The Riverton City Council approved a rezone request on second reading Tuesday for the Presbyterian Church property on North Broadway – but they also expressed hope that a private agreement might be reached in the coming weeks to accommodate a behavioral health clinic on the lot while also addressing the concerns of neighboring residents.
The Presbyterian Church has asked the city to rezone the property from residential to commercial so they can sell it to Path Wellness Solutions.
Area residents have said they support the sale – and the company’s mission – but not the rezone, which could open the door for other businesses to operate on the property in the future.
The council discussed several alternatives to rezoning the property this week, including a variance – which community development director Michael Miller said “doesn’t apply” here – and a conditional use permit, which currently isn’t allowed in the R-2 zone.
Variances are meant to relax zoning restrictions that cause “substantial hardship to the property owner without serving a significant, corresponding benefit to the public,” Miller explained, and they’re generally only granted when “substantial evidence” shows that the property “cannot reasonably be used in a manner consistent with the applicable zoning restrictions.”
“The option to pursue a variance to R-2 for (this property) is not a likely solution, since the need for the variance is the result of the act of the applicant to utilize the existing church facility as a cognitive and behavioral health facility,” he said.
In order to pursue a conditional use, Miller continued, the council would have to amend Riverton Municipal Code “to include health care facilities as a conditional use to R-2 zoning restrictions.”
That process would take about two months, he added.
A third option is to go through the Board of Adjustments to get a special use permit for the property that would need to be renewed every three years, but councilmembers noted that the three-year renewal requirement might be problematic for Path Wellness as the company seeks financing to support the purchase and renovation of the church property.
“(This) is a tough one,” Mayor Tim Hancock said. “I don’t know how we’re going to end up doing things.”
Miller agreed, calling it “one of the more challenging legal wormholes I’ve been involved in.”
Another option arose during this week’s meeting that would not involve the city: placing a deed restriction on the property as part of the sale.
Realtor George Piplica said he would work on crafting a deed restriction in the coming weeks “that the homeowners would feel comfortable with, as well as the buyer and the seller.”
At that point, Hancock said, the city could approve the rezone request “on faith that this deed restriction is going to be done and that it’s going to be enforced.”
Councilmembers noted that, if a deed restriction hasn’t been agreed upon by the time the rezone request comes up on third reading later this month, they can table the item for two more weeks, but after that they would have to make a final decision.
“The buyers are OK with that,” Piplica said. “The buyers, at this point, would love (that) opportunity.”
Path Wellness has already started looking at properties they could lease elsewhere in town if the Presbyterian Church sale falls through, Piplica said, but a short-term rental agreement “totally tears apart their design (of) what they wanted to do in Riverton” in the long-term.
Plus, he said, if Path Wellness goes elsewhere, there will still be “an empty building” on the Presbyterian Church lot, which he said would be “just as detrimental” as a zoning change.
Councilmember Mike Bailey agreed that “the last thing we want (is) an empty building.”
“Unattended buildings are challenging at best, so we don’t want that to happen, either,” Bailey said. “(But) the opportunity for that company, if they don’t see progress, is they go somewhere else. And then the church is back in a position where now they have to try to sell a building.”
He recommended the council approve the rezone request on second reading so the process can “move forward” and the city can “exhaust every option that we possibly can and try to come up with a good solution.”
Councilmember Dean Peranteaux agreed that an “affirmative vote” would “move this forward to buy us a little bit of time.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the rezone request on second reading.
For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.