Aragon Zoning Board of Appeals, June 2017

Aragon Zoning Board of Appeals members Melisa Hughes and Dale Brumbelow discuss a potential variance they voted to deny for property owned by Judson Fee, who operates a trucking business and lives within the Aragon School gymnasium. 

Kevin Myrick

The latest step in the process for a local business owner who also calls the old Aragon School gymnasium home is facing the potential for having to find a new place to live.

Aragon's Zoning Board of Appeals met with only two members, and Melisa Hughes was named chair before getting into a decision over whether Judson Fee, owner of a local trucking company who operates his business out of the Aragon School gym and also lives in a remodeled area within, can continue to live in his residence due to its zoning being set at C-1.

That classification of zoning makes no previsions for having a residence within a commercial building, unless the owners go through the process of seeking a variance for allowing both uses.

Hughes diverted from the board's agenda for the public hearing, immediately deciding that the board would go against the variance request without following the planned course for the Monday evening meeting where Judson Fee was on the agenda to speak, along with Doug Rayburn.

She was asked twice whether she would allow Fee to speak, and said no both times.

"I make my decision based on how long this has been continued," she said. "It's my understanding that this has been an ongoing process. He's had time to rectify what's wrong, and time to come and resolve the issues before him, and so that's why I think at this time I'm going to say no."

She also added when asked the second time and again saying no to further public comment from those signed up to speak at the public hearing that "What I think is, that I would like to not just hear from them, but I like to hear from the community also," Hughes said. "I would like to hear what their take is on this. To see how they feel about this."

Fee finally spoke up from his seat in the audience, and said again that he had previously brought signed statements from neighbors that "didn't have any problems with us living there. We've been living there for 15 years, OK? And what is it that you are saying that we've had plenty of time for. Time to do what?"

Hughes and Fee went on to argue about how the process had been handled in previous meetings, with the city council having sat to hear complaints on code enforcement issues with former building inspector and code enforcement officer Danny Forsyth.

Two months ago, that meeting saw the council decide to draft an amendment to Aragon's zoning rules in the charter to attempt to setup a new multi-use zone to accommodate the gym's multi-use purpose as part residence, part repair facility for Fee's trucking business.

"This has been a three month process that's been going on, " Fee said. "I didn't know I had to come before the zoning board until just this past month when (Mayor) Garry Baldwin showed up and told me I needed to file for a variance. So that's why I'm here. I'm not sure of the process as far as the variance goes."

As Fee tried to continue to explain the situation, Hughes asked whether his property had undergone any inspections following his renovations to make some of the space habitable within the gym. He said didn't know if it had.

He also said he'd asked for the property to be zoned commercial in the early 2000s, and that it was only recently corrected to reflect the change that had been voted on nearly two decades before.

"The problem is sir is that your home is not zoned residential, it's zoned for commercial," Hughes replied. "It has nothing to do with residential, it's a business."

She also pointed out when he asked why he had been allowed for the past 15 years to get away with living in the gym that "probably because the people who allowed it are no longer here."

She added that it was his responsibility to ensure that remodeling on his property had been inspected and found appropriate for residential use.

"It amazes me how you people can kick someone out of their home, and not feel a thing about it," Fee said.

Hughes did say that she sympathized with his situation, but that she had to follow the letter of the law and not allow any exceptions to the rules.

"I have to do what I feel is for the good of Aragon," she said. "I can't bend the rules for one person."

Fee got up and walked out of the meeting before the decision was finalized with a 2-0 vote by Hughes and board member Dale Brumbelow.

That recommendation will be forwarded along to the Aragon City Council during their upcoming July 11 meeting, according to Baldwin. Because Fee did speak out at the meeting, he said that though the agenda wasn't followed strictly it counted for the purposes of the public hearing.

The city council could overturn the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals and allow Fee the variance to continue living in the gym.

Baldwin added that he was unsure of the process going forward, since the council has not yet met to make a final decision on the variance.

The latest meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals was also supposed to include member Kenny Mulkey. Baldwin said he had come to City Hall earlier in the evening before the meeting began, but begged off participation due to personal issues.