The citizens of Marietta will have to wait a few more days to learn whether the former headquarters of Red River Valley REA will be rezoned from commercial to industrial. Those in favor say rezoning will bring new business and opportunities to the city. Those opposed are concerned about what type of new businesses could be coming in.
While a public hearing and vote was scheduled for Tuesday, only five of the city’s eight council members were present at the meeting. Though the group represented a quorum, all five would have had to vote in favor of changing the zoning for the ordinance to pass. In the interest of fairness, the council ultimately voted to reconvene the hearing Monday evening when all members would be present.
Despite the postponement, the hearing began as scheduled to ensure everyone on both sides had the opportunity to speak. Mayor Kimberly Fraire explained why she believes reopening the hearing on Monday is the best option for everyone.
“To do due diligence to our community — the appellants and those opposing said decision, we’re going to open the public hearing. (But) my recommendation is going to be reopening the public hearing at a later date,” Fraire said. “I think all of our council members should be present to make the decision.”
With that statement the floor was open for those on both sides to state their opinions. Brent Sykora, director of accounting for REA, spoke first. He said the building has a buyer who will purchase the facility on the condition of the rezoning. He said selling the building is in the best interest of REA’s members and pointed out industrial work has taken place at the location for years.
“REA has functioned industrially for 50 years now. I have personally been there at night loading poles,” Sykora said. He said some of their previous industrial activities included running chainsaws and working on diesel trucks.
“It was pure industrial activity. Had we known then what we know now we would have done this five years ago,” Sykora said. “No matter what business goes in there, the city and the county stands to gain from it. All I know is we have a contract, and we need to get the property sold.”
Sykora closed by noting the city’s planning commission voted five to zero in favor of the rezoning, and an independent firm also recommended rezoning the property.
Charles Roberts, an attorney representing the building’s neighbors, First National Bank and Big 5 Community Services, spoke next. His clients are against changing the zoning.
“State statutes lay out the purpose of zoning,” Roberts said. “It is to promote the health, safety, moral or general welfare of the community. It is not to ensure anyone of the best price when they start to sell.”
Several other opponents of the ordinance also spoke during the meeting. Their concerns included the smells and noises that could come from industrial activity in the area. One citizen pointed out a zoning change to I3 would allow 25 different types of businesses to move into the location, including junk yards, processing plants for chemicals, the cultivation of marijuana, and the processing of marijuana.
Mark Nowell, who recently purchased the old cookie factory, addressed the issue of medical marijuana specifically.
“The elephant in the room is the rumor that it’s going to be marijuana activity. I don’t want that near what we’re doing,” Nowell said. “If it’s not, I think everybody is good. Get your buyer to sign off that there will be no marijuana activity, and (I think) we’ll all be good. If they won’t sign off, I think that’s going to tell us something.”
Fraire said since medical marijuana is now legal in Oklahoma, the marijuana issue is a moot point. She also noted the purpose of the hearing was not a referendum on medical marijuana. It was only about rezoning the area from commercial to industrial.
Laci Jo Littleton, a realtor who represents the potential buyer, said that if the building remains in commercial zoning, a medical marijuana dispensary could open there anyway. However her client is not interested in opening medical marijuana facilities.
“He wants to have that building resurveyed into multiple addresses so he can rent it out to multiple tenants,” Littleton said. “He says the front can be commercial, but the back behind the fence in the parking lot — there are no commercial tenants who will want to rent that property.
After everyone had time to speak, the council voted to reconvene the meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 20. All council members have said they will be in attendance, and those who were not at the Tuesday meeting will listen to a recording of the points made by citizens.