Thursday, 02 February 2023

Council considers new right-of-way ordinance

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED, WITH THE DATE FOR THE NEXT ORDINANCE READING CORRECTED. 

 

LAKEPORT – The City Council voted to forward an ordinance changing the city's right-of-way rules to a public hearing on Aug. 21.


City Engineer Scott Harter presented four possible resolutions to the council, meant to address how improvements on a property parcel trigger expensive – sometimes exorbitant – right-of-way improvement costs, including curb, gutter and sidewalk installation.


John Magee and wife Jennifer Fox brought the issue of unreasonably high right-of-way costs to the council's attention at its Feb. 6 meeting.


The couple wants to renovate their 100-year-old, 1,000-square-foot home on Ninth Street. Homes next to them don't have curb and gutter for most part, they said.


Their property includes four frontages – almost an entire block, Harter stated at the time – which could end up costing them more than their property is worth, which they estimate is about $350,000.


Even if the city deferred the right-of-way improvements until later, Magee said he and Fox couldn't pay them.


City Community Development Director Richard Knoll at the February called Fox and Magee's situation "the classic example of how our right-of-way ordinance doesn't work very well in some cases."


It was then that Knoll suggested rewriting the ordinance.


He also had suggested adding a "hardship waiver." The versions of the ordinance Harter took to the council Tuesday included a stipulation that the city manager can defer right-of-way improvements if they cause an undue hardship, but the ordinance does not state whether or not the deferral would have a time limit or would be permanent.


All of the sample ordinances suggested raising the valuation threshold that triggers right-of-way improvements from $26,000 to $45,000 over a three-year period.


Harter said, based on that value, it would allow a homeowner to add the equivalent of about 400 square feet to their home, a reasonable amount of property improvements before a property owner incurred the burden of right-of-way improvements.


The new $45,000 valuation and the three-year period would allow homeowners to stage their improvements over time, Harter explained.


Two of the sample resolutions included staff recommendations on specific exemptions for improvements made to increase energy conservation (energy efficient windows, solar, high efficiency heating and cooling, as examples); improvements to accommodate accessibility needs of the owner/occupant; and improvements meant to elevate the home within a floodplain to meet current standards.


Councilman Jim Irwin wanted a mechanism included in the ordinance that would prioritize fixing sidewalks on Main Street rather than in "isolated" areas of the city. It's also along Main Street that Irwin's father is developing his Victorian Village townhouse subdivision.


Harter said he and City Attorney Steve Brookes discussed it and decided that policy could increase the city's financial burdens.


Brookes explained after the meeting that if the city had a property owner's right-of-way obligation in another part of town go toward Main Street, the city itself would be obligated to make right-of-way improvements on that property owner's land in exchange.


Irwin questioned the solar/energy efficiency exemption. Councilman Buzz Bruns agreed the exemption should be removed, saying solar is extremely expensive. Mayor Roy Parmentier said more exemptions meant fewer sidewalks in the city.


Irwin also appeared poised to request the removal of the exemption of accessibility improvement projects until Knoll said they have one such project pending now, to add a wheelchair ramp to a woman's home.


In addition, Irwin questioned reducing the five-year valuation period to three.


When Irwin again attempted to broach the idea of right-of-way improvements being added first to Main Street, City Manager Jerry Gillham cautioned Irwin that it wasn't a good idea in the long-term.


"I think we're creating more machinations and more internal legal turmoil than the idea justifies," said Gillham.


Gillham said there aren't many right-of-way improvements that come through the city; Harter reported the number ranges between five and 10 annually.


If it's not a big deal, Irwin asked, then why the ordinance?


Councilman Bob Rumfelt moved to approve a version of the ordinance that kept the length of time for improvements at five years and removed the energy conservation improvements exemption.


The council approved the ordinance's first reading 5-0. It will be scheduled for a public hearing at the council's Sept. 4 meeting, after which it likely will be adopted.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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