EFFINGHAM — A property owner will have to wait another month before hearing the Effingham Plan Commission’s recommendation about whether or not to rezone 18.15 acres for residential development.

A petition was filed to rezone property near the Effingham County Memorial Airport, owned by Billy and Florence Genaust and now used for agriculture. It is currently zoned non-urban and the couple request it be changed to multiple dwelling.

The acres are located east and north of 14018 East 1100th Avenue, also known as Airport Road. Even though his property is not in city limits, it still is situated within the 1.5 mile extra-territorial district that the city has zoning authority over.

In his request, Billy Genaust, wrote “This is an excellent location for future homeowners to build from 40 to 50 moderately cost homes.”

Effingham Director of Public Works Jeremy Heuerman explained during a public hearing on the zoning request Tuesday that the property is located within an area designated for industrial development in the city’s comprehensive plan. He said the future land-use map dictates it should be intended for industrial property.

The city has had a comprehensive plan since 1954, which has been updated several times, the latest being in 1995. This zoning request does not conform to the city's comprehensive plan, Heuerman said.

If the rezoning is approved, Heuerman said it would be the only R3C or multifamily dwelling in the area — and it would be setting a new trend out there.

Billy Genaust desires to sell off some of his land and explained that at one point he had an agreement with The Effingham Regional Growth Alliance in 2018, and the year prior with some home builders, but neither agreement worked out for a land sale, due to the current zoning.

Genaust added that the 2017 potential buyer instead bought land in Dieterich and began building homes there.

Concerns during the public hearing centered around whether the property is a good location for homes, because it's near the airport. But, Genaust, who has lived there for decades, said planes flying into and out of the airport can barely be heard.

“The noise is actually very little,” said the 87-year-old. “I’m sure if you drive any city street in Effingham, the motorcycles, trucks and cars make more noise than the air traffic does out there.”

Genaust told the commission the land starts on the north side of the airport, so some of the homes would be quite a distance from the airport. Water and sewer are at the entrance of the proposed subdivision. He submitted 44 names of county officials and employees and Watson Township officers and trustees, plus other residents who are in support of the zoning change and possible residential development.

“The location would allow a person to leave their home and within 10 to 15 minutes be at the hospital, their doctor’s office or any other business in the City of Effingham,” wrote Genaust in his request to rezone.

Jim Niemann and Kim Rhodes spoke in favor of Genaust’s proposal to develop moderately priced homes, if the zoning is changed. Both said they were speaking as friends of Billy Genaust.

“I wear a lot of hats,” said Niemann. “One of those hats is for Effingham County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. One of the things we constantly see is that we have more jobs than we have people and we don’t have enough affordable housing.”

Niemann asked the board to consider helping Genaust out and at the same time helping out the community with affordable housing.

“If this is an opportunity to expand, I’d ask that you at least consider seizing the opportunity that would help him, but it would also help us gain affordable housing,” said Niemann.

Niemann said he also serves on the airport commission and there’s a future extension of a runway on the east end of the airport, projected to happen in 2023. This is to accommodate larger jets that fly into Effingham.

“But I do not anticipate that this (expansion) is going to be a problem with this subdivision,” said Niemann.

Rhodes said the community needs affordable housing and this would be in a location close enough to town to allow them to take care of matters not far from home.

“The airport is not that big to where it will cause problems,” said Rhodes. “People have a choice to live nearby an airport. If there’s affordable housing and they’d be OK with a plane (flying over) once in awhile, that’s their choice.”

Heuerman said the planned expansion of the airport possibly means more growth, more traffic and more frequency of planes.

“In our comprehensive plan, it does state what to put near an airport and what not to put near an airport,” said Heuerman. “In order to comply with FAA safety requirements, it is recommended that land use around an airport . . . be restricted to uses compatible with the facility. It should be restricted to agricultural, commercial and industrial-type uses.”

General uses that might result in large numbers of people should not be permitted or located near an airport facility due to noise, he said.

Heuerman said FAA’s website doesn’t recommend residential development around an airport.

Chairman Mark Thies said with the “compelling discussion” on both sides that started on Tuesday, he believed a continuance was needed.

“Good points have been brought up on both sides,” said Thies. “This was up for discussion about a year ago. I wouldn’t mind waiting until the next meeting, when it will give the county board and airport commission the opportunity to meet with the city and get a better understanding on both sides.”

Commissioner Brad Meinhart said, “Mr. Genaust, it isn’t about being for you or against you – it’s about understanding what all the consequences are. The land does have value . . . we have to look out for what is the best interest for the city.”

Heuerman said he also wants input from the airport authorities and the county, which oversee the airport, about a change in rezoning.

The public hearing and meeting will continue at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at City Hall.

Dawn Schabbing can be contacted at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138

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