Planning Commission Recap: Rezoning Request, Seasonal Sales Ordinance

After taking March off because of no new business items to discuss, the Lowell Planning Commission held its latest regular monthly meeting on Monday, April 8. The meeting got off to a late start since commissioners needed to wait for Lowell City Council to complete a special meeting they had convened earlier.

All commissioners were present for the meeting except Commissioner Dave Cadwallader. This was also the first meeting for Nicki Holst who was appointed to fill a vacancy created with the resignation of Bruce Barker.

Barker had been the chair of the Planning Commission for many years until commissioners voted to replace him with Tony Ellis at the February meeting. In commenting on that turn of events, Commissioner Colin Plank noted that the change took Barker by surprise.

“I don’t think we handled the appointment of the new chair well,” Plank said. He thought in the future when there is internal discussion about changing leadership, someone should give the current chair the “honor of a little heads-up.”

At the end of the meeting, Ellis said that he thought any election of new officers would have to be abrupt, but he also felt that it was a difficult transition since he needed to begin running the February meeting immediately without any training.

Ellis said he was taken aback by how quickly everyone voted for him. Plank noted that it was his impression that some internal discussion had occurred before the nomination and vote, and if that were the case, he felt it would have been good to give Barker the courtesy of knowing he wouldn’t be nominated to continue as chair.

Rezoning Request for 208 S. Hudson

The first piece of business to be discussed was a rezoning request for 208 S. Hudson, which has been the location of Rickert Electric since the 1950s.

Jay Rickert said that he is preparing to sell the property and would like to have it rezoned prior to putting it on the market. While the property has always been used for industrial purposes, it is zoned R-3, which is the zone for multi-family residential properties

Andy Moore, a planning consultant to the city from firm Williams & Works, noted that the master plan called for the property to be zoned Downtown Edge. However, that district was never created after adoption of the current Master Plan in 2007 and so is not an option.

Residential properties are located to the south and west of the property and across the street is King Milling. Moore noted that the current building is considered non-conforming, and it is located within the floodplain. While someone could purchase and use the existing building, any new construction on the site would have to meet zoning setbacks and be raised to a height out of the floodplain.

After some discussion about whether residential or industrial would be the best zoning district, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that Lowell City Council rezone the property to the industrial district.

“It seems like it’s always been used as industrial,” Plank said. “I don’t see anyone building a home there.”

The request now goes to Lowell City Council for final approval.

Temporary Sales Ordinance

Next up was a public hearing on a temporary sales ordinance. This was prompted by a car sale that was proposed last year for the Tractor Supply Co parking lot.

“This is actually something I’ve wanted to adjust for some time,” Moore said.

Currently, businesses need to come before the Planning Commission to request a special land use permit to hold an outdoor sale. Moore proposed changing the ordinance so that businesses could simply request a permit that could be approved by city staff.

As written, the new ordinance would limit permits for outdoor sales to small, seasonal items such as pumpkins, Christmas trees, fireworks and the like. Large items such as boats and cars would be specifically excluded in the ordinance.

A permit for a seasonal merchandise sale would be valid for one month. It could then be extended for no more than a second month. Sales could only occur in the C-3 district which is the section of Main Street west of the railroad tracks.

Ellis asked about how the ordinance might affect the Farmer’s Market. “Well, that’s a city-sanctioned event so the city can do whatever they want,” Moore replied.

Ellis then asked about whether someone could come in and hold something like a “Memorial Day mattress sale.” To address that, Moore suggested adding language to stipulate the items for sale must be directly related to a recognized holiday.

“I have a small concern about recognized holidays,” Holst said. She noted that some religious holidays are better known than others and worried that limiting sales to recognized holidays could exclude some religious celebrations.

“I would recommend keeping it vague,” said Commissioner John Barnett.

Commissioner Marty Chambers agreed with leaving out any mention of holidays.

Moore asked for the commissioners’ thoughts on sales for events that are not holidays, such as items related to the solar eclipse or the upcoming election. “I just don’t want to have a situation where somebody sets up the Labor Day mattress sale, and everyone comes and goes, why did you do that?” Moore said.

Chambers thought City Attorney Jessica Wood would be able to help Moore address that concern.

Holst asked about the rationale of limiting the sales to only seasonal or event-related merchandise. She wondered if it might be better to try to build more structure around sales to ensure they are not disruptive rather than trying to dictate when and what is sold.

After some additional discussion, commissioners voted unanimously to table the matter until further guidance could be received from the city attorney.

The Planning Commission then briefly discussed the next steps for the Master Plan update before adjourning for the evening. The next regular meeting of the Lowell Planning Commission will be on May 13 at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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