Omaha Council Denies Homeowners’ Request for Special Permit
September 29th, 2016
Some Omaha residents will have to find a new place to live after Omaha City Council members said they were in violation of a city ordinance.
The Omaha City Council started Tuesday’s meeting by trying to answer a seemingly simple question: How many non-related adults are allowed to live in a house meant for one family? According to the City of Omaha, the answer is three.
For John Liebgott and his friends, that piece of information would have been good to know two years ago, when they bought their seven bedroom home in the Deer Ridge neighborhood just south of Burke High School.
“The truth is, we didn’t know. We honestly did not know,” Liebgott told the Council. “If we would have, at that time we would have gone through the proper channels to do what we’re doing right now.”
What they were doing Tuesday, was asking the Council to approve a special use permit to allow small group living in an area zoned as a single-family residential district. A handful of neighbors spoke in favor of allowing the special use permit. Liebgott and his friend, Brandt Weatherly, are the official home-owners of the house in question. Weatherly told the Council he and his friends just wanted a place to call home.
“Me and my friends, well me and John in particular, but me and my friends all had separate apartments and we decided instead of being at each other’s house all the time and cooking dinner and going out, let’s just all move in. Let’s see if we can find a house,” Weatherly said.
The group of friends lived in the house for almost a year before some neighbors decided they’d had enough.
Noreen Abrahamson lives across the street from the house. She told the Council that many adults living in one home was too much of a change for her quiet neighborhood.
Abrahamson said, “The first year unfolded, and it’s like a frat house. We have cars everywhere. They have people moving in, people moving out. This year in February someone moved in, someone moved out earlier. It’s back and forth. Lots of cars on the weekends, some would stay for an extended period of time; some for a week.”
Abrahamson was just one of more than 400 people who’d signed a petition urging the Council to deny the special use permit.
Councilman Franklin Thompson represents the district where the home is located. He said both sides presented a compelling argument, but in the end, it’s about the greater good.
“The fact you have 418 signatures (asking for a denial), that is a really something we have to consider.,” Thompson said. “That’s a lot of names and a lot of signatures. One gentleman said it represents 90 percent of the immediate neighborhood, that’s hard to ignore. There’s enough evidence for me to say—even though it’s a hard vote—I believe the proper thing to do at this time is move for denial of the application. I’m not sure whether I’m going to get a second or not, but it is my district and I have to represent the most people. Even though everyone is not going to be happy with me, I have to represent what’s in the best interest of the most people.”
Councilman Thompson’s motion to deny did get a second from Councilwoman Aimee Melton. The special use permit was unanimously defeated by the Council.
Council members then approved several preliminary plat agreements to build new housing developments and a new out-patient healthcare facility. On their consent agenda, Council members also approved a resolution to buy new radios for the fire department at a cost of nearly $2.5 million.
Council members were scheduled to discuss an ordinance regulating food trucks within the City, but voted to layover that item for three weeks at the request of the Mayor’s office.
The public hearing portion for an ordinance to change the Council’s district boundaries was also held Tuesday. The proposed changes to district lines have most districts expanding westward. No one spoke during the public hearing, but Councilman Thompson—in an effort to dissuade potential naysayers, said as the City grows, redistricting is not only necessary, but mandatory.
“For those of you in District 6 who are worried about whether or not your district is being invaded or not—I’ve heard comments—but as the City grows the districts have to shift,” Thomposon said. “The four Council reps, they can’t go across the river because that’s Council Bluffs, and you can’t go south because that’s a new county and you can’t go north because that’s a new county. So there’s only one place to go, and that’s west.”
No action was taken on the redistricting ordinance. Council members are scheduled to vote on the item at their meeting next week. If approved, the new district lines would go into effect after a 15-day waiting period. Council members would serve out their current terms, however, so there would essentially be little change until Election Day, when voters may see a different name on the ballot for their district.
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