offer no evidence it is my belief that Susan Jansen acted as a straw party to purchase and renovate the 1950s storefront and greenhouse. Once ready to open as the Energy Center, the deed was switched to the New Life Evangelistic Center. There is nothing illegal about this —- in fact it is done all the time by entities that wish to acquire property and not be noticed by using their name initially.”

    I appreciate that you begin at least one of your sentence with “While I can offer no evidence…”
    Much of what you have written on Rice could use that disclaimer.

     
  3. James says:

    “Can anyone summarize exactly what Rice is proposing to do with this property? How does a small site in Dutchtown turn into a renewable energy center? It sounds fishy. What is renewable energy? Is he talking solar and wind power? Homeless guys running on treadmills? Will this be a place for school kids to get trained in energy technology? Will the homeless do the training? What is Rice’s qualification to be in the energy business? I thought he was a pastor and homeless shelter operator. Maybe he has a team of consulting engineers or scientists working on this project? If so, who is his team and what are their credentials? What is the total development budget for this project, and what is the status of his financing? What is the annual operating budget for this proposed business and from what sources of revenue? Who are his investors? What are his parking, securing, and maintenance plans? I’d be more interested in the answers to these questions than purely the issues of zoning and conditional use. If Rice wants to open a business with a conditional use permit, he should be prepared to thoroughly answer all of the questions above and more if he is seeking community support.”

    I read Rice’s letter that Steve had in the post (above), in the letter there is description of the types of renewable energy and it also gives a link to the actual organization Missouri Renewable Energy. If you go to the website you can read about the other energy centers in Missouri and how long they have been around (I believe 5 years). As far as qualifications I read somewhere that Rice has had training at Solar Energy International: http://www.solarenergy.org/

    [SLP — You read somewhere?  How about the fact you know Rice’s daughter Jennifer?]

     
  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Outside perspective – in Denver, their Board of Adjustment will not grant a variance if the “hardship” is “self-imposed” (and you need to prove a defined hardship to be granted a variance). You can’t go buy a property expecting to use it for a non-conforming use just because you think it’s a good idea or that it’s the “best use” for the property. Variances are granted, for example, for hardships related to a growing family (need more space, can’t afford to or do not want to move, but want to expand) or to provide more accessibility for people with disabilities.

    This case sounds like someone pushing the bounds of the local zoning regulations and playing on the economic reality that in many parts of town, something viable is viewed as better than something vacant for the long term. Non-conforming uses are tricky – their “value” is directly related to their ability to continue to operate. Conversely, having non-conforming uses “expire” protects the larger community. Bottom line, given that there are multiple other properties around that could work as well or better (albeit at higher prices), I see no reason for the city to reinstate a non-conforming use, especially one like this that is both a different type of use from the original one AND is one that wants to bring a multi-car parking lot into an existing residential neighborhood.

    [SLP — Thanks Jim.  In theory ours is supposed to work the same way.  Case law talks about how a variance is permitted especially in cases where the property would cease to have value if the zoning were imposed by the letter of the law.  The building in question certainly would have little value residentially but the property does have value in the B Two-Family zoning district.  And agreed, by purchasing the property without exercising due diligence removes any claim of hardship as this was most certainly self-imposed (either out of ignorance or deliberate action).]

     
  5. Adam says:

    “I read Rice’s letter that Steve had in the post (above), in the letter there is description of the types of renewable energy and it also gives a link to the actual organization Missouri Renewable Energy. If you go to the website you can read about the other energy centers in Missouri and how long they have been around (I believe 5 years). As far as qualifications I read somewhere that Rice has had training at Solar Energy International: http://www.solarenergy.org/
    .
    just so we’re all clear: “MORE is a division of the New Life Evangelistic Center.” (from the website.) so it is NOT sponsored by the government or any academic institution. FURTHERMORE, a couple of seminars on solar energy does not qualify rice to operate a renewable energy center. at least not by himself. so i believe MORE’s credibility is still in question.

    [SLP — Good point.  I reviewed the Solar Energy International website and it does look interesting — the workshops seem very detailed.  I know I’ve taken many workshops on a variety of topics but that certainly doesn’t qualify me to teach others.  I didn’t see anywhere that SEI indicates they instruct others how to teach these topics — they only seem to show how someone can build their own systems.]

     
  6. James says:

    Steve,
    Knowing Larry’s daughter? What on earth? I think you’re losing it buddy.

     
  7. Nick Kasoff says:

    If St. Patrick’s Center wanted to open the exact same thing at the exact same location, I think that few people would object. The fact is, Larry Rice is a blight, and he’s a jerk. This is the guy who wanted to put a huge homeless services supercenter right next door to the Kiel Center. This is the guy whose current facility would be shut down today if a city inspector spent 1/2 hour walking around. Of course, if St. Patrick’s Center was going to do this, there would be a business plan, everything would be done publicly and above board, and they’d have somebody who is actually qualified to do something useful here. So far as I can tell from his website, Rice’s plan is to convert this to yet another non-taxed property, open it two days a week, and sell compact flourescent light bulbs. Yeah, that’ll really help revitalize the nabe.

    Also, I can’t help but see a bit of a veiled threat in his letter, where he says, “Now, we didn’t get that property to house people.” Translated into plain English, to me, he is saying “If you don’t give us what we want, we’re going to bring a bunch of homeless guys from downtown and plop them in the middle of your neighborhood.” I rather doubt that Larry Rice is dumb enough to misunderstand the implications of zoning – I think he just figured that one way or another, he could bully his way into getting what he wants. Well, if the people of that neighborhood don’t want to live in a permanent slum, they’d better beat this guy.

     
  8. Jim Zavist says:

    Much like a straw purchase, zoning changes can and have been made for “straw” reasons. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Larry Rice or St. Patrick’s Center, once a change of use is allowed (either through a rezoning or a conditional use), it’s very, very difficult to “make it go away” in the future, even if it morphs into something the neighbors never expected or anticipated. I’m a big believer in both the law of unintended consequences and Murphy’s Law, especially when it comes to land use. It’s way too easy for an applicant to promise minimal impact (“two days a week”) to gain approval, only to “discover” later that the only way they can “survive” is through more intensive and intrusive use of the property. The “folk singer on weekends” at a neighborhood bar morphs into a full-blown hard-rock venue. The group home for indigent seniors morphs into a residential drug treatment center for teenagers. (Both real examples.) The issue here isn’t Larry Rice and his promises, the issue is the full spectrum of potential uses this conditional use will permit and whther or not the neighbors are comfortable with them. Whether it’s Larry Rice or another owner in two or ten years, adding a parking lot will significantly increase the potential impact of this property on the adjacent neighbors . . .

     
  9. Ironic that you cited the lawyer who testified for the McDonald’s on South Grand!

     

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