City planners begin revising conditional use permit laws

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Planning Commission has started revising the city’s conditional use permit ordinance.

The commission began reviewing the ordinance at its regular meeting on March 7.

“It hasn’t been revised, as far as we know, since 1973,” said Community Development Director Carol Lewis. She was busy last week on the first draft of revisions based on the commission’s conversation.

“Conditions may range from noise mitigation and lighting to traffic improvements.

The whole idea of a conditional use permit is that it is probably appropriate in that zone, but it needs conditions applied to it to make sure it doesn’t have a negative impact on the neighborhood,” Lewis said. Conditional uses are uses allowed in different zones, but they require a permit.

“Sometimes people want to do things that honestly don’t fit,” Lewis said, but the conditional use permit process gives them a chance to make it fit.

One of the reasons for the revisions was a situation about five or six months ago, Lewis said. The old Boys and Girls Club building, located at the intersection of Oak Terrace and Highway 228, was in use as a church, a conditional use.

A new renter, another church, moved into the building with substantially the same use, Lewis said. But the building hadn’t been in use for about a year before that.

The code is silent on whether the conditional use permit can transition to the new owner, Lewis said. Ultimately, the city allowed the transfer, but it started a conversation about handling the transfer of conditional use permits.

“The only thing in relation to time was from approval to the time of actually doing something was a year,” Lewis said.

The resulting conversation at the Planning Commission was all over the place, suggesting different time frames for transferring a permit, she said. Different amounts of time generate different potential issues.

On the face of it, she said, it sounds pretty simple; and the commission asked her to draft something and bring it to her.

Overall, the ordinance language is outdated and old, Lewis said. Updating the language is one of the main tasks. Much of the language in the six-page ordinance is redundant now, with sections of it incorporated in other sections of the city’s ordinances.

By the time it’s finished, Lewis expects it to be just two or three pages long.

Along the way, the commission will consider the purpose of the ordinance, establishing clear criteria for approving a conditional use permit, conditions for transferring the permit and clear language so anyone involved can understand it.

The revisions will clarify the revocation procedure and criteria too, she said. The ordinance can probably use a better term than “fraud.”

Much of the ordinance language identifying specific conditional uses in the ordinance will probably go away, Lewis said. The underlying zone ordinances identify conditional uses allowed in them, although they do not list all possible conditional uses.

The commission was able to get through most of the ordinance last week, she said, but it still has a little ways to go.

Once she completes the first draft of the revision, it will return to the commission for further discussion, and she will revise it again.

It won’t take as long as the sign ordinance revisions, Lewis said. “This one’s much simpler than the sign ordinance.”

Once she finishes the second draft, she will return to the commission again, probably in June. The commission will decide where to go from there.