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Riverfront proposal fails — or maybe not

December 19, 2018 GMT

A controversial riverfront-related proposal failed to pass at Monday night’s meeting of the Norfolk City Council, but the issue is not quite over.

The proposed ordinance would have significantly expanded the boundaries of the existing overlay district for the North Fork of the Elkhorn River.

The main purpose of the overlay district is to enforce mainly aesthetic guidelines for any new buildings that might be constructed. The current overlay district was created in 2017 and covers a relatively small area along the river near downtown Norfolk.

After a nearly hour-long discussion involving members of the public, city staff, council members and the mayor, the ordinance came to a vote at Monday’s council meeting.

Though a majority of the council voted in the approval, 4-3, it was reported that five votes were needed to pass the ordinance. Jim Lange, Corey Granquist and Thad Murren voted in opposition. The eighth council member, Shane Clausen, was not at the meeting.

During the meeting, Mayor Josh Moenning was not allowed to cast his vote, which the mayor can normally only do in the event of a 4-4 tie among council members.

But city administrator Andy Colvin told the Daily News on Tuesday morning that a mistake was made and Moenning should have been allowed to cast his vote.

Under state law — Nebraska Revised Statute 16-404 to be specific — a majority of the council must concur to pass an ordinance, and that the mayor may cast a vote if the vote would create a majority.

A vote of approval from Moenning would have created a 5-3 majority and the ordinance would have passed.

Moenning told the Daily News on Monday night after the meeting concluded that he would have voted for the ordinance if he had been given the chance to do so.

Colvin said that as of Tuesday morning, city staff and the council are figuring out the next move, and it was unclear what will happen with the ordinance and the vote.

But one way or another, Moenning said, he would like to see the overlay district expanded as per the proposed ordinance.

In the discussion about the overlay district at Monday’s council meeting, Moenning described it as a regulatory tool that preserves and protects the area surrounding the banks of the river.

“There is a hodge-podge of zoning in that area, and it is not set up in a harmonious way,” Moenning said.

But residents in the proposed expansion area — along with several council members — expressed their skepticism.

“I don’t see why this exists and why it is being placed upon us,” said John Fox, a resident in the proposed expansion area. “Most of the people living in the area disapprove of this.”

Council member Lange also expressed his disapproval of the idea.

“I think this is an example of overreach,” he said.

Moenning said that many of the ideas behind the overlay expansion have been suggested directly by the public, and ultimately would serve in the public’s best interest.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a new agreement with Norfolk Public Schools to station another school resource officer in the junior high and middle school.

Capt. Don Miller of the Norfolk Police Division said that school resource officers help students and the school district by building relationships and intervening before a student potentially gets in trouble with the law.

Hiring another resource officer, Miller said, would help out patrol officers significantly.

“When it comes to responding at the schools, we have what we call the ‘two for one’ system. It takes a patrol officer about two hours to do what a school resource officer could do in one hour because of their ability to build those relationships,” he said.

To conclude Monday’s meeting, public safety director Shane Weidner gave a speech to the council honoring police chief Bill Mizner, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Mizner, who was in attendance, responded to the speech and told the council he is proud of the division and is happy to have called Norfolk home for more than 30 years.

In other business at meeting, The council also passed several construction contracts, approved purchasing a new transfer station truck and ambulance for the fire and rescue division; and approved a zoning change near a planned apartment complex.