Know Your Planning Commission 5.22.13

***This is a series of articles recapping the planning commission meetings. They will run after most meetings and are written by City Council candidate, District 3 resident and Vice-Chair of the Planning Commission, Chris McNutt.***

The Planning Commission is a Council appointed yet independent body of citizens who act as a vetting/advisory panel for land use, zoning, and Comprehensive Plan amendments to the City Council. The following is a personal account and may not reflect the opinions of other Planning Commission members.
The meeting on May 22nd, 2013 covered three primary topics.

1.Privately Initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendment

2.Miscellaneous Code Amendments

3.Heritage Tree Ordinance

[The following is to be read slowly and deliberately, as if it was after sunset and on a foggy street.]

The evening began like any other. As usual, I arrived early. Only Mrs. Ochs arrived before me. And that was a good thing, because she had the keys to the building. One by one the commissioners sauntered into the room, pleasant banter permeating the spacious accommodations. Soon Katie Baker arrived and the conversation turned to the whereabouts of Chris Beale. Then Deputy Mayor John Knutsen materialized, quietly contemplating the days events and anxiously waiting to hear the wisdom of the planning commission.

Councilman John Hopkins flitted in and out of the chambers, departing empty handed; each time returning with correspondence and magazines. Some say, on quiet nights, if you listen extra well, you can hear the creak of his Nike’s delivering information and report cards to the kind and generous people of District 1. Still others, don’t say that at all.

I really don’t know what mood I was shooting for with that intro, but if you’re still with me, I can assure you it won’t continue.

First up…

1. Privately Initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendment

Out near Shaw Rd and Pioneer, just over the border into District 1, there are two plots of land totalling almost 13 acres. There’s actually a great deal more land than that out there, but this amendment concerns only a specific portion of it.

The petitioner would like this area rezoned from Business Park to Light Manufacturing, presumably to allow for greater flexibility and for structures such as warehouses.

The main reason they are seeking this change is because this area doesn’t have main line utilities installed yet, and it will take the aggregation of a large project to make the installation affordable.

The proposed zoning fits in well with the neighboring uses and the future land use map.

2. Miscellaneous Code Amendments

Bed and Breakfasts and detached dwelling units (mother-in-laws)! That’s right, I feel the excitement as well.

This was our first look at some actual city code to allow Bed and Breakfasts as well as mother-in-law type dwellings within the city limits. I feel they can go hand in hand and either would be incomplete without the other.

We had previously discussed allowing both, outright, in most areas of the city only putting restrictions on the size and number of rooms before triggering a conditional use permit. The commission discussed each section of the proposed code and through general harmony, agreed on each point.

I asked that the maximum consecutive days one could stay in a Bed and Breakfast be changed from 14 nights to 18 nights in order to accommodate the entire length of the Fair. I also objected to using the number 14 instead of the term “fortnight,” but by the laughter in the room, I don’t believe I was taken seriously.

The new code, if adopted by the city council, will allow Bed and Breakfasts as long as they have 2 or fewer rooms and can provide adequate parking. Anything larger than 2 rooms will require a permit, but they may not exceed 8 rooms.

There are a few other requirements such as the lot size, consistent architecture, allowable signage, a maximum number of extra workers, and “guest only” meals.

One of the proposed codes was to disallow “banquets, weddings, conferences or similar large group gatherings…” I proposed moving the word “large” to the beginning of that sentence, because small and proportionally sized events which have little impact on the surrounding neighborhoods should be allowed.

In regard to detached dwelling units, there was a lively talk about fire fighter access, window placement (for privacy) and standard building codes.

The final drafts of both of these amendments will be presented at a public hearing tentatively planned for July. We hope to get a lot of feedback so that the plans can be tweaked to the will of the people before going on to the council for approval.

3. Heritage Tree Ordinance

During the last amendment cycle we had vetted an Urban Forestry plan. It was very detailed and in a lot of ways too restrictive (in my opinion). In the end, the city council chose not to adopt it, but did indicate that the Heritage Tree portion of it should come back for another look. This item on the agenda is the relaunch of that project.

