Hoy’s expansion highlights challenges with city processes

Sean C. Morgan

The Mahler family is building a 7,500-square-foot expansion to Hoy’s Ace Hardware, including a 2,000- square-foot covered area for a full-fledged lumber yard.

The owners have evaluated and looked at their niches in the market, said owner Greg Mahler, who also is Sweet Home’s mayor.

“It’s amazing how well we’re doing with building materials by just word of mouth.”

The back of the store is buried in inventory, Mahler said, and space for building materials has become an issue.

The Hoy’s nursery business has taken off, he said, and no one in the Sweet Home area rents out equipment, like rototillers, chainsaws, trimmers and plumbing equipment. Both will be housed in the new building.

“In time, we’re going to expand on our rental equipment,” Mahler said, and

“we’re going to get into stuff we don’t have space for.”

That includes products like cabinets, bathtubs, moulding and accessories to complement various projects. Hoy’s will return to the True Value brand name in that area, while retaining the Ace brand name, to which it switched from True Value several years ago.

The space and arrangements will allow Hoy’s to take advantage of both companies’ “branch-out” programs, allowing the store to expand its offerings.

“I think the people of Sweet Home will be pleasantly surprised with what we’re going to do over there,” Mahler said of the new building, which will be located directly on the corner of Main Street and Clark Mill Road.

The total project will cost approximately $1.2 million, financed by Linn-Benton Bank, Mahler said. He predicts the expansion will create six to 12 new jobs.

Mahler said his goal is to keep business in Sweet Home, and the expansion will give a selection of choices to the local consumer.

“I’d rather have a customer drive one mile rather than 13 or 26 miles,” Mahler said. “We’re trying to do some good for the community.”

It’s something Mahler practices himself, he said. He shops and buys everything he can in Sweet Home, where he takes strong pride and ownership in the community.

Mahler said Hoy’s started the expansion process in July and broke ground around the first of January.

The new structure will be a metal warehouse building, Mahler said. The site preparations are complete, and he expects to begin construction this week or next week.

Randy Haley Construction is the general contractor on the job, Mahler said.

“I’d recommend him to anybody.”

“We’re hoping to have this open by July,” he said, but “that’s going to be a stretch at this point.”

Mahler said he has been frustrated by the city’s building and planning process, and it has delayed his project by around 10 weeks.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that city planning is handled on a part-time contract for planning services, Mahler said.

Mahler and City Manager Ray Towry said that they met early on to discuss the potential appearance of preferential treatment and how to avoid it. They also talked about using the process to help improve the city’s planning and building processes.

“He said from the start, ‘I want no preferential treatment,’” Towry told The New Era. “‘I want to go through that process just like everybody else. Let’s use this as a model to find efficiencies.’”

If Towry were asked to treat the mayor differently from other property owners, he said, “I would be insubordinate.”

Mahler said he told Towry “clearly” that “we do not want preferential treatment. I don’t want any special treatment.”

He wanted to go through the same process as anyone else, he said, and he wanted to use the process to identify possible issues.

Mahler unhappily laughs at any notion that city officials might be giving his project any preferential treatment. The process has been difficult, he said, adding that both he and his father, John Mahler, are frustrated with the experience.

Rather than receiving preferential treatment, Mahler said, the city has delayed his project by 10 weeks, an estimated loss of $149,000.

“In defense of the City of Sweet Home, a couple of weeks is because we don’t have a planner in place,” Mahler said.

As of Friday, May 12, Hoy’s had its building permit.

Among the issues Mahler has had with the city, he initiated a variance for a fence, only to withdraw it later when the contracted planner said his plans actually were allowed under city codes.

Mahler said city staff told him he had to have a utility easement to run power and gas to the new structure – on his own property. The Mahlers had to enlist help from an attorney to confirm they do not need an easement.

Told that a retaining wall was required, Hoy’s had to pay for a surveyor and engineer to prove that the slope on the south side of the property was at a 1:1 ratio, called for in the excavation plans used by the contractor, Mahler said.

Currently, Hoy’s is working on a lot line adjustment following plans based on conflicting information over the required fire rating for a wall near a property line – a line it shares with the original lot owned by Hoy’s, Mahler said.

Towry addressed the complaints.

“Part of this comes down to discussion versus plans,” he said, regarding the fencing variance. “Once they turned in an actual set of plans with measurements, staff said, ‘You don’t need one.’

“A lot of this comes down to communication.”

A requirement for an easement is not surprising, Towry said. “It’s not in the code. It should be in the code. It’s a best practice. Anyplace else it’s probably in the code.”

An easement should exist when running services from one property to another, where the possiblity exists that one could be sold separately in the future and cut off from the services, Towry said.

In this case, the planning department knew it wasn’t in the code, Towry said. The building division was enforcing it. The fact that the city was using a planner working one day per week created an internal communication issue.

“The lot line adjustment is the exact same issue,” Towry said. “The contracted plan reviewer used a professional term.”

The term “5-foot wall” refers to walls within 5 to 10 feet of a property line, Towry said.

That requires a 1-hour firewall. From 0 to 5 feet, the structure must have a 2-hour firewall.

The lot line adjustment will put the wall 6½ feet from the property line, allowing for a one-hour firewall.

While building professionals are familiar with the terminology, Towry said, it can be confusing to people who are not familiar with it.

Regarding the issue with the slope, “I don’t ever see a city going out and testing that way,” Towry said.

They’re always going to have to ask for documentation from an applicant, he said. In this case, internal staff had believed the slope met the required ratio, but contracted staff did not, triggering the need for documentation.

“The safe measure is to have them produce that,” Towry said.

Mahler said in the past and unrelated to his project, “I’ve had five contractors come to me and complain about our city inspection program,” one of them a “renowned” builder.

He added that they had serious complaints, but doesn’t know how city management responded to the complaints.

Contractors have voiced concerns about possible retaliation in response to complaints, he said.

The city manager wants contractors to come forward with their complaints, Mahler said.

“I dare them to come to our city manager and have a closed-door meeting with the city manager and tell him what they’ve had to endure,” he said.

“I would welcome it,” Towry said, with the proviso that the discussion be professional and address ways to improve the process “so we can learn to do things better.

“I think staff is at a better point where they can understand the issues.”

Mahler intends to review his project and share information about the cost of delays so city staff better understand the cost of delays, he said. He doesn’t want to point fingers or terminate anyone’s employment.

Policies and procedures need to be corrected, Mahler said, to meet the City Council’s economic development goals.

“This is our problem,” Mahler said. “Let’s find a solution. Ray wants to get this corrected.”

Towry said that he has already met with planning and building staff on three occasions.

Better communication has been a central theme of those discussions.

Staff cannot control everything, he said, but they can control the turnaround on applications. They can control their communication, their manner and terminology.

“There are ways we can communicate better,” Towry said, and staff members are talking about the process.

They’re working on better checklists and explanations of their expectations and what they’re doing, he said.

Having all of the plans ready to go up front makes a huge difference as well, Towry said.

Feedback about working with the city goes both ways, Towry said, and on the flip side he has emails and letters “singing their praises.”

One, directed to city planning and building staff, was from Alexander Krichevsky, who is attempting to build a bio-technology research facility focusing on marijuana in Sweet Home.

“It was a great pleasure meeting all of you,” he wrote. “Thank you for your kind help and support.”