July 18, 2013
City limits site plan reviews
2-family homes no longer need city approval for smaller projects
The Common Council approved an amendment to the City Charter on Tuesday that will create site plan review exemptions for two-family homes and existing parking lots.
The amendment, which was approved unanimously by the council, would allow a number of improvements to occur at a property without requiring approval from the city Planning Commission.
With the new local law in place, there would be exemptions for two-family dwellings that cover fences, sheds that do not require a building permit and fence alterations to accommodate large trash bins. Any minor alterations and facade changes that do not affect a building’s structural components or height and are less than 12 square feet would also be covered.
There are some restrictions, however, as two-family dwellings in historic districts or floodplains will still be required to submit site plans for approval.
All existing parking lots that are being repaved or restriped are covered by the exemption, as long as the shape is unchanged and traffic patterns are unaffected.
Mayor Brian Tobin said the idea for the amendment arose from suggestions by Deputy Fire Chief William Knickerbocker, who is the director of Code Enforcement, and citizen complaints.
“I drew upon the work and practical experience of our head code officer,” Tobin said. “He sees every step of the process.”
Knickerbocker believes the amendment is a way to save unnecessary time and money for a homeowner, while removing items from the Planning Commission’s agenda.
The amendment is designed to eliminate “no-brainer” claims, according to Knickerbocker, who says that finding the time to meet with the commission at its monthly meeting can set simple projects like constructing fences and sheds back weeks.
“To be frank, it’s a waste of time and money,” said Knickerbocker. “They may have a project worth only $1,000 but the fee to go through with the site plan is $150.”
Connie Sorrells, who lives in and owns a two-family dwelling, was frustrated when she’d found out she would need to complete a site plan review to build a 31-foot fence at her property.
“I have only one tenant,” said Sorrells. “I was told I had to go to a site plan review which costs $150 whether it’s approved or not.”
Sorrells voiced a complaint to the Common Council and said she is pleased that the charter has been amended. She said that she now plans to pursue building the fence again.
The number of site plans that would no longer be required under the amendment is around two dozen a year, he said.
Members of the city Planning Commission had no comment on the changes but indicated they had not been informed of the charter amendment.
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