For those keeping score, it was a close one: Variances 3, Ordinances 2.
The Decatur City Council Monday heard five requests for variances from the city’s codes. Three were for signs – two at car dealerships and one at Wise Regional’s Community Health Clinic. All three won the unanimous approval of the council.
Two others, seeking exceptions from the city’s sidewalk and curb-and-gutter requirements, were denied.
It took awhile to get there.
First, the council gave final approval to a zoning change request from Cecil and Rita Lemond. They own a lot in the east part of town, just across the railroad tracks on Old Denton Road where they are proposing to build a duplex.
The area is zoned for single-family residences.
That request was unanimously approved on second reading.
But Lemond, who chairs the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, requested variances to the requirement that curb-and-gutter as well as sidewalks be installed all the way around the property, which is between Arthur and Fairview streets.
The proposed duplex will front on Arthur Street. Lemond didn’t request a variance from the curb-and-gutter rule on Arthur, just Old Denton Road and Fairview.
He also sought to skip the sidewalks on all three sides.
Lemond abstained from the P&Z votes on both the re-plat request and the variance requests. P&Z approved the re-plat, but turned down both the variance requests. It would have taken a supermajority or 75 percent of the council’s vote to override that.
“P&Z did struggle with this variance application,” Dedra Ragland, the city’s planning director, told the council.
Mayor Martin Woodruff articulated the council’s point of view up-front.
“My position on curb-and-gutter, and sidewalks, is that they serve a public purpose.”
He went on to explain.
“The part of the street that’s used for vehicular traffic tends to get installed first, but these improvements get done piecemeal. So what people see is, we have curb-and-gutter here, but not there, we have sidewalks here, but not there,” he said.
Lemond said he had no problem with curb-and-gutter on Arthur. His problem was Fairview, which his houses essentially back up to. He said he understands the city’s philosophy – but he also pointed out that the variance process is in place for a reason.
“This curb-and-gutter goes to absolutely nowhere,” Lemond said. “There is no pedestrian traffic in this area.”
He said his objection was not based on the money.
“It’s just trying to get everything to look like it’s supposed to be there,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere. The chances of the city ever upgrading this neighborhood are nil to none.”
But councilmember Cary Bohn, a Decatur resident since the ’70s, said over time neighborhoods have developed in unlikely areas.
“It’s amazing to see people walking and jogging on streets with no sidewalks, where I’m sure 20 years ago they wouldn’t have anticipated anything going,” he said. “I think in the next 20 or 30 years it’s going to surprise us.”
City Manager Brett Shannon noted that “it may be our grandchildren” who walk on these sidewalks.
Woodruff said curb-and-gutter, and sidewalks, are “part of the public thoroughfare.”
“It seems to me that the only way to get some consistency in the development of our streets is to stay the course and get that done in each little piecemeal development that comes along,” he said. “A lot of times it’s done the way Cecil is doing it – one lot at a time.
Councilmember Jay Davidson agreed, noting that “If we don’t piece it together, it’s never going to happen, and if it doesn’t happen, what’s our city going to look like when it does get developed?”
In the end, the council upheld the P&Z decision.
SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS
Three requests for exceptions to the sign ordinance were granted.
- Karl Klement asked for a variance to the limit on pole signs so that he could replace the recently-removed “used vehicles” pole sign at his Ford dealership on U.S. 81/287 south of town. Klement was asked to remove the old sign by Ford Motor Co. to put up a new one that meets the company’s new standards.
- Audra Rhine, on behalf of James Wood Motors, asked for a variance to the size limit on wall signs so that a bigger sign could be installed on the Neighborhood Auto building at 1717 S. U.S. 81/287. The ordinance limits the sign’s size to 92.15 square feet, based on the size of the building. The business would like to put up a sign that is 144 square feet.
- Shannon Puphal, on behalf of Wise Regional Health System, asked for a variance to the city’s banner-sign rules both on size of the banner and the amount of time it can be in place, so that the hospital can post a banner on the Community Health Clinic at 2000 S. FM 51. The banner would be designed to let patients know the clinic is open and would be in place until a permanent sign can be installed.
The council also approved a replat application for 202 West Oak – the site of Decatur’s next Habitat for Humanity house – and OKd the city’s new annexation policy and annexation plan.
They approved vacating an alley behind the mayor’s house on College Street, and OKd a rate increase for Progressive Waste Services of 2.7 percent – 43 cents a month for residences – which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Finally, they voted to continue an agreement with the city of Bridgeport to share the costs of a billboard on U.S. 81/287 north of town promoting both cities. The $162.50 per month comes out of the city’s Main Street Program funds.
The council passed on naming a candidate to the Wise County Appraisal District’s board of directors.