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Rezoning request for Wichita clinic to go before planning commission first

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at 5:54 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at 7:20 p.m.

An unprecedented rezoning request to keep an east-side clinic from reopening will go before the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission before it makes it to the Wichita City Council, city officials said Monday.

Kansans for Life’s request for a city-initiated rezoning of the late George Tiller’s former abortion clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg, a request that city officials believe is the first of its kind in Wichita, will go before the planning commission at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 21.

City Manager Robert Layton said the City Council – which is still awaiting a legal opinion on its options – is unlikely to consider the rezoning request before it goes before the planning commission.

On Feb. 5, David Gittrich, the development director for Kansas for Life, presented 13,937 signatures to the City Council and promised hundreds more before the planning commission meeting. The goal of his group is a city-initiated rezoning that would prevent the reopening of the clinic as South Wind Women’s Center under the management of Trust Women. That group plans to offer health care services to women, including abortions up to 14 weeks. A clinic official has said it would not perform late-term abortions.

Gittrich told the council that the clinic isn’t suitable for a residential neighborhood and has been the source of heavy police traffic in the past.

Trust Women officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

It is the first time that any group has asked for a city-initiated rezoning in Wichita for a specific piece of property, said John Schlegel, the city’s planning director. The city and the planning commission have initiated broader rezonings, such as for neighborhoods, but never for an individual property, he said.

Schlegel said the petition will be last on the planning commission’s agenda. The commission is not required by law to hear the petition, he said.

However, Gittrich said Monday he expects a hearing before the planning panel.

“I suspect they will,” he said. “It’s a big petition and let me put it this way: During the Summer of Mercy and at other times, we’ve heard complaints about how the city didn’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of money taking care of things like this. They know exactly what has happened in the past. Rarely are you going to know how a zoning deal is going to turn out, but in this case they do.”

Schlegel said he expects the planning commission to vote early in the Feb. 21 meeting on considering the petition.

“If it’s no, the meeting is over. They don’t have to consider it,” he said.

Local zoning code allows the planning commission or the City Council to initiate a rezoning, even against the property owner’s wishes, Schlegel said.

If the planning commission votes to consider the petition, planning staff will make a presentation, followed by 10 minutes for Kansans for Life and 10 minutes for Trust Women, the property owner.

City Council members told The Eagle last week they were noncommittal about the petition and unsure whether any city action would stand up against a court challenge from Trust Women. There are also doubts about the private property rights questions any city intervention would raise.

“We don’t really know about that,” Schlegel said, “because this hasn’t been done before.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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