Archive for Thursday, August 12, 2004

VFW permit snafu untangled

August 12, 2004

Just as the De Soto City Council was preparing to take action that would restart the derailed De Soto VFW expansion project, it was confronted with a request to resolve another project stalled from similar circumstances.

This time the building permit snafu involved Jim Carpenter's plan to expand the office of De Soto Feed and Grain. A building permit was issued for the project before City Engineer Mike Brungardt found a site plan was required and a stop-work order issued.

Carpenter brought the issue to the Council at the same meeting it approved a development agreement that would allow the VFW expansion to resume. That project was put on hold when the City Council voted to revoke the building permit at the recommendation of city staff.

Mayor Dave Anderson called the repeated permit problems embarrassing.

"I could have never dreamt we would have to deal with this situation, and now we're dealing with it a second time," he said.

Later, as the Council tried to find a solution that would allow Carpenter to go forward with the project, Councilwoman Mitra Templin said the Council needed to acknowledge the source of the problem.

"The problem isn't with the text in our regulations," she said. "It's in our building permit department."

In response to the recent problems, City Administrator Greg Johnson restructured the routing process for building permits. Johnson, City Attorney Patrick Reavey and City Engineer Mike Brungardt are now review building permit applications.

In addition, Johnson said the city would contract outside consultants to review commercial projects.

The routing system started June 1, a month after Carpenter was issued a building permit by a now-departed city employee.

Brungardt said he reviewed the plans at Carpenter's request and found a site plan would be necessary. He was unaware a building permit had been issued the day before, he said.

Carpenter told the Council that after he secured the building permit he committed $20,000 to the expansion. Carpenter said he would not go forward if a site plan was required because of the expense of engineering details. He pressed a sympathetic Council to make a decision that would allow the project to go ahead.

He was told a site plan was required because the project expanded the business' office by more than 50 percent, Carpenter said. In an argument that found favor among the Council, he argued his business was the entire elevator and that the expansion was only a small fraction of that.

Anderson suggested an exception could be made because the project would use a previous containment wall as part of the expansion's foundation. Rather than specify the Carpenter project, it was suggested the issue could be addressed with a text amendment to the city's regulations that exempted projects from the site plan process if they made use of existing foundations. Meanwhile, the stop-work order on the project was lifted.

The compromise passed 4-1. Templin voted no, saying the Council was resorting to "creative legal tactics."

With the De Soto Feed and Grain permit resolved, the Council moved on the VFW issue.

The Council voted last month to suspend the building permit for that project out of concern that it could place the city in legal jeopardy should a neighbor complain about the lack of a site plan. At that same time, the Council instructed staff to expedite the site plan process and work with the post on a development agreement that would allow a restart of the process.

The details of the development agreement were worked out in the three weeks between the Council's suspension of the building permit through meetings of the city's Site Plan Review Board and Planning Commission and staff efforts with post representatives.

The development agreement allows the project to go forward with an agreed-upon schedule of improvements to bring the site up to code. Those improvements include a $23,000 facelift to breakup the new post's metal façade (to be finished no later than Dec. 31, 2008), landscaping, sidewalks and the parking lot.

In addition, the agreement waives the city's excise tax on the improvement and requires the post to make annual progress reports on the deferred improvement.

VFW President Doug Bedford said the agreement would be presented Aug. 15 to the post's membership for approval.

With the unsnarling of the two building permit snafus, Councilwoman Linda Zindler suggested the city should consider changing code requirements with an eye to "in-fill" development in the city's older neighborhoods.

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