OSHTEMO CHARTER TOWNSHIP
July 8, 2004
ELY -SPECIAL EXCEPTION USE - HOME OCCUPATION - 9490 ALMENA DRIVE - (PARCEL NO. 3905-17-455-010)
MASTER PLAN AMENDMENTS - WORK ITEM
NORTH DRAKE AREA PLANNING STUDY - WORK ITEM
A meeting was conducted by the Oshtemo Charter Township Planning Commission on Thursday, July 8, 2004, commencing at approximately 7:00 p.m. at the Oshtemo Charter Township Hall.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Neil G. Sikora, Chairperson
Deborah L. Everett
MEMBER ABSENT: James Turcott
Also