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Paonia trustees approve dwelling units for businesses

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Businesses located in C-1 and C-2 commercially-zoned districts within the Town of Paonia can now, by right, have dwelling units, secondary to their business, following approval by the board of trustees to amend the town's zoning regulations.

The amendment to Section 16-3-70, "Schedule of uses, commercial and industrial districts," was one of three zoning-related ordinances that required a public hearing and that were passed by trustees at the Aug. 23 public meeting.

Following the three hearings, trustees first voted, 6-0, to approve an ordinance for "C-2 Community Commercial" zoning for newly annexed property known as the Thliveris Addition and owned by Andrew and Lauren Thliveris. The board approved annexation on Aug. 9.

Trustees also unanimously voted to approve a requested zoning change for property located at 602, 604 and 606 Second Street from "I-1 Light Industrial" to "C-2 Community Commercial." The Rowell Zoning Amendment also allows for a "Dwelling Use secondary to the business use as a Permitted Right Use."

Property owners Ron and Debra Rowell requested the zoning change and approval for the dwelling unit. They have operated Paonia Cleaners at the location for about 35 years and are under contract to sell the building. The prospective buyer would like to add a loft on the west end of the building for use as a personal residence. The Rowells will continue to operate the laundromat and dry-cleaning business for two more years, at which time the parties will reassess the situation, said Ron Rowell during the hearing.

Mayor Charles Stewart noted that the building is more suited to commercial zoning, and trustee Bill Brunner, who lives adjacent to the property, called the zoning change "totally appropriate."

Lasting Impressions has operated out of the building for about 13 years, said Rowell. Over the years, several other businesses have occupied the space. The change makes sense, said Rowell. Under the town's Land Development Regulations (LDR), also known as the zoning ordinances, "I-1 Light Industrial" zoning requires retail businesses to go through the special review process and obtain a variance from the town to occupy the building. Almost every time they would rent the additional units, they had to go through the process and pay all of the associated fees, said Rowell. Under C-2 commercial zoning, "We wouldn't have had to do that."

During public comment, Dorothy Lorig, who lives adjacent to property, said she would like to see someone living in the building, stating that it would bring a "stronger residential flavor to the neighborhood."

The third vote was to approve an ordinance amending the LDR Schedule of Uses for commercial districts C-1 and C-2. Current regulations require that dwelling units in business operating in those districts undergo the special review process. Passage of the ordinance allows business owners in those zoning districts to add dwelling units secondary to the business use as a permitted by right use.

"This amendment would eliminate the existing cumbersome and expensive requirement of a Special Review application and process for dwelling units as a part of a business use," said town manager Jane Berry. She emphasized that the dwelling units are "secondary to business use."

"Many businesses are interested in being able to have a residence in their commercial property to assist them in sustaining their business," which also returns the code to historic use, said Berry. The change also addresses current non-conforming uses and preserve the character of the downtown and commercial districts.

Mayor Stewart noted that several buildings in the downtown C-1 core were built with dwelling units, including The Eccentric Artist, Blue Sage Center for the Arts and Hays Drug. All are, technically, non-conforming units, said Stewart.

The town planning commission met on Aug. 11 to review the proposed zoning change and recommended approval, reporting to the board that the change is "desirable and in conformity with zoning district classifications and uses..."

The ordinance passed by a 4-2 vote, with trustees Brunner and Suzanne Watson voting nay.

Brunner cited what he sees as several problems with the passage of the ordinance, including the possibility that businesses will convert their space to dwelling units to make more as it relates to the town's "Amendment Procedures." Brunner said the ordinance could "fundamentally change the downtown core" within 20 years.

In addition, while the resolution is not a change to the zoning districts, "It is a significant change to the zoning requirements," Brunner told the DCI in a phone interview. He cited numerous areas in the LDR that were overlooked, including failure to follow legal notice requirements, current regulations that would exclude the Rowells from being named in the ordinance, failure to collect fees from the requesting party, failure to provide proper notice to all affected property owners, and failure of the requesting party to submit a written request and petition, signed by at least 50 percent of the owners in the area where the change is proposed.

He called the exclusion of the public in the process "...a total failure of town staff and leadership." Zoning "constrains property rights" and "says what a citizen can and cannot do with their property," Brunner told the DCI. "There is a fundamental responsibility to inform citizens and reach out for their input when a governmental body sets out to change, overnight, the laws governing what they and their neighbors can and cannot do with their property."

Stewart responded to the DCI that the requests for the amendment and ordinance came from the Planning Commission, town staff and the Rowells. There were two duly noticed public hearings held on the ordinance, and two opportunities for public comment. No one appeared before the Planning Commission, and a handful spoke at the Aug. 23 meeting. Their comments were addressed at the meeting.

In addition, said Stewart, a majority of the trustees voted in favor of the amendment. Brunner and Watson "may not like the decision," said Stewart, "but it was made."

Mike Jackson, broker/owner with Western Colorado Realty.com, believes, based on hearing testimony, that the ordinance will help clear up existing non-conforming uses, which he called a "thorny issue" in his business. He noted that the planning trend is toward a more mixed use, which requires some tradeoffs. Jackson offered some "things to consider" to the board, including the questioning of the wisdom of mixed-use planning, specifically where fire hazards may exist when residences and businesses are located in the same building. He asked if dwelling units will have to meet building codes for firewalls, or be required to purchase water taps. In addition, he said, "Parking maybe not addressed."

Steve Cassard, a retired general contractor, said he believes approval of the ordinance "could change whole fabric of downtown," and asked the town to take more time and do things right. "There are a lot of issues," he said.

Cassard also expressed concerns over fire hazards. With no firewalls in downtown core buildings, "I'm amazed that town hasn't just burned to the ground." He said that Rowell, a former fire chief, should be aware of the hazards. "I don't think the fire department can handle fire the size that could happen," he said.

"I'm not against this," said Trustee Watson. "I'm just thinking it needs to be looked at a little more carefully." Watson motioned to exclude C-1 zoning from the ordinance, reasoning that C-2 zoning is more conducive to dwelling units, and fire risk isn't as great. The motion failed on a 4-2 vote.

Watson said the resulting "revitalization would be nice, but at same time, I feel that for successful implementation you need planning in place." The decision could also conflict with other sections of the LDR, said Watson.

When it came time to vote, Brunner called the ordinance a "very interesting idea with a lot of potential, but it's being too hastily considered." A motion, seconded by Watson, to refer back to planning commission for further consideration failed by a 4-2 vote. While a lot of positive things might come out of it, he also sees a lot of "other negative impacts that need to be weighed."

Trustee Chelsea Bookout suggested that the town adopt the ordinance, then review it every two or three years to ensure that everything is done in a safe manner. She disagreed that there will be a mad rush to turn downtown into apartment buildings. "I just don't see that as a reality for this community," said Bookout.

"This is a huge step in the right direction," said Berry, whose final meeting as town manager was Aug. 23. She recommended that the town work with surveyor Randy Wilmore to update the town's zoning maps, which Wilmore last updated in 2007.

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