An issue 15 years in the making over zoning could soon be solved through a simple change in the ordinance.
Aragon City Council members gathered in a special session on April 13 to allow for Code Enforcement and Building Inspector Danny Forsyth to bring code and zoning violations to council members for action, but instead the body adjourned with wanting to update that portion of the city code to include a new definition of mixed use properties within the city.
Code violations and a zoning violation was brought by Forsyth against Gracie Trucking Company owner Judd Fee, who operates out of the old Aragon School gymnasium that was also once home to the Aragon Volunteer Fire Department.
Forsyth came with a stack of complaints and problems presented by neighbors and himself, along with the admission he’d been to talk to Fee about the issues over the past months hoping to find solutions to problems presented by those living around the property.
Those issues have ranged from noise issues with the big diesel trucks to problems with residents living inside of a mobile home on the property using crude language within earshot of neighbors themselves.
However, Forsyth said those problems were being set aside for the purposes of the April 13 called session to discuss problems with Fee’s business to address one issue in particular: can someone live within a building that has been zoned C-1, despite work having been done on the inside to make it habitable?
“According to this book, you can’t,” Forsyth said.
By definition of the Aragon’s city code, the Commercial C-1 zoning classification for buildings doesn’t allow for anyone to reside within the property.
Fee had previously asked when he first bought the gymnasium in 2001 to correct it’s zoning on the map from R-3, a residential classification to its current state.
Council members at the time voted unanimously to make the change.
In the meantime, Fee has been living in one of two converted apartments within his trucking company, and had previously allowed those he’s chosen to help live in a second apartment, or in a mobile home that was on the property.
Forsyth said that one of the several code violations he brought up was over that mobile home, which has now been moved away.
He said that he didn’t want to force anyone out of their homes, but his point was that if he was going to enforce code and zoning violations throughout the city, he had to take what rules were already approved in the code and apply it equally to everyone, including Fee.
Thus he sought guidance from the council on how they wanted to proceed.
Mayor Garry Baldwin asked Fee to discuss his side of the story with the council, and made one clear argument: people all over the country live within businesses they own in apartments above their stores, and have done so for centuries in the past.
What then, was the difference between himself and those other people within cities?
Fee also cited other ways in which he’s helped the city through his 15-plus years having lived and operated his business within Aragon, employing several people and also improving the lot next door to his own property.
He said he hauled in many tons of crushed slate to improve the lot, which was mostly muddy and draining into the sewer system, before he moved in.
Though he doesn’t own the lot, Fee said he has an agreement to park equipment on it that is slated for work in his repair shop. He’s also driven the city garbage truck during times when Public Works Superintendent Daniel Johnson was taking time off.
“As for the rest of the complaints, I’ve tried to comply where I can,” Fee said.
Aragon does, according to city attorney Zach Burkhalter, which allows for professionals such as doctors, attorneys and accountants who operate commercial businesses to have apartments above their offices, but none existed for Fee’s specific situation.
Mainly, the council wanted to resolve the issue without kicking anyone out of their home, but remaining within legal boundaries.
“There’s been complaints over the years about the property, and I think we’re here trying to use this to do something else,” said council member Hunter Spinks. “But the issues that they (neighbors) have with this property aren’t going to be resolved by just evicting him.”
Zoning remained the issue at hand for the council however, who in the end all agreed that they should create language to amend the ordinance and allow for a classification that fits within the parameters of Fee’s business and living situation.
“I think we’ve identified that we are lacking a zone, a mixed use section of our code book that we need to look at,” Spinks said. “We’ve identified this, and looked at this, we don’t need to rush it. But we don’t need to put him on the street in the meantime.”
Council members will have a chance to come back and look at the ordinance being drafted by Burkhalter during an upcoming meeting, but it will have to go through several steps before it can be approved.
First, the council will have to offer a first reading on the amendment, then allow for public comment and a second reading before they can put it up for an up or down vote.
After that, Fee will then have the opportunity to ask for a zoning change for any new additional zones to be included within the city code, and will have to go through a two-month process in much the same way as the ordinance change with two months of readings, a public hearing and then finally a chance for the council to vote for approval or denial of the request.
The Aragon City Council gathers again today starting at 6 p.m. for their work session at city hall, followed by the regular April meeting at 7 p.m. in the city’s court room.