Commission permits RV cover, extends hearing on duplex

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home Planning Commission had a long meeting on Sept. 7, in which they voted both to allow someone to construct a metal RV cover on their property and to extend a public hearing on an applicant seeking a variance to build a duplex on his property.

Firstly at the meeting, Lynn Piha of Lebanon was, by a unanimous vote, granted a conditional use permit to construct a metal RV cover on his 2660 Juniper St. property in Sweet Home, a property that he says he uses to store vehicles and work on them for personal enjoyment. As a condition of approval, a new right-of-way permit and hard surface approach to the RV cover of approximately 25 feet in length will be required. The approach is currently gravel.

The existing gravel driveway was previously installed under a right-of-way permit with a requirement for a hard surface approach. The past owner installed the gravel driveway and allowed the permit to expire without completing the hard surface approach.

Piha already has a shop/garage building on the property, and said he purchased a “very expensive” motor home and he’d like to maintain it by having a cover over it.

Piha said he’s put about $50,000 into the property, remodeling the building, putting in new fencing, and trimming trees. “All the neighbors say that I’ve done a good job with it, and they’re surprised that I need a permit to do this,” he said.

He noted that he has an issue with the hard surface approach requirement. “I went down Mountain View Road from Long Street to the Junior High and I counted 13 gravel driveways in a half mile section,” he said. “Plus Jefferson Street is also a gravel road. And then from Juniper Street and Mountain View to 29th Avenue by Ashbrook Park there’s three driveways that are part concrete and part gravel, and there’s four gravel driveways. So it kind of seems like I’m being picked on with having to have that.”

As a response, Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen explained that new development triggers the hard surface pavement requirement, and that the structures with the gravel approaches Piha mentioned have been in place longer than the hard surface requirement has been around.

While Piha lives in Lebanon, he said “I couldn’t find property there that was suitable; either that or it was too expensive. So I found this property and it was perfect for what I needed. All the neighbors have been friendly and nice, and I have a pretty good impression of Sweet Home at this point.”

Making his case, he said “I’m trying to do the right thing here, and I’ve spent money in the town and tried to support it. And I’m a good citizen.”

Piha also added that ‘I’m a good neighbor and am not there making noise late at night or anything.”

After that first vote was made, the commission voted unanimously to continue a public hearing to the next planning commission meeting on Sept. 21 for an application for a variance to allow a three foot front yard setback to a carport, a 19 foot setback from the street side, and two instead of four off-street parking spaces aside from a carport at 1307 22nd Ave. The property owners, James Hurley and Daren Clowser, are seeking to build a duplex on the property. Under the current Sweet Home Municipal Code, the minimum setbacks in the C-2 Zone are front yard 20 feet and street side 20 feet. Two off-street vehicle parking spaces are required for a duplex.

The planning commission decided not to vote on the issue on this night. It seemed as if the commission was split 3-3 on whether to approve the variance, and a tie would have meant that the application would have been denied.

Commissioners Laura Wood, Jamie Melcher, and Eva Jurney appeared to be against granting the variance.

“My only concern is that for a variance, one of the conditions is that it’s not a self-imposed reason,” Wood said. “And regardless of this nice plan, there can be a different plan that does not self-impose this need. I do like the plan, and I sympathize with having that three feet for an awkward lot making the dream plan not possible. But unfortunately I don’t feel like I can approve it.”

Melcher said “I don’t feel it meets our criteria for granting a variance. There still could be development of a duplex on that lot to where it still looks nice, just not that design.”

She added that “I just don’t feel like we can make a decision based on things that may or may not happen in the future. And I don’t think that we could bend our standards that we have adopted for something bigger, where there’s more money to be made, when something could be suitable for that property, and we wouldn’t need to be here this evening making a decision on this.”

Jurney said “We’ve been in this position before with other applicants, and for me again the bottom line is, does this fit the definition of what the variance is? That’s kind of the bread and butter of our zoning ordinance. And I know that a duplex is allowed on the corner, and it’s a good way to use space.”

Meanwhile, Commissioners Todd Branson, Nancy White and Henry Wolthuis appeared to be in favor of granting the variance.

“It’s going to take a lot of convincing to convince me that we shouldn’t approve it,” Branson said. “We’re talking about three feet of a road that may or may not ever be developed. Progression is always talked about, but when we have the opportunity to do it, we sit here and banter over three feet.”

White said “I think because this road is a dead end and is never going to go anywhere, and we do want these type of situations cleaned up and we need housing… I know we have the codes for a reason. And the idea of the variance is because we see something that we can allow a little bit in those codes. I think this is a good reason for that. I don’t think three feet is going to make a difference in traffic or safety. And if it means that we have the junk pile cleaned – I hate these junk piles – I think that we should allow it.”

Wolthuis agreed, saying “I tend to agree with Nancy. I think her reasoning is all good. It’s a dead end street. They’re not going to go anywhere.”

Chair Jeffrey Parker was not present at the meeting.

The planning commission next meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21 at City Hall.