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Petition seeks to rezone former Tiller clinic

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at 7:01 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at 10:12 a.m.

Kansans for Life delivered a petition signed by nearly 14,000 people Tuesday to the Wichita City Council urging a rezoning of George Tiller’s former clinic, where South Wind Women’s Center will open this spring.

The group says the clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg does not fit with a neighborhood. David Gittrich, the group’s state development director, said Monday that traffic and police calls to the building were a problem when Tiller operated the clinic. The clinic closed after Tiller’s murder in May 2009.

Trust Women is opening South Wind Women’s Center, which will offer comprehensive health care services such as well-woman examinations, family planning and infertility evaluations, at Tiller’s former practice. The clinic will offer abortions up to 14 weeks. Its founders said it will not perform late-term abortions.

Gittrich presented 13,937 signatures to the council and promised hundreds more before his group takes the issue to the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission on Feb. 21.

Council members were noncommittal to the petitions, asking city staff to clarify what the council’s options are on rezonings not initiated by property owners.

Gittrich contended the clinic isn’t suitable for a residential neighborhood.

“We do not want a new abortion clinic in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to keep the peace.”

Gittrich outlined the neighborhood’s history with police calls, saying calls dropped off to none the year after Tiller was murdered at Reformation Lutheran Church.

Council member James Clendenin asked city staff to check the neighborhood’s history of police calls to verify Gittrich’s claim.

Julie Burkhart, founder of Trust Women, told The Eagle recently that an increase in traffic volume and police calls could be avoided if groups such as Kansans for Life didn’t protest at the clinic. She also noted that there are other medical offices near the clinic, including the Choices Medical Clinic, which provides medical care for unplanned pregnancies and alternatives to abortion.

John Schlegel, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, said a petition drive could not force rezoning. Only the owner of the property, the City Council or the planning commission can initiate a rezoning, he said.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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