The Saratoga Sun -

PUD process streamlining effort passes commission

Planning commission chair elected, PUD revisions agreed on, building permit fee structure discussed

 


No petitioners approached the Saratoga Planning Commission at their Jan. 10 meeting, but the body made substantial progress on a number of long-term projects. Karl Smith was elected the commission’s new chair, adding additional oversight to the town building permit was discussed and the commission voted to send long-worked on alterations to Chapter 18.51 of the town code to the town attorney for review.

Less encouragingly, the commission continues to lack a zoning officer and a Carbon County-Saratoga Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining the town’s “influence area” has been put on hold.

Chapter 18.51 is concerned with the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process, whose purpose according to code is “to permit creativity and flexibility in site planning, building arrangement and land use relationships.” The PUD process allows for a greater degree of consultation between developers and town planners during the design phase, and a PUD process allows developers to incorporate mixed-use elements into a project that may not be permitted under any single zoning code.

The need to revise section 18.51 became apparent summer of last year, when Triple D Construction tried to use the PUD process for a mixed-use development on the west end of town. The extant PUD process, as the commission and Triple D discovered, was ambiguous and even contradictory in places, and Smith devoted himself to rewriting the chapter in question.

The revision process took months, with the commission tweaking the chapter line-by-line while also attending to the routine business of zoning.

Finally, at their inaugural meeting of 2017, the planners arrived at a version of the PUD that they could all agree on. If the revisions pass a lawyer’s review and are approved by the mayor and council, they will represent the culmination of more than half a year of work by Smith and the commission.

The new version of Chapter of 18.51 is sleeker in many ways, with the commission striking several former sections of the chapter.

These include 18.51.030, which mandated PUDs occupy a minimum of five acres, and section 18.51.040, which laid out an open-space requirement for PUDs. A section (18.51.080) making developers adhere to subdivision law while pursuing a PUD was also removed, and under the revisions, a PUD can, at the commission’s discretion, exceed the 35-foot maximum building height.

In contrast to these trimmed-down areas of Chapter 18.51, section 18.51.070 was significantly fleshed out. That segment lays out the stages of the PUD process. As proposed, those steps now include a pre-application meeting with the town’s zoning officer and submission of a sketch plan detailing road access and utility connections. An estimated timeline for construction of the development is also required.

Section 18.51.070 also time-limits the PUD-process, stating “if no action is taken toward project development or platting of lots, the PUD shall expire after two (2) years.” An extension of 12 months can be granted by the commission if a developer applies for one prior to 90 days of the expiration date.

At the meeting, commission member Will Faust said Saratoga Director of Public Works (DPW) Jon Winter had suggested some revisions to the town’s building permit. The permit, which was last updated in 1988, does not currently require a signature or input from the DPW.

Over the fall, a contractor built a house in Saratoga but mislaid the connection to the sewer line, which required the installation of a basement grinder pump (see Lagoon, above).

Winter suggested some input from the DPW, who has detailed knowledge of municipal utilities, could have prevented the error. Saratoga’s sewer system is notoriously quirky and idiosyncratic, several commission members noted.

The commission seemed open to getting the DPW’s input for future building projects, but decided against taking any immediate action. Smith said that if the permit is altered to require a signature from the DPW, the commission must be careful to do so in a way that does not expose the town to possible liability.

Smith also started a conversation about revising the fee structure for building inspections, though no action was taken on that item, either. Currently, inspection fees are based on the valuation of the property, but Smith suggested a square-footage fee may be more appropriate.

“To inspect these places, it’s not a function of how expensive it is to build, it’s how big it is” Smith explained. The commission agreed to continue discussion on the subject at later meetings, perhaps with input from the zoning officer, when the town hires one.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission will be 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14 in the town hall building.

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