Variance and the 'Turtle zone'
Saratoga Planning Commission has member resign, discusses variances and law office rezoning
May 22, 2019
The Saratoga Planning Commission is officially down to three members following the resignation of Commissioner Chris Duke via email. Also, during the May 14 meeting, the commission held a public hearing for a variance at 306 N. River Street, heard from Seth “Turtle” Johnson about the property that is currently home to Mom’s Kitchen and discussed the still vacant zoning officer position.
It was during correspondence that acting Chairman Tom Westring announced Duke’s resignation from the planning commission. According to Westring, the email from Duke had come in earlier that day.
“It looks like he’s going to resign due to time constraints,” said Westring.
While Duke had attended meetings at the first of the year, he had not been in attendance in either the April or March meetings of the planning commission. Westring read the email from Duke to those gathered in the council chambers.
“I think it is best if I resigned my seat on the planning commission as I do not have the time to put into it,” wrote Duke. “Summer is right around the corner and I am not able to serve the town and committee the way I should. Thank you for your understanding and hope you are able to find someone more suitable for the position with the time available to better serve in that capacity.”
With the resignation of Duke from the planning commission, the seven seat board is now down to three members with one being town council representative Bob Keel. The Town of Saratoga has recently been advertising the open positions, which now outnumber the filled seats.
Preceding the regular meeting, the planning commission held a public hearing for a variance at 306 N. River St. in east Saratoga, which is owned by Mike Cooley. According to acting zoning officer Kent Smith, the variance applied for by Cooley was to replace the mobile home currently on the lot.
“One of the things we got going on here is, these lots are all small. Very small and so, this new mobile home that’s going to go in there is not going to fit on the lot as far as setbacks go. None of the lots conform to the RD 6000 even,” said Smith.
Smith further explained that the lot was approximately 45 feet by 90 feet with the replacement mobile home being 76 feet in length. The size of the mobile home would lead to a large decrease in both the front and rear setbacks on the property, with 11 feet for a front setback and 5 feet for a rear setback. With Commissioner Jim Beckmann joining by phone, Westring explained the reason for the variance to Beckmann.
“The new mobile home, the front and rear setbacks is what our issue is. It’s about a 76 foot on a 90 foot lot. Where it’s a through lot with a street in the front and a street on the back, 20 feet is required. So the variance that we’re hearing is for the front and rear setbacks for the new mobile home,” said Westring.
Smith informed the commission that, as other mobile homes in the area are replaced, more variances would likely come before them. The planning commission will hold another public hearing during their meeting in June and make a decision as Cooley had not begun gathering signatures for the variance.
Under new business, Johnson came before the planning commission to discuss the future of Mom’s Kitchen and the house next to it. He informed the commission that the two properties were currently under contract and his plan would be to demolish them and replace them with a single building that would house his law practice, Slow and Steady Law Offices.
“I think, in order to do that procedurally, I’m going to need a special use permit because those lots aren’t all zoned the same. There’s four lots there, two of them are zoned commercial, is my understanding, two of them are zoned residential and so, if I have one single building, I’ll either need to get it rezoned or have a special use permit in order to use that for a single office,” said Johnson.
Under 18.69.010 of Saratoga’s municipal code, a special use permit has an initial period of one year. Following the one year period, the planning commission can extend the permit for an additional time. If, however, a property owner within a 300 foot radius files a complaint, another public hearing will have to be held before the extension.
“I had a chance to read through your letter here and, for the new office space, one thought that came to mind was, instead of a special use permit, maybe a zone amendment there. Where those lots are already abutting highway business. When I read the special use permit conditions, I know a special use permit is good for a year and then it has to be reevaluated and it doesn’t specify a time after that one year evaluation,” said Westring.
While no formal action was taken, the commission seemed to lean towards discussing a zone amendment for the two lots adjacent to Mom’s Kitchen.
Still Zoned Out
The final topic of discussion for the commission was that of the still, technically, vacant zoning officer position. As of the May meeting, only one person had applied for the position since the Town of Saratoga began advertising. Keel explained to Westring and Beckmann that the town council had budgeted $72,426 for planning and zoning, which included the salary for a zoning officer and building inspector.
“So, that gives us the ability for a planning/zoning officer, now this is based on $25 an hour, to go from 20 hours a week to roughly 30 hours a week,” said Keel.
While Smith did not feel that $25 an hour was enough to hire someone qualified for the position, former zoning officer and building inspector Dan Ferrin was paid $50 an hour, Keel stated that he felt the planning commission was fortunate that there was enough of an allotment in the budget to allow for additional hours for the zoning officer/building inspector position.
The next meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission will be at 5:30 p.m. on June 11 on Saratoga Town Hall.