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Western Heritage Timbers CUP Request

Decision Makers: Driggs Planning & Zoning Commission

Topic: Western Heritage Timbers CUP Request

August 4, 2009
Driggs City Planning & Zoning
PO Box 48
60 South Main Street
Driggs, Idaho 83422

RE: Western Heritage conditional use permit application.

Dear Council Members:

In this letter, I will address why the current use of the old Ford garage property by Western Heritage Timber (Western Heritage) does not meet the criteria established by this commission to issue a conditional use permit (CUP).

Criteria #1: The true nature of the use occurring on this property is not a permitted or conditioned use in C3 zoning – this is an M1 use.

This is an all too familiar situation of “act first, ask later.”  Since May, Western Heritage move in, and has operated a lumberyard without a certificate of occupancy, fire district approval, or CUP, despite the repeated letters and emails from Teton County, the City of Driggs, and the Teton County Fire District to come into compliance. (See Attachment A)

Driggs has worked hard to find a way to make this business “fit” a C3 zoning designation, but the past months have provided an ongoing demonstration as to what the true nature of Western Heritage’s business will be – and it is not a contractor’s shop. Combining the clearly visible activity on the property with Mr. Engman’s abbreviated description of the proposed use, we know that lumber will be stored, refined, processed, stockpiled, distributed for construction. In addition, a “furniture outlet” sign is displayed.
 
This would clearly be a salvage yard as permitted in both M1 and C3 zoning, except the lumber is stored outside.  Looking to other descriptions that fit the bill for this business, this lumberyard clearly belongs in land zoned M1 because in addition to a salvage yard, M1 also allows for:

1.  Manufacturing, assembling, fabricating, processing, packing, repairing, or storage uses . . .
2.  Wholesaling, warehousing, storage, and distribution
16.  Crafts shop
21.   Sale of heavy building material
4.   Sawmill or log production facility.

Placing this lumberyard in an M1 zone would make more sense because the noise, debris, and other impacts of the operation are in accordance with other permitted uses in an M1 zone.  The problem here is that this lumberyard is operating in a C3 zone, where it is not in accordance with other permitted uses.  Referring to this lumberyard as a “contractor’s shop” does not change the reality of how this property is currently being used.  The business being operated in plain view at this time simply does not conform to C3 zoning.  

Criteria #2: To use this location for a lumberyard directly conflicts with the goals of the Driggs comprehensive plan.

Both state law and city ordinance require that this conditional use permit application not conflict with the Driggs comprehensive plan.  The Driggs plan has designated this location as a Mixed-use Area that would allow for residences, live-work districts, and multistory commercial/condominium projects. The goal of this Mixed-use Area is to avoid sprawl, increase walkability, and allow commercial uses that enable residents to get their daily essentials. Perhaps a small woodcraft shop would be harmonious with the plan for this neighborhood, but what is proposed here is a full-scale industrial lumberyard complete with noise and debris.

More importantly, the Driggs plan expressly designates the Commercial Land Use Areas to the far North and East of this property as the place where lumberyards should be located.  

To grant a CUP for a lumberyard in the Mixed-use Area works directly at odds with the goals of the comprehensive plan to make this area pedestrian friendly and provide day-to-day commercial services for residents. This lumberyard must be placed in a Commercial Land Use Area in order to not conflict with the Driggs comprehensive plan.

Criteria #3: It is not possible to condition this lumberyard to a point where it will be harmonious or appropriate with the character of the neighborhood.

Chainsaws. Truck traffic. Sawdust. Towering stacks of lumber. Unsightliness. The impacts of this lumberyard will ripple through the neighborhood, and directly affect the abutting properties by adding an industrial element to this neighborhood where it did not exist before.

Even if a 10-foot fence were built around this entire property, the towering stacks of lumber would still be visible from all sides. Conditions requiring that all cutting and sanding be conducting inside, behind closed doors, and only during certain hours might mitigate some negative impacts, but enforcement would be difficult because each offense would be fleeting and difficult to catch in the act. It will be challenging, if not impossible, for this commission to effectively condition this CUP to a point where it will not alter the character of the neighborhood.

Criteria #4: This proposed use will disturb current neighboring uses, and affect the viability of future neighboring uses.

This property abuts developed C2 and R3 zoning, including dozens of townhomes, an assisted living facility, office space, a laundromat, a restaurant, and a mortuary. These are all quiet, discrete, pedestrian-friendly uses that will feel the ripple effects of a lumberyard in their neighborhood.

The lumberyard would also abut undeveloped R3 and C3 zoning. The R3 zone is a high density residential zoning classification used to buffer low density and commercial uses, and the C3 zone is used to provide an area where activities of a service nature may be carried out which are more intensive in character than other commercial zones. If this lumberyard is permitted the neighborhood, it may “moot” the R3 zoning designation of the land to the south because the character of the neighborhood will no longer support high-density housing.   

Criteria #5: The owner must demonstrate that he can adequately provide for essential services such as fire protection and waste management.

Both state law and city ordinance state the issuance of a CUP is entirely discretionary, but must be predicated on a finding that essential services can be provided for the proposed use.  This property lacks Teton County Fire District approval to operate the lumberyard, and by virtue of having large stacks of dry wood abutting building and residences – this is a critical health and safety concern. In order to obtain Fire District approval, the owner must make several changes such as the addition of one or more fire hydrants to the property. (See attachment A.) Trash and refuse disposal for a lumberyard of this size and scale also remains unresolved. These are critical essential services that must be addressed to the satisfaction of this commission before a CUP is ever issued.  

Criteria #6: Will a lumberyard at the scenic entrance of Driggs be detrimental to the economic and environmental health of the neighborhood?

Both state law and city ordinance grant this commission the discretion to require studies to address the social, economic, fiscal, and environmental impacts of a proposed CUP.   This provision exists for a reason. It gives reviewing boards like you the ability to dig deeper and investigate the potential impacts of a CUP before approving it. How will this lumberyard affect the economic future of this neighborhood? What about the social and environmental impacts on the residents that will live next to this business? This commission has the express statutory tools to require answers to these questions.   

Conclusion: This is a square peg in a round hole.

You could condition this CUP to death, but the fact is, it’s a square peg in a round hole: This is a loud, unsightly manufacturing use abutting quiet businesses and residences in a neighborhood that has a specific Mixed-use designation for promoting walkability and day-to-day commercial services for residents. Enforcement of CUP conditions will be an ongoing and time-consuming task. Even with conditions in place, the presence of a lumberyard will still change the character of the neighborhood because it is simply an inappropriate location for this kind of business.

Thank you once again for all of your hard work.

Sincerely,

            

            Anna Trentadue
            VARD Program / Staff Attorney
            
    

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