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Panel rejects bid to rezone Tiller clinic property

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 22, 2013 at 8:44 am •  Published: February 22, 2013

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — While much of Wichita was huddled indoors as a major winter storm blew through, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission voted Thursday to reject an effort to rezone the property upon which Dr. George Tiller's former clinic sits.

Kansans for Life had sought the rezoning to prevent the abortion clinic from reopening and had presented nearly 14,000 signatures in support of the move to the Wichita City Council, the Wichita Eagle reported ( ).

The request for the city to initiate the rezoning is believed to be the first of its kind in the city, officials have said.

The commission's 6-4 vote came after presentations from Kansans for Life and from the nonprofit Trust Women Foundation Inc., which purchased the building in late August and plans to reopen the clinic under the name South Wind Women's Center.

The group has said it will provide abortions to women up to their 14th week of pregnancy, as well as other health care services. A clinic official has said it will not perform late-term abortions.

David Gittrich, development director for Kansans for life, criticized the decision by city planning officials to conduct the hearing Thursday afternoon, when much of the city was paralyzed by a winter storm that dropped up to a foot of snow.

"No question that hurt us significantly," Gittrich said. "There would have been a huge crowd show up if it had been a nice day. Most people thought the city was closed, and it looked to those of us who were there like it was."

Initially, 10 commission members deadlocked over whether to hear Gittrich's request before voting 9-1 to do so, said John Schlegel, the city's planning director.

Gittrich said the deadlock was an early sign that the rezoning request would fail.

"At that point, you knew five people had already made up their minds," he said.

Trust Women founder Julie Burkhart said she was "relieved that they did not vote to take up the public hearing process. We did not request a rezoning of the property. To our knowledge, that property had been used for medical purposes since the 1950s, and (the city's) staff report said it goes back to 1937."

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