Sunset Overlook was dealt a blow in its battle to continue operating the way it wants, as the Columbia Plan Commission voted Monday against recommending the property be rezoned.
At the public hearing on the matter, which about 50 people attended, the Ingolds requested their property be rezoned from a C-1 Neighborhood Business District to a C-2 General Business District.
That would have allowed them to continue many of the operations nearby residents had complained about in a recent lawsuit.
Sunset Overlook owners Bill and Julie Ingold, residents who filed a chancery injunction against the business and members of the public all spoke on the issue at the meeting.
Sunset Overlook, located at 11604 Bluff Road, is an establishment that opened in Columbia last June.
As reported last week, residents Paul J. Galeski, Tim DeWald, Kris Brower, Cindy Huseman and Bruce Freeland filed a chancery injunction against Sunset Overlook in November, citing noise, lighting and other issues.
All those people live in houses immediately above Sunset Overlook on the bluffs.
The Ingolds cited a few reasons why they should be rezoned, but their main argument was the city gave them poor advice.
They said the city was aware of their plans to have live music and sell alcohol and food outside the building, which are not allowed in a C-1 district, but still told the business owners that a C-1 district would be fine for their purposes.
According to the Ingolds, multiple Columbia employees told them that zoning designation would suffice and that certain areas of the code are outdated, contain old verbiage and are not enforced.
The Ingolds said they have emails and documents to prove that claim.
“We have been open about our plans and relied on the advice of the city at each step,” Julie said. “Not to mention we have spent a lot of money to develop this property based on that reliance.”
The owners also highlighted the positive impact Sunset Overlook has on the town.
“We want to contribute to Columbia being a place people love to live and love to visit,” Julie said.
In addition to the Ingolds, 12 other members of the public spoke at the meeting in support of Sunset Overlook. The commission also received nine emails supporting the business.
The Ingolds also stated they had a petition with 500 signatures on it for Sunset Overlook to continue operating as it has.
The only two people who spoke against the establishment were representatives of the residents who filed the chancery injunction.
Those in favor of rezoning cited a number of factors, including that the business had been misadvised by the city, was being treated unfairly, was trying to fix the problems and has several positive impacts on Columbia.
The residents, who had Brower speak for them, also brought up a number of points.
Many of the issues revolved around that noise factor, as the residents said they could clearly hear the music and conversation that takes place at Sunsets Overlook from even inside their homes.
Brower played a video on a tablet that she said was taken from her back porch in which conversation and music could be heard with relative clarity.
She said that was not what nearby residents signed up for.
“When we built our homes on the bluff, we did so believing we were legally protected by the zoning,” Brower said. “The zoning of all the lots around our home went into our decision to buy the lot and build our home. It is not our responsibility to buy the neighboring lots around us to ensure that zoning is followed.”
Brower, who owns a business in Columbia, also dismissed arguments that noise from Sunset Overlook is similar to other sound in the area.
“We all knew when we built our homes that there were planes, trains and automobiles in our backyard,” she said, noting laws require vehicles like trains to make noise at crossings. “I don’t even get that comparison that’s been made of a bar and plane, a train or a car.”
Additionally, Brower addressed comments about the character of the residents complaining about the noise and light concerns.
“It doesn’t make me a prude,” she said. “It doesn’t make us stuffy that we don’t want to have something forced on us.”
Brower made other arguments against Sunset Overlook being rezoned.
She said the Ingolds misrepresented their intentions with the business, citing transcriptions from zoning board of appeals meetings.
She further outlined ordinance and law violations the residents say Sunset Overlook has committed, which they also explained in their lawsuit.
After about 90 minutes of public comment, the plan commission deliberated the issue, which included narrowing the focus.
“What you’re really approving when you approve a rezoning is the whole list of permitted uses in the C-2 district,” Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey said earlier in the meeting. “And we need to remember that if the property is not suitable for all those uses, it is probably not a wise decision.”
In a C-2 district, there are 86 types of businesses that could operate at the property currently owned by the Ingolds.
Those potential businesses include billiard halls, auditoriums, drug stores, gun and ammo stores, liquor stores and theaters.
“There’s a lot of things that could go in that you don’t want to see,” commission member Caren Burggraff said.
Given that, and a report from the city recommending the commission deny the rezoning request for that and several other reasons, the commission unanimously voted to recommend the city council not approve the request.
Columbia’s full report is available on its website, which is columbiaillinois.com.
Commission members did express hope that some solution would be worked out later in the process.
The residents applauded the decision.
“This is the right decision based on the law and community norms,” they said in a press release. “Loud bars should not be wedged into residential neighborhoods. We plan to continue our litigation against Sunset Overlook for its continued violations of the C-1 zoning ordinance to compel them to follow the law and to be better neighbors.”
The rezoning proposal now moves to Columbia’s Committee of the Whole on March 25. It will then go before the Columbia City Council on April 1.
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