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Oregon Hill Lauds Master Plan

Style first reported in December that Ethyl, which has been financially strapped recently, was in negotiations to sell the 4-acre plot to the Whitmore Co. The real-estate development firm hoped to build 250 apartments on the site.

The city has launched an initiative to execute the master plan approved last year by City Council. As a result, neighborhoods like Oregon Hill can expect some zoning changes that may make some kinds of development difficult, if not remote.

City planners met recently with Oregon Hill residents to discuss the city's master plan. A planned "down-zoning" could thwart the apartment developers' plans for Oregon Hill. "What it means is it would be harder for them" to develop what is proposed, says Mark Flannery, of the city's office of community development.

The recommended zoning changes establish Oregon Hill as a single-family neighborhood. Under current zoning for the site, up to 150 multifamily units could be constructed, Flannery explains. And because Whitmore had wanted more, it would have to apply for a special use permit to get the additional 100 units approved.

So far, he says, that request has not been made with the city. If the zoning changes occur, as they likely will, apartment developers would still have to convince the planning commission to grant a special-use permit. This would be much more difficult if the master plan, a zoning ordinance and residents oppose it. Ultimately, Flannery says, "it puts more weight in the hands of citizens."

The news doesn't sit well with Ethyl.

"It is unfortunate that the city would consider rezoning [the area] without informing the landowners," says Bruce Hazelgrove, Ethyl Corp.'s vice president for corporate resources. "We would oppose [a zoning change]," he adds —particularly a change that Hazelgrove says would significantly undervalue Ethyl's property.

In Oregon Hill, the residents' glee is profuse. "It's a very smart proactive plan," says Todd Woodson, president of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association. "It will best serve the city and the neighborhood for a long time."

Dan Aston, a representative with Whitmore, is shy with details. "I can confirm that we are apartment developers. I can confirm that the property is under contract," he says, adding: "I don't have a crystal ball to see what will happen."

Woodson says he can guess. Woodson says he called an Ethyl executive to relay the proposed zoning changes and was told Ethyl would instruct its attorneys to oppose them. "It's going to be a big battle of the wills," Woodson says. "There is a huge fight coming up." — BRANDON WALTERS

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