Council fast-tracks changes to codes

Scott Swanson

City Council members took steps at their Sept. 24 meeting to fast-track approval of changes to the city’s Zoning Ordinance that have been approved and recommended by the Planning Commission.

Planning commissioners held a work session on June 3 to discuss code amendment recommendations made by city staff and held a public hearing on the proposed changes Aug. 5, before unanimously voting in support of proposing the changes to the council.

Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen told the council Sept. 24 that the changes are the result of efforts “that have been going on for some time” as “kind of a Bandaid fix while we move toward a full overhaul of the development code.”

Council members voted unanimously to hold first and second readings of the proposed ordinance and to include an expediency clause that will cause the ordinance to go into effect immediately upon final approval by the council, likely at its Oct. 8 meeting.

Most of the changes, he said, are “making the code fit with itself and fit with other laws.”

The changes include a requirement that appeals of administrative or Planning Commission decisions must be filed within 12 days of the mailing of the decision notice. The previous deadline was 21 days.

Councilor Diane Gerson expressed concerns: “With the way the mail system works, 12 days may not be enough,” she said.

Larsen said Council of Government staffers, who provide planning services to the city, recommended the 12-day window and noted that it is “in line with state law.”

He acknowledged that the “mail system is a concern,” but that city staff are in close communication via email and phone with applicants, even though that isn’t included in the ordinance.

“It doesn’t specifically mention that, but that’s the way we operate,” Larsen said. “Applicants know how to get ahold of us. Operationally, it’s not that much of an issue.”

City Manager Ray Towry added that the there has been “a lot of feedback on the length of time it takes to complete our planning processes. We’ve gotten feedback from everybody that we take too long.”

Other amendments would include changes in conditional uses that are permitted, allowing access easements and adding standards for allowing joint use driveways, and new language on approval of variances, Larsen said.

Another change, which, Larsen said, provoked some controversy during the Planning Commission deliberations, is a provision that the city manager can call up a decisions by the commission on quasi-judicial land use applications for review by the City Council if there are concerns that the decision might put the city in legal jeopardy.