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Paonia P&Z considers rezoning, special review

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The Paonia Planning and Zoning Commission will make recommendations to town trustees regarding two separate issues at the July 24 public meeting.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to recommend denial of an application for rezoning for Autumn Clark, who requested a zoning change from R-1 to R-2 for property located at 123 Oak Avenue.

The lot has a residential structure and a 120-year-old brick structure. Clark told commissioners that the brick structure is unsound and can't be restored. If approved, she plans to remove the structure.

The property is of sufficient size for R-2 zoning, said town administrator Ken Knight in explaining staff's recommendation to deny the request. However, it is not accessed from Oak Avenue, as required by statute, but rather off of a private gravel road leading to "Freedom Lane" and to a pocket of residences located in Delta County.

Also of concern are a lack of emergency access or a cul-de-sac on the dead-end road, lack of storm drain engineering to address flooding as required by town code, setting precedent for other property owners in R-1 zones to increase density, and limited parking. "An additional dwelling unit would only add to the congestion," said Knight.

The gravel road also doesn't meet code requirements for a town street, said Knight. With the 100 block of Oak Avenue now a parking/access lot for the Paonia Fire Department headquarters, the subject property is not accessed via Oak Avenue as required by statute. Increased density should be considered only if Oak Avenue access is restored as a condition of approval, and that no additional access be granted on the private road.

"It just seems like there are a whole lot of reasons to deny this," said commissioner Charles Stewart. Among them the "practical issue of good access." While going through the subdivision process might be an option, "My concern is that the access issues may turn out to be very expensive to resolve."

At a standing-room-only, two-hour public hearing, commissioners recommended approval of special use permits, with conditions, for Edesia Community Kitchen & Farmers Market, 395 Clark Avenue.

The issue created a dilemma for commissioners seeking to balance support for a business viewed as beneficial to the community with the rights of neighboring property owners in considering "permitted by right" versus "permitted by special review."

Edesia is zoned L-1 Light Industrial under Paonia building code, which allows some activities to be permitted by right, and others only by permit upon special review and approval by the town board.

John Mattox and Mary George opened Edesia in 2016 as shared community space and commercial kitchen for producing value-added foods using local produce, where entrepreneurs could incubate food-related business ideas, and non-profits could hold fundraisers. It currently supports six to eight businesses that employ 24-30 people.

In 2016, said Knight, who was hired in 2017, apparently neither the town building inspector nor the proprietors brought up the issue of zoning. He assumed that everything was legal. Because he sees no malice or intent to violate code, he waived a cease and desist order for 60 days to allow George and Mattox to cure code violations, and asked that operations cease no later than 6 p.m.

Callie West and John Cowell live adjacent to Edesia and brought the code violations to the town's attention. They argue that activities are not compatible with the character of the community as required by town code. They and other neighbors say late-evening noise, increased traffic, and bright outdoor lighting has upset their lifestyle and keeps them up at night.

West said she is not opposed to Edesia's operations, but wants them conducted "during normal business hours." On a recent Friday night, said West, she documented 88 car trips past their front door. That is incompatible with the neighborhood, said West, asking proponents to put themselves in her place. "We can't sit on our porch anymore."

Favorable comments pointed to Edesia's contributions to a more sustainable economy, benefits to non-profits that use the facility for fund-raising, community access to a commercial kitchen, and the unique options it provides the community.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of special use permits for "fabricating/ manufacturing industry, manufacturing (limited to food-related products), food processing, and retail business. They also voted 4-0 to recommend that trustees adopt staff recommendations, to include a list of seven conditions for approval.

Following numerous failed and amended motions, "restaurants" was approved, 3-1. Mayor Charles Stewart voted no. Edesia "is simply the wrong location" for a restaurant, he said. If it were located in the downtown commercial district, "All of these issues would disappear. And that's where it should be."

Commissioner Lucy Hunter agreed that the issues would disappear, but disagreed that restaurants are disallowed or inappropriate under zoning code. "It's permitted by special review and that's what this process is," said Hunter.

Some argued that Edesia is not a conventional restaurant. "What happens at Edesia is a business incubator," that allows entrepreneurs to learn the business without the huge investment in starting a business, said Elaine Brett.

In considering neighborhood compatibility to other uses permitted by right in the L-1 zone -- nursing homes, parking lots, parks and recreation areas, and small animal clinics, they could come with some of the same issues as those permitted by special review, said Hunter.

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