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Public hearing draws comments, discussion among Council

Public hearing draws comments, discussion among Council

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An efficient Town Council meeting slowed to a crawl last Thursday night due to the publicized time of a public hearing, which then caused debate among the councilmen.

Two people spoke during the meeting’s regular public comment period: Becky Howell, to introduce Floyd’s newest publication, the Floyd Beacon, to the Council and offer free copies of the first issue; and Linda Wagner, who raised concerns with the Council about wildlife in the Town of Floyd. Wagner said she’s seen cats, deer and, most worryingly, bears roaming within Town limits, and mused that businesses in town failing to properly store and dispose of their trash may be attracting animals.

Also during her four minutes of comment time, Wagner questioned the Council about its recent approval of funding to repair a damaged light pole on Main Street. The fixture atop the light pole was damaged after a delivery truck backed into the pole several weeks ago. Wagner asked why the Town hadn’t pursued an insurance claim against the vendor that damaged the town property, and whether the Council was sure the light pole wouldn’t pose a recurring problem.

“I just think spending our tax dollars prudently is important,” Wagner said. Town Councilmen do not respond directly to public comments—during the public comment period, constituents have what Mayor Will Griffin calls “a one-way conversation” with the Council. However, if time permits, the Council will sometimes address public comments at the end of the meeting.

Town Manager Kayla Cox moved quickly through her report to the Council, which included an advisory that contractors with Facebook would be drilling in the intersection of Rtes. 8 and 221 the evenings of Sept. 3 and 9. Cox also told the Council that Floyd County’s Drug Court program had requested access to Warren G. Lineberry Park on Sept. 15 at 3 p.m., for a ceremony to celebrate the program’s most recent graduate. The ceremony would be limited to about 15-20 attendees, Cox said, leaving plenty of space for social distancing. The councilmen were invited to attend the ceremony.

Following Cox’s report, Mayor Griffin gave the council an opportunity to address public comments. He began by explaining that the reason work on the damaged light pole wasn’t bid out, but was given directly to Crenshaw Lighting, was that Crenshaw had custom-made the light pole and was best equipped to repair it. Griffin also spoke of the Town’s good relationship with the business, and added that Crenshaw Lighting often offers the Town steep discounts.

Cox said the Town paid for repairs rather than trying to claim the damage against the offending vendor’s insurance because there was no way to know which delivery truck had damaged the light pole—she pointed out that several businesses on Main Street regularly get deliveries, and use a variety of vendors. Cox explained that she spoke to a US Foods representative and several Main Street businesses to ascertain the minimum height the light pole needed to be to prevent further damage from large trucks.

Crenshaw Lighting adjusted the height of the light fixture during the repair, Cox said, to reflect her research.

Councilman David Whitaker expressed doubt that the light pole was protected from damage, recounting seeing a delivery truck coming “very close” to the pole a couple nights before the Council meeting. He also pointed out that the light pole is not painted the same color as others on the street, and wondered whether the Council planned to fix that.

The council finished with the rest of its agenda before 6 p.m. on Thursday night—recently, the body voted to move its meetings from 6:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. for the remainder of the year. However, the council had previously scheduled and publicly advertised a hearing for 6:30 p.m. that night, leading to a half-hour recess before extensive discussion of a conditional use permit.

Stephanie Clague, who lives on Nira Street in the Town of Floyd, was petitioning the council for a conditional use permit that would allow her to convert an existing garage on her property into an accessory dwelling unit (“mother-in-law cottage”), where her son would pay rent to live and which Clague could potentially use as a rental unit after her son’s departure.

Because Clague lives in an area zoned R1, or intended for single-family housing, local ordinances require that she seek approval from the Town of Floyd Planning Commission and the Town Council before building an accessory dwelling on her property. This “conditional use” approval allows the Council to place conditions on the permit, such as limitations on what the dwelling can be used for. Councilmen floated potential restrictions on short-term rentals or a prohibition on subdividing the property during their discussion Thursday.

Two of Clague’s neighbors attended the public hearing, and raised concerns that her property line wasn’t clearly established, making it impossible to know whether her accessory dwelling conformed to setback requirements. Per the Town’s ordinances, secondary dwellings must be at least 10 feet from the road.

The Public Service Authority (PSA) removed pins marking the corners of the property from the ground while working on the water line earlier this year, the neighbors explained, and had never replaced them. Neighbor Cara Castle asked that the pins be replaced and the property be surveyed, “just so it’s transparent.” She told the Council that had she known a potential rental unit would one day be built beside her property, she may not have bought her house.

Clague spoke next, saying, “Stuff changes in life. I’m sorry about that. But if you’re not paying my taxes and the Town Council says I can do it…I’m not trying to be unpleasant about this, but I want to be able to use my land.”

Town Attorney Jim Shortt said a survey likely isn’t necessary, as the town has the property’s metes and bounds and the GPS coordinates in GIS match the deed. Several members of the Council said the PSA contractor should replace the property pins, however, before the conditional use permit was approved or denied.

The Councilmen spoke at length about a past conditional use permit they had approved with unintended consequences, such as the property being subdivided and the accessory dwelling being sold off. Town Vice-Mayor Mike Patton referred to the decision with regret as “setting a precedent,” and said he felt that given the Council’s prior approval of a similar conditional use permit, they had little choice but to approve Clague’s request as well. Councilman Whitaker, on the other hand, argued that since conditional use permits are approved on a case-by-case basis, precedent is not a relevant factor.

Town Councilman Bruce Turner came down somewhere in the middle of the debate, noting that folks often build accessory dwellings in order to more easily care for aging parents, and that respecting people’s right to do as they wish with their property is important. Referring to the Council’s previous decisions on conditional use permits, Turner said, “We did what we thought was best at the time…We try to accommodate as much as we can, that’s right for everybody. On the other hand, we can’t really control what people do on their own property.”

Cox and Shortt were quick to correct Turner, however, saying that while some zones allow accessory dwelling units “by right,” areas zoned R1 do not. People who live in single-family zoning must secure approval for certain property uses and everyone, regardless of zoning, must build structures that comply with building codes.

Patton objected to the idea of single-family homes and potential rental units existing in the same zone. “When you start mixing them, you decrease (the value) of one piece of property, and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. However, Turner and Councilman Chris Bond said that if short-term rental was a concern, the Town had the right to limit that action when approving the permit.

Bond, who also serves on the Town Planning Commission, said, “We approved (the permit) in Planning Commission, and if that’s good, nothing’s changed as far as I’m concerned.” The Council ultimately decided to ask the PSA to reinstall the pins in Clague’s property and confirm the property lines and setbacks before approving the conditional use permit, which will be revisited during the next meeting. The Floyd Town Council next meets Thursday, Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m.

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