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Planning commission debates use
5/11/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Should businesses be able to move into old homes in Bayfield’s town center north of Mill Street?
Neighborhood residents divided on that in the mid 1990’s, and they divided on it again at a town planning commission meeting on April 24. Some residents want to change the town center land use area to residential use only.
The town center designation was approved in the mid-90s with low-impact businesses allowed with planning commission review. It was continued in the revised land use code approved last year.
The current debate centers around CPA Bill Morlong’s move into a small house on Church Street. The house was moved to that site last year. It’s across the street from the Bayfield Lions Hall.
Earlier this year, some neighbors opposed planning commission approval for Morlong’s use. The approval included several conditions related to his on-site parking.
Morlong was back on April 24, seeking a waiver from those conditions. Neighbors who oppose business use were back seeking a change in the town center designation itself, to prevent future business conversions.
Town planner Joe Crain said the current system involves case by case review, “to determine if that business is appropriate at that location.” He said Morlong’s house needed improvements for handicapped access for a business.
Morlong argued that the wheelchair ramp effectively eliminated one of the required parking spaces, shifted all the other spaces, and made them short on required length and width.
He said town staff told him the ramp needed to be 3 feet wide and 14 feet long, but the building inspector said it had to be 5 feet wide and 28 feet long. There was enough room until that happened, he said.
“There were times when we had two F-250s and two SUVs in there during tax season,” Morlong said. “My wife and I have done everything town officials have asked without any complaints.”
Crain said, “It all fit perfectly before the ramp was added. Apparently neither Mr. Morlong or (his engineer) realized it changed the site plan so they would have to come back to the planning commission, because what was approved wasn’t being followed, and they would have to request a variance.”
Variance criteria include hardship situations that are not self-imposed.
Morlong said he thought everything was okay if he had five parking spaces; he didn’t realize he was supposed to come back to the planning commission if he didn’t stay with the original plan.
“I think the parking lot is still functional for most vehicles,” Crain said. “Large double cab trucks, I don’t think there are any spaces that accommodate those.”
Engineer Jim Flint said the parking lot also was affected by desire to preserve a tree.
Town center resident Val Uschuk supported Morlong’s plan and the right to business conversions.
Neighbor Levi Siffert offered an easement on his property to move shrubs that Morlong had planted as a buffer, and as a place for Morlong to put snow.
Neighbor Ray Stong also supported Morlong.
So did neighbor Bill Mazur, who said his wife saw “numerous times when there were five cars there” during tax season. Big trucks parked in the street, he said. “We never saw a problem. Any business that brings cars downtown in the winter should be encouraged.”
Opponent Pamela Smith argued that Morlong’s problem is a self-imposed hardship, and that his use is too intense for the neighborhood. Engineer Flint is a former planning commissioner and should know the requirement to get new approval is there is a change from the approved site plan, she said.
David Black agreed with Smith about the self-imposed hardship and that the applicant should have been aware of handicapped access requirements.
Neighbors Tonia Ludwig and Kelly Miller also opposed the variance.
Crain commented, “I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but I think I’m forced to. … When this (town center district) was set up, it was a compromise. Any time any residential lot created in the 1900s is converted to commercial use, it is going to have a problem.”
He said Morlong’s is the first town center business with employees. “I can guarantee that any business other than a one-man or woman shop will have a problem with parking. … You won’t solve the parking problem unless you limit the use. Mr. Morlong has done the most he could to solve the problem.”
Town board planning commission representative Rick Smith said, “You have to look at the property rights of the owner and their right to pursue, following the rules, to enjoy their rights. You have to balance that with the neighbors’ rights. This landowner has gone out of his way to try to meet the code.”
Mayor Jim Harrmann commented, “I have compassion for what you (Morlong) have tried to do, but I also like to stick to the rules so the board is consistent.”
Planning commissioners voted 5 to 1 to approve the variance with conditions. Harrmann voted no.
Debate continued on the town center designation itself.
Crain said the compromise from 10 years ago is “a good process. Any business must go before the planning commission, and no business is guaranteed approval. It’s location by location.”
He predicted more interest in converting homes to businesses if town growth continues. Only Church and Pine Streets are wide enough to handle the parking, he said.
Ludwig said the compromise from 10 years ago was to allow low-impact businesses. “But when the Morlongs applied, I realized my definition of low impact was different from other people. … I’d like a better definition of low impact.”
Uschuk argued her property was historically a commercial use, the blacksmith’s shop. “I bought it in ’95, and commercial was a use by right. That was changed. I want it changed back to use by right.”
Stong favored keeping use by review. “I think we need more business. This town is dying in the middle here,” he said.
Black also supported continuing use by review. But he worried about the impact of paving over small lots, as Morlong had to, to meet parking requirements. “I think that’s defeating the purpose,” he said. “The one thing that’s certain is change. Do we allow piecemeal commercial development?”
North Street resident Carol Elston said, “I think having business by review is necessary. What is low-impact business? Is paving half the lot low impact?”
Mary Graziano said she likes living in a mixed use area. There needs to be guidance on what constitutes low impact, she said.
Crain advised, “If you ask everyone to write down uses that are low impact, you’ll have as many different opinions as there are people here.”
Planning commissioners approved Rick Smith’s motion to review all the comments and continue discussion at their June meeting.