Commission Accomodates Special Uses

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By Katy Korkos

The planning and zoning commission approved two special use permits Wednesday, neither of which looked especially promising when they were first brought before the commission. The first permit granted allows a homeowner on “Little Urban” to add a kitchen to a room above his garage, creating an apartment. The second permit allows the owner of the Ashley Suites Hotel to convert his property to storage units.

Special use permits convey with the property when it is sold, so a planning and zoning commissioner’s duty is to take the long view and add conditions that make it impossible for a subsequent owner to change the intent of the special use permit.

Adding a kitchen to a room over a garage in a quiet residential neighborhood might not seem like a big step, but if the property owner then chooses to rent out his property to two families, or operate a bed and breakfast out of his home, that could adversely affect the neighborhood and traffic patterns, and house values in the neighborhood.

The home on Urban was burned in the Cerro Grande fire of 2000, and at the time owner Herbert Fry applied for a building permit to rebuild, much of the western section of Urban Street was rezoned to allow multi-family homes. Fry’s home was not a part of that zone, but there was some confusion because of the Urban Street address, and he built an apartment over his garage. When he learned that his neighborhood zoning did not support that use, he removed the kitchen from his plans.

Fry said, “Now I have more family members in my home, with two brothers, my 24-year-old son, a niece and my ex-girlfriend’s son, and I want to renovate the space over the garage to live in myself.”

Fry’s next-door neighbor, Alison Walters, appeared at the hearing to bring up the parking and neighborhood safety issue, with so many people living in the home.

“We feel that a special use permit would reduce the quality of life, block visitor access and mailbox access, more vehicles will impede drivers and this will change the character of the neighborhood.”

Off-street parking was also the primary concern of the commissioners, who approved the permit in a 5 to 1 vote, with Commissioner David Izraelevitz voting against the approval. Commissioners Patrick Sullivan and Steven Clarke were absent. The conditions that go along with the special use permit state that four paved off-street parking spaces must be provided, and that a retaining wall along the side of the property needs an encroachment permit.

“I see the whole front yard being paved for the parking requirement,” Izraelevitz said.

Storage Units Downtown

It seemed like a stretch at first, to show that storage units could contribute to a vibrant downtown, but considering the development plans for LA Plaza and the need for storage in the county, agent John Smallwood made a compelling argument, and his special use permit was approved.

Smallwood is the agent and majority owner of Artist Road LLC, the owner of Ashley Hotel and Suites, and laid out the history and reasoning for his proposal to change the 80 hotel rooms to storage units. He said that he had acquired the hotel portion of the property in 1999, and had seen a consistent downward trend in business since that time.

“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to hotel bookings,” Smallwood said. “I thought about converting to residential, to office condos, to assisted living and to affordable housing.”

Smallwood went on to describe how the storage units would fill a need in the community; add parking spaces in downtown and favorably impact traffic in the area. He proposes no changes to the exterior of the building, as all of the units would only be accessible from an interior hallway.

“When I think of downtown, I think of a vibrant place, with more people, more of the time,” Commissioner Laura Crotzer said. “How does a storage facility fit with our plan, when what we’re trying to do is turn this place around?”

“If you’re going to have more urban living, you’re going to need more storage,” said John Coelho, who appeared as a witness on Smallwood’s behalf. Coelho went on to describe the LA Plaza project, which will occupy the space where the old Los Alamos Inn and Trinity Beverage Company were located. “The first phase is a 50,000 square-foot office and condo space on Trinity, and this is supportive of that plan.”

The special use permit was approved in a 6 to 0 vote, with the conditions that trash and debris be removed from the property and that the building’s appearance is maintained, without the addition of roll-up style garage doors.

Third case continued

A third case on the agenda was continued until the next regularly scheduled meeting on November 29. That case concerns the rezoning of parcels A-8a and A-8b from Federal Land (F-L) to Multi-family Residential Very High Density (R-3H-40), a crucial step in the complex schools-county-Boyer project for Trinity Place. The new zoning would allow for a maximum building height of 50 feet and a minimum lot area of 1,000 square feet per dwelling unit. The staff report from the Community Development Department states that any proposed development would be subject to site plan approval, and a development agreement between the Boyer Company and the county would be subject to approval by the County Council.