The Saratoga Sun -

Guide or pre-approve?

Planning commission discusses logistics of “guidance” v. “pre-approval,” adopts master plan


The thin line separating “guidance” and “pre-approval” was at the heart of discussions at a June 14 meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission attended by about 10 residents.

“We have to have a way to serve the public and give them guidance without doing pre-approvals, and that’s what my intentions are,” commission chair Rory Grubb said describing the delicate balance the commission must strike.

At the meeting, area resident (and past commission member) Randy Raymer said he was upset over pressure he was facing to give his approval to a proposed zoning change in his area.

Triple D Construction has begun gathering signatures for the first phase of a zone-change on the west side of town. The firm is seeking to build outdoor storage units and condominiums on a 6.6 acre lot they plan to purchase from Swanson Brothers, but have to rezone the lot before continuing with construction.

Triple D approached the commission multiple times in months prior, trying to figure out how best to move forward with the project. Raymer said that the multiple consultations with the commission were being construed as pre-approval from the commission.

Part of the rezoning process involves gathering signatures from those, like Raymer, who own property within 300 feet of the proposed development. “There are people going around saying, ‘Well, Mr. Raymer, the planning commission has already given their tentative approval for this, so if you stand in the way of this, you’re not being a good citizen, you know, you’re just being mean,’” Raymer said.

Raymer and at least one other area property owner attended the meeting because they thought that the Triple D project would be on the agenda. The firm did not gather a sufficient number of signatures before the meeting though, so no action was taken on the zone change and it wasn’t formally discussed.

At the meeting, zoning officer Kent Smith said that the commission should consider raising the cost of applying for a zone change, variance or special use permit. These processes involve significant costs to the town (including postage and advertising charges) Smith said, and the current fees of $100, $50 and $25 respectively do not cover these expenses. The committee agreed that an uptick should be discussed at the next meeting, and that applicants should shoulder more of the costs associated with the process.

Other big news out of the June 14 meeting included the approval and adoption of the 250-plus page Saratoga Master Plan.

After the vote, Saratoga resident Andy Van Tol raised some concerns about legal issues he thinks the town may face down the line. “I wanted to point out the link between the master plan and the zoning code. One can’t exist without the other. They’re meaningless without each of them being enforced and enforceable,” Van Tol said.

Van Tol alleged that “some sections of the zoning code aren’t enforceable anymore because they haven’t been enforced or they haven’t been noticed.” On his suggestion, the commission voted to ask the town council to “explore the pros and cons of readopting Title 18 with no changes,” –a move Van Tol believes could shield Saratoga from charges that the zoning code is effectively null.

The next meeting of the planning commission will be held 5:30 p.m. July 12 at the Saratoga Town Hall.


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