Council to consider new variance code

Sean C. Morgan

If the Sweet Home City Council follows

the Planning Commission’s advice, Sweet

Home residents may find a smoother, clearer

process when what they want to do with their

property doesn’t meet zoning requirements and

a variance is needed.

Planning commissioners

recommended a new variance

ordinance for approval by the City

Council 4-0 on Monday night during

its regular meeting.

“We threw this ordinance out,

pretty much,” said Community

Development Director Carol Lewis.

Basically, the Planning Commissions

started over. Here and there, the

proposed ordinance retains some of

the same language, but it’s almost

entirely new.

The process remains the same,

she said, and it matches what the

Planning Commission is doing now.

The new ordinance adds

application requirements, Lewis

said. Those did not exist previously

and commissioners had problems

understanding what an applicant was


“What we’re getting at here

is show us this stuff so we can see

what you’re trying to do,” Lewis

said. The ordinance now spells out

what materials must come with an


The criteria have changed

substantially, although the purpose

is similar, Lewis said. Under the

existing ordinance, the criteria

simply must be considered, and then

the Planning Commission can make

a choice regardless of whether the

request meets them. Under the new

ordinance, the variance application

will need to meet the criteria.

Current criteria permit

a variance for exceptional or

extraordinary circumstances applied

to a property, based on lot size, shape,

topography or other circumstance.

The variance must be necessary to

preserve a property right and cannot

be materially detrimental to the

purposes of the code or property

in the vicinity. It also must be the

minimum necessary to alleviate the


The new criteria say that the

resulting development may not be

detrimental to public health or safety,

conflict with the Comprehensive

Plan, be the minimum needed for

reasonable use of the property and

be consistent with the purposes of

the zone. The cumulative effect of

variances must still result in a project

consistent with the purpose of the

zone, and negative impacts from

the variance can be mitigated to the

extent it is practical.

“You do this enough, you see

you’re not really reading these words

(the current criteria) anyway,” Lewis

said. “You’re looking at these kinds

of things (the new criteria).”

Along with the criteria, there is

a human factor too, Lewis said. The

new ordinance allows the commission

to take into account “considerations,”

such as the economic impact on an

applicant if a variance is denied; the

physical impacts the development

could have with noise, traffic and

more; preservation of native tree

species; and even the aesthetics of

the proposal.

The commission cannot

approve a variance based on such

considerations, Lewis said, but it can

help the commission figure out how

an application may fit the criteria.

The new ordinance allows Lewis

to sign off on single-year extensions

of variances, and the commission

lots could be problematic if there

were burial grounds that required

adjusting infrastructure and lots

to protect them, limiting buildable


Natural resource areas, such as

wetlands, floodplains and riparian

zones could also be negatively

impacted by it.

Attending the Planning

Commission meeting were

commissioners Alan Culver, Greg

Stephens, Eva Jurney and Chairman

Henry Wolthuis. Absent were Anay

Hausner, Lance Gatchell and Michael

E. Adams.

In other business, the


n Approved several variances

for Northern Investments to site a

24-foot manufactured home at 1901

19th Ave. Among the variances were

the size of the home, 24 feet wide,

and the 3/12 pitch of the roof.

can sign off on two-year extensions

as long as there are no changes to the

plan, Lewis said.

In addition to variance

revisions, the commission approved

a recommendation to prohibit the

burial of human remains on private


Currently, state law allows

individuals to bury human remains

on their property with the permission

of a Planning Commission, Lewis

said. Sweet Home doesn’t have

a process in place, and following

discussion in work sessions in

recent months, the commission

suggests simply prohibiting such


Among the reasons, the small

size of property raises health concerns

about burials in proximity to wells

and gardens. Visitation easements

could devalue property.

Future subdivisions of larger