Putting a handle on CUPs

City discusses ways to avoid problems concerning permits granted to entities

Development Services Director Gary Jeppson said it started because people didn't feel like they had a say.

Companies or non-profits that want to build in an area that isn't zoned for their needs can request a conditional use permit, or CUP. These are awarded by City Council and are revocable if the permit-holder does not comply with conditions set by Council.

But when the permits aren't reviewed to see whether or not the conditions are still being met years later, then problems arise like the one that shook City Hall for a couple months with Cornerstone Mission's permit.

Complaints were made to no avail, no hearings were held, no reviews conducted, and tempers flared as the issues with transients at the shelter - their loitering, sleeping and urinating on surrounding businesses - went unnoticed and unreported to the Council.

In order to avoid future conflicts such as the Cornerstone issue, Council on Monday discussed inserting into the city's conditional use permit policy a clause that will allow officials to conduct annual reviews one year after Council first awards the permit.

Several long-time city officials, most recently Councilman Ray Lyons, have said they could not recall ever seeing a CUP review on an agenda. So last month, Janet Watson led Council in directing city staff to draft a policy that would allow greater oversight of conditional permits. The aim was to give a voice to people who had complaints about businesses operating under a CUP but to do so via a process that wouldn't tie up too much time for officials and staff.

Of the options presented Monday, Council seemed to favor an amalgamation of the three.

Staff was directed to return July 21 with a resolution ready for action.

The process proposed would proceed as follows: After one year from Council's approval, staff will conduct a review of the CUP to ensure that all conditions are being met.

All property owners within 500 feet of the subject property will be notified and invited to contribute comments or concerns regarding compliance with the CUP.

If they are in compliance and no official complaints have been filed with the Development Services Department, then staff will give its report to Council to look over and approve, possibly on a consent agenda if no problems arise. If the city does receive complaints, whether within the first year or beyond that period, staff will give the permit holder 15 days to address the issue. This is the same as the current policy. If, during that period, staff and the complainant are satisfied with the correction, the review will be dropped and Council informed of the complaint. If Council, staff or the complainant feel the issue has not been adequately addressed, surrounding property owners will be notified by the city of a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission will make a recommendation to Council, and Council can either revoke or continue the permit.

The current process gives authority to the P&Z Commission to revoke the permit, and if the applicant wishes to appeal, he or she can do so before the City Council within 15 days. But without any official language governing reviews, the six to 10 permits granted per year since 2000 would continue to be handled by staff.

"We are working on a complaint basis," Jeppson said of the current procedures. "We have not gone out on a proactive basis."

Watson brought up the idea of having "a designated person to keep up with CUPs to make sure they were following all the conditions," but the idea received no further comments from other Council members.

They decided against conducting reviews every year, an option initially considered to avoid future problems.

"I think if we had to review them every year, we would be reviewing CUPs three or four times every Council meeting," Mayor John Salem said.

Chris Durkin, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, agreed. He told officials they already do a fine job of making each permit "fit for success when it leaves these Chambers," and he thought it would be a "huge undertaking" to conduct annual reviews for every permit-holder.

"Keep it simple," he said.

Several officials said they believe the new policy will eliminate some of the issues of the past. And had the new language been in place several months ago, perhaps the dog kennel proposed east of the railroad tracks near the former Louise Avenue crossing would have been approved. Denying that request, Councilman Kerry Deering said, was a difficult decision, but several neighbors had been adamant in their opposition to the idea.

Official action likely will be taken during the July 21 meeting. Council also may consider new regulations for the revocation process of CUPs.