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City hires consultants to overhaul planning rules, using model codes


March 4, 2020

Planning consultants John Morgan and Walt Wendolowski have started working on a complete overhaul of Sweet Home’s planning ordinances based on model codes they have developed for Millersburg.

Morgan, who has assisted Sweet Home in a variety of planning activities over the years, and Wendolowski, who is recently retired as Lebanon city planning director, met with the City Council and Planning Commission in a joint work session on Feb. 11.

The city’s current codes are antiquated, some of them unchanged since the 1950s, which was based on a national model code, Morgan told the council and commission. He added that the antiquated codes impact the city’s efficiency.

Millersburg wanted to overhaul its code, and that allowed the consultants to develop a model code for small cities, Morgan said. Another model code that exists is “Portland-centric,” with different values than smaller cities may have, he said.

Morgan said they also are working with the cities of Aumsville and Nehalem, “using this code as a foundation, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

“This code needs to reflect who you are, show how you want the community to grow,” Morgan said. It should align with public and private interests that work well together.

The overhaul shouldn’t take long, Wendolowski said, possibly by the time “the tulips are popping up.”

Completely redoing the codes will be faster and cheaper than revising the city’s existing codes, Morgan said. “I think you could come up with a much better tool to serve the city if you start fresh.”

For instance, Morgan asked why every city needs to create its own definitions. The definitions can be shared among multiple cities and adjusted as needed.

Morgan and Wendolowski have also focused heavily on developing standardized processes for land use applications that are simpler and easier to understand.

They’ve been working with Millersburg for two years, Morgan said. “They’re knocking off all the rust spots.”

Planning commissioner Lance Gatchell said the Planning Commission has already decided not to “piecemeal” an update and that it would be better to rewrite the entire ordinance, but the commission would like to hold onto some changes made in the past several years, including new ordinances governing signs and fencing.

He said the commission also is interested in adding a “government zone.” Right now, government buildings require a conditional use permit.

Councilor James Goble recommended keeping the project in the Planning Commission’s hands and agreed that the city does not need to go over some of the recent changes again.

Councilor Lisa Gourley said she would like to see the progress on new ordinances periodically.

Morgan said he and Wendolowski ought to have a draft ready by March and in front of the council by April.

Morgan suggested allowing staff to make more decisions in minor actions rather than “dragging someone” through a six-month process and paying a filing fee.

Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen pointed to the way the city handles home occupations.

Recently, his office had a woman who wanted to work at home as a hairdresser, Larsen said. It would be low-key, with no more than one person visiting at a time. Under current code, she must ask the Planning Commission for a conditional use permit.

If staff had set criteria, such as that the business will have no impact on parking, then staff could go ahead and approve applications like that, he said.

Councilor Dave Trask said the council and commission have discussed streamlining the system in the past, and many things could be handled at the counter instead of taking six weeks.

Gourley said she would be looking for consistency and clarity.

“Recognize, this is a living, breathing document,” Wendolowski said. It can be changed as needed.

“I’m anxious to see the small-town version of it,” said Commissioner Jeff Parker, a former building contractor.


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