Currently, Puyallup has a somewhat informal Heritage Tree program. It consists of a list of notable trees, but isn’t really maintained. This new draft language is pretty comprehensive.

The Heritage Tree topic ended up taking the most time or any topic this evening as we went through each section of the ordinance language, interjecting questions and clarification. One of the issues was deciding on a plan of action concerning what to do about the current list of trees. In the end the least intrusive plan seemed to be to contact the owners of said trees, explain the program, and ask them if they would like to participate. If so, they are in. If not, they are out.

If you are like me, you’re probably wondering what kind of protections (restrictions and obligations) are placed on these trees (tree owners), and what benefits the program offers. Since this has the potential to be controversial, I’ll go into a bit of detail about the current draft language. Keep in mind, this is still subject to public review and we can all have our voices heard both at the Planning Commission stage as well as the City Council level.

Eligible Heritage Trees are defined as “… individual trees… deemed to be of extreme value… due to age, size, location, unique variety, association with historical or community events…”

Trees are nominated for Heritage Tree status only with the written authorization of the tree’s owner. There will be an application process which will include items such as the trees features, condition and an arborists report. This application is subject to a city staff review process, but should be pretty straight forward.

In addition to the self nomination process there are two other ways for people to suggest trees for the list. This is not to suggest that the trees will nominate themselves. This isn’t Lord of the Rings, The Legend of Zelda, or a Disney film. One way is if the tree is planted in conjunction with a city event or public memorial of some kind. The other way is if the tree is on city property or within the public right-of-way (along city streets).

Standardized notification to the tree’s owner as well as the abutting neighbors along with an appeal process are also baked into the code.

What luxurious accommodations do the approved trees enjoy? Exactly the same ones they have now, except that there will be penalties for removing them, and as a pride of ownership, their owners will need to take care of them.

I was initially against any kind of financial penalty, feeling that it was an intrusion into the owners rights. My opinion was ultimately swayed. The argument was made that protection with no consequence, is not protection, and may in fact remove any need to have the program at all. I’m not certain what an appropriate penalty amount might be, and I would like to hear from the public on that. Also, I think that we may be able to mitigate the sting of those fees by designating that they go back into the program to pay for new sapling plantings or outreach programs which serve to promote trees.

One other aspect which citizen feedback will be crucial is the idea of legally tying the tree to the title of it’s associated home. The balance here is owner rights versus the meaningful effect the program may have. I always favor owner rights, but since this is a voluntary program which the owner must sign off on (thereby binding the value and fate of their home to that tree) they would only be getting what they agreed to.

Though I did not think of it during the meeting, I have since sent in a suggestion that another provision be added which says that substantive changes to the Heritage Tree program should trigger the re-enrollment of all trees. This will go a long way to eliminating requirements or penalties changing without the consent of those who agreed to them.

A good deal of time as also spent on what might be best considered “Personal Memorial Trees.” For example, maybe you plant a new tree on your property, and though it is not significant by the standards detailed above, it is nonetheless personally important, perhaps because it commemorated a family event or person. In the end we decided not to include this provision, not because it isn’t valuable, but because a homeowner can usually protect the trees on their own land. Also, if they move on and leave the tree behind, the new owners should not be subject to uphold the sentimental nature of that tree, under penalty, should they not feel the same way.

For more specific information about the meeting, please see the following list of resources.

Meeting agenda and distributed documents

Audio recording

Official minutes archive

If you have questions or concerns about this (or any other city matter) please reach out to the City Council, myself or any other Planning Commission member. Also, feel free to comment below. I’ll try my best to answer questions.

We are adjourned.

Chris McNutt
District 3 City Council Candidate
Vice-Chair, Planning Commission

1 Comment

Filed under Chris McNutt, Planning Commission

One response to “Know Your Planning Commission 5.22.13

  1. John Hopkins

    Very funny Chris……as was my correspondence .A “report card “that I had delivered to one fine District one citizen had been returned to me……filed out!
    We got an A minus……not bad really.

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