Potentially one of the most valuable undeveloped pieces of retail property in the city was the center of discussion at this month’s board of aldermen’s meeting.

Owner Ray Tune had asked that the open land bordered approximately by I-22, Hwy. 15 South, Poplar Avenue and Murrah Road be changed from R-2 residential zoning to C-3 commercial, which could allow a variety of businesses.

The approximately 35 acres has come up for a zoning change in the past but neighbors, mostly living along Poplar, have objected.

This new change request was not accompanied by a specific plan but conversation indicated the property might be used for mixed residential and light commercial use.

Tune, who was repeatedly described as being in the final stages of a terminal illness, was not present but was represented by attorney John Haynes, friend and associate Ronnie Parker and realtor Tom Wiseman.

Haynes presented a photo exhibit showing the property and also what he referred to as property in a similar situation in Magnolia Hills Subdivision, which has proximity to commercial businesses. “They made it work there,” he said.

Parker said there are nine houses on Poplar and Murrah Road. He said he talked with residents except for one whom he knew was against the zoning change, and said none of the others objected. He said the only entrance to the property would be behind BancorpSouth and only require about 15 feet so the rest of Poplar would not be affected. The property actually appears to touch Poplar at two different locations but the one nearer Hwy. 15 is the part mentioned for access.

Sarah Mattox, who lives near the west end of the street, expressed concern about the entrance being so close to her driveway.

In earlier discussions, aldermen had expressed mixed views about the change and Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston had pointed out that the city’s zoning and ordinances are soon to be updated and she would prefer to consider the property then.

Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said she had talked with city planner Bob Barber, who is working on the town’s new comprehensive plan, and that he recommended mixed residential near Poplar gradually changing to more commercial just off the highway.

“Bob Barber said this is the most valuable piece of property in New Albany. If it is developed properly, property values will skyrocket; if not, it would destroy the neighborhood.”

Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson agreed, saying, “There’s no doubt it’s the most prime property in New Albany now, but I don’t know about C-3.”

Tune’s representatives have repeatedly pushed the board for quick action, saying Tune wanted to get his affairs in order but Ward Four Alderman Will Tucker, although expressing sympathy, offered a motion to deny the request and said, “There’s no reason to speed anything up because of a man’s health.”

The motion failed for lack of a second and, after some discussion and a recommendation by attorney Russell, Alderwoman Livingston introduced a motion to deny the request at this time because it is premature due to the anticipated changes in zoning and will be looked at at a later date. The motion passed unanimously (although Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee was absent).

Attorney Haynes implied they might appeal the board’s decision to circuit court and attorney Russell said the motion was phrased in such a way as to not impinge in Tune’s appeal rights, if he chooses to do so.

The C-3 zoning would allow neighborhood retail businesses such as convenience stores, drug stores, beauty shops, outpatient medical clinics, hardware stores, bakeries, banks and professional offices.

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