Planning commission discusses hair salon and variance changes

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Members of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Planning Commission met last Tuesday afternoon for this month’s meeting. The evening agenda was rather short, with only two items listed.

The first, under new business, was a request by Carolyn Cheatem for conditional use for a hair salon at 621 S. West St. According to city director of community and economic development Steve O’Neil, there was no issue with the proposal, which he will move on to recommendation to the city council.

Under old business, proposed changes to the wording for criteria for approval of property variances were discussed. Property variances deal with exceptions to usual property zoning rules. “The zoning ordinance says an accessory building, let’s say a shed, has to be at least five or ten feet from the rear property line and the side property line. Let’s say you want to move it so it’s only two feet from either, which then impacts your neighbor. You would apply for a variance,” O’Neil explained.

Currently, the section dealing with property variance applications reads:

“Any applicant requesting consideration of a variance to any provision of this zoning ordinance shall provide a written justification that one or more of the following condition(s) exist. The planning commission shall not approve the variance application unless it shall have adopted findings that one or more of the following conditions exist.”

The proposed changes read: “The Planning Commission may authorize upon appeal in specific cases such variance from the terms of these regulations as will not be contrary to the public interest where, owing to special conditions, a literal enforcement of the provisions of these regulations will, in an individual case, result in practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship, so that the spirit of these regulations shall be observed, public safety and welfare secured, and substantial justice done: provided, however, that a variance shall not be granted for a use of land or building or structure that is prohibited by this ordinance in the district in question. Such variance may be granted in an individual case upon a finding by the Planning Commission that the following exists:”

The actual variance criteria themselves will remain the same, and are:

(a) There are extraordinary and exceptional conditions or practical difficulties pertaining to the particular piece of property in question because of its size, shape or topography that are not applicable to other lands or structures in the same district.

(b) A literal interpretation of the provisions of this ordinance would effectively deprive the applicant of rights commonly enjoyed by other properties of the district in which the property is located.

(c) Granting the variance requested will not confer upon the property of the applicant any special privileges that are denied to other properties of the district in which the applicant’s property is located.

(d) The requested variance will be in harmony with the purpose and intent of this zoning ordinance and will not be injurious to the neighborhood or to the general welfare.

(e) The special circumstances are not the result of the actions of the applicant.

(f) The variance requested is the minimum variance that will make possible the proposed use of the land, building, or structure in the use district proposed.

(g) The variance shall not permit a use of land, buildings or structures, which is not permitted by right in the zoning district or overlay district involved.

Following the criteria, more proposed wording included stating that the commission may “impose or require” additional requirements for “the health and safety of workers and residents in the community, and to protect the value and use of property in the general neighborhood.” Also proposed was that, should any conditions be violated, the commission can rescind any permits, after “giving due notice to all parties concerned and granting full opportunity for a public hearing.”

According to the current wording, only one of the criteria needs to be met. “We look at all the criteria more as a whole, but if you look at some of those criteria, like letter D, it’s kinda mushy language, and I think anyone could make a case for that,” O’Neil said. “Variances were designed to be for special cases. Say you’re required to have your house set back, say 30 feet from the front property line, but say your house is pie-shaped on the front, well that affects how you can move your house. Situations like that, that’s when a variance is justified.”

These proposed changes were introduced to the city council as a resolution at this Tuesday’s council meeting. There are two required readings, the second of which will be a public hearing at the next city council meeting.