Planning commission: Group meets for the first time since 2010 2013.04.24

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci has a planning commission functioning after a break of more than two years, and the group met April 15 to discuss a pair of issues.

Joe Varga was chosen to chair the commission. Other members are Lowell Oberhaus, Brad Frederick, Keith Pennington, Robert Jennings and Brad Lonis. The final member, Art Erbskorn, was absent. Zoning administrator Jacob Barnes will advise the group.

City administrator/clerk Renée Schroeder told the group that the planning commission handles zoning changes and land use issues and creates a master plan for the city. In the past, commissioners have addressed the city's sidewalk plan and wrote regulations for the industrial park.

Items of concern can originate with the planning commission, Pennington said, but city council must vote on the group's recommendations.

"I view this as a long-term planning body," he said. "It is my hope that the general posture of the planning commission would be to look at the effect on the community in the long run."

SIDEWALK SEATING—Planners discussed a request from the Village Inn restaurant to allow two outdoor tables for sidewalk seating. Discussion included how much clearance would be available for pedestrians, whether or not smoking would be allowed, and the fact that at least two other businesses already use the sidewalk for display purposes.

Pennington said there's nothing in the city ordinance that allows for private use of a public sidewalk and commissioners should consider an ordinance to make it legal. Schroeder suggested something that's not cumbersome to business owners.

Oberhaus suggested that the restaurant owner could be allowed to try it out this summer while commissioners worked on an ordinance. Frederick suggested collecting information from other nearby communities that allow sidewalk seating. The issue was tabled until the May 16 meeting. (Planning commission meetings are now scheduled on the third Thursday of the month).

AUCTION—Bill Foster spoke to the group about starting weekly auctions on the former Parker Chemical Company land that he owns with his brother. Foster would like to offer Saturday auctions from May through October similar to the Hillsdale auction. Portable toilets and a cash van would be placed on the property for the sale, he said, but everything else would be cleared by the end of the day.

"I think it would be great for Morenci and something good to try," Foster said.

Participants could rent space to use as a swap meet or add items to the general auction. There are four gates in the fenced-in property, Foster said, and one of those would be used as an entry.

The property is currently zoned for warehousing, but Pennington wondered if a form of commercial zoning would allow for more activities. He agreed that it would be good to give it a try, but he wasn't sure how to get to that point since warehouse zoning doesn't allow outdoor storage. Jennings countered that nothing would be stored there.

Lonis suggested issuing a temporary permit to give Foster the opportunity to try it out. If it goes well, he said, Foster could consider seeking a zoning change. A variance could be obtained from the zoning board of appeals, Pennington said.

The issue was tabled pending a decision by Foster.

AESTHETICS—Pennington said city council has discussed the possibility of creating an ordinance to govern the aesthetics of downtown buildings. He seeks a "mild" ordinance that would address how existing buildings are maintained or improved, as well as the appearance of any new buildings.

For example, he said, some communities list what can and can't be used for exterior building materials. For example, used steel siding might be disallowed.

City council has been divided on the issue, he said, with councilors favoring a libertarian view that a property owner should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants.

"I think there's value in some controls," Pennington said.

He contrasted the rehabilitation of the Subway building to that of the building where the State Line Gem and Mineral Society is located. Oberhaus asked what the business community thinks about an aesthetics ordinance.

"There's some opposition," Pennington said. "It depends on who you speak with."

He said there's no thought about a retroactive measure; only on improvements made.

Pennington asked what commissioners think about instituting the Commercial Rehabilitation Act, a state measure that grants a tax reduction when rehabilitating commercial property. He suggested that a basic level of aesthetic control could be put in place for all improvements and a higher level for Commercial Rehabilitation Act participation.

Frederick said it makes sense to offer it.

"Maybe someone is thinking about it and this would get them over the hump," he said.

LIBRARY—Pennington suggested that the planning commission should address the administrative role of the Stair Public Library board. He said there appears to be discrepancies between state law and local ordinances.

He gave two examples:

• A council member attends the board meetings but can't vote, however, state law says ex officio members can vote.

• The library board recommends new board members to council for approval, but state law states that the mayor recommends new members.

"It doesn't make sense how the library board perpetuates itself," Pennington said. "I don't know of another board that selects its own members."

He said it takes away from the role of council that the state intended. Pennington said he is not seeking jurisdiction over library programming.

Library director Colleen Leddy said the board has access to an attorney versed in library law and clarification about the issue could be obtained from him. She questioned if the issue was a matter for the planning commission to discuss.

City attorney Fred Lucas later confirmed that the planing commission should not address the library issue.

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