Property owner: City carport rule isn’t solving problems

Benny Westcott

Local property owner Josh Victor expressed his dislike of a city code that requires carports on certain properties during a meeting of the Planning Commission Jan. 19. Specifically, the city code reads that all single-family homes and duplexes are required to have a garage or carport.

Victor, owner of Northern Investments, which offers multiple rentals in town, showed the commission pictures of his properties with cars parked outside carports and items strewn about messily within the ports.

“I have never been a really big fan of carports, just because all of my carports end up looking like this, with people parking outside of them,” Victor said as he held the pictures up for commissioners.

He then showed them pictures of homes without the ports. “These are four houses, all pretty clean,” he said. “They all stay relatively clean without carports.”

Victor told of how he was recently on Yucca Street, where Northern Investments had just put in six new homes with carports.

“I hate carports just because they’re dirty, but I know I have to have them for my inspections for everything to get signed off,” he explained.

While on Yucca, Victor noticed that one of his tenants had moved their carport to the front of their house and put up a basketball hoop where the carport used to be.

“I was like, ‘Well, it can’t be in front of the house; it has to be so far away from the road, all this stuff,'” Victor recalled. “And they were like, ‘Well, we just don’t really want it here, can you remove it?’ And I was like, ‘yeah.'”

So Victor removed the carport. While he was there, the tenant next door came to him and asked him to remove their carport as well, to give them more parking space. Then another tenant asked for their carport to be removed as well.

Victor obliged both requests.

“I removed them all in a day,” Victor said. “Apparently, I’m not supposed to do that. It’s a violation of code or whatever.”

Victor later told his tenants that City Associate Planner Angela Clegg told him that the carports aren’t allowed to be removed.

“Then when I went to tell my tenants that I was going to be bringing them back, they all wrote me letters asking if they could not have them,” Victor recalled. ”

I’m the property owner and I don’t like them personally, but if my tenants don’t want them either, is this a completely necessary thing to have to have them?”

He told the commission that “in the interest of keeping everybody happy and keeping it clean, I wanted to know if there’s something I could do to just keep them off, or if this is locked in and I have to have them on there. I just want to solve this for Angela and for me and my tenants to get everything all good so we can keep on moving.”

He said that “in the future I will only do enclosed carports, just because then if they have all their stuff in there, they can just close the door and it’s all hidden.”

Commission Chair Jeffrey Parker responded: “It’s definitely something that we can look into a little bit further, and maybe spend some time as a commission and discuss this a little more. I know that a lot of things aren’t cut and dried. As much as we want things to be black and white, it doesn’t always work out.”

He told Victor that “your concerns were both size and collection of debris, and I do know how that goes. I have neighbors, and honestly, my carport is not the cleanest, so I can’t point any fingers.”

Commissioner Henry Wolthuis said, “I wholeheartedly agree that most open carports turn into an aesthetic mess. I can show you many of them around town.”

He suggested putting the subject on the commission’s agenda for a work session at its next meeting, and giving Victor a reprieve until the commission resolves the issue.

Victor said that “80% of mine end up turning into (aesthetic messes), and I’m literally constantly trying to police it. The only reprieve I really have is to turn them into code, and a code violation goes against the property owner.

“So I’m essentially turning myself in for a dirty carport.”

Commissioner Laura Wood called Victor’s actions into question.

“You mentioned in your presentation that you knew that they needed to be there,” Wood said. “And instead of explaining that to your tenants, because you don’t like carports, what you decided to do is take them down. So what you’re asking us to do now is to help you avoid having to follow code. So my question is, why should we make an exception to the code and for all of our other property owners for you? And what real cost does it give to your tenants to put them back, except for the loss of space that they hope to have if you could remove the carport?”

Victor replied, “I’m not wanting just an exception for me. I’m wanting an exception for everybody. I just think that it’s everywhere, and this is what everybody has to deal with. It’s not a big deal. I can put them all back in a day. It’s not a very strenuous thing. I’m not trying to ask for exceptions. I’m just trying to solve a problem that I see.”

Parker said in conclusion that “it’s definitely something we can discuss more in depth, and try to prevent problems of this nature from occurring in the future.”

Also at the meeting, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council approve an application to vacate an undeveloped portion of Redwood Street.

Redwood Street immediately west of 53rd Avenue is an unimproved public-right-of-way. It contains no public infrastructure, pavement, curbing, storm drainage, or any other normal component of a typical right-of-way. It theoretically provides access to some properties, however they all have access to 53rd Avenue via an access easement through one of the properties and the adjacent railroad right-of-way.

A report put together by city staff noted that this portion of Redwood Street would be extremely expensive to develop, due to topographical constraints, namely a severe 15-30-foot difference in grade on the west side of 53rd Avenue that would necessitate a large amount of fill and retaining walls, making development of the street cost-prohibitive.

Applicant William Ruby, of Redwood Street, requested that the street be vacated off of 53rd Avenue because the land drops off approximately 30 feet down off of 53rd.

He wrote in a letter to the city that “since the drop from 53rd Avenue would be so steep, the cost to build a road 250 feet long with all the city services for two homes would not be cost-effective.”

He added that “Building a city street would not be cost-effective for its intended purpose as a city street, as it would dead end at about 350 feet into private property.

He noted that the footprint for a road that deep would eliminate one complete lot to build a home on.

“The vacation of Redwood Street would make two lots available for the construction of two very nice homes, to be able to put on the tax base for the city,” he wrote, estimating that the two homes would add about $1,125,000 to $1,150,000 to the Sweet Home tax base.

He wrote that the vacation of Redwood Street and addition of two homes would “not cramp the lifestyle of the existing property owners in the immediate area.”

“This is a very nice area and we would like to do what we can for the city,” Ruby continued. “This would be a very nice area to live in.”

Also at the meeting, commissioners unanimously re-elected Parker as chair and Wolthuis as vice chair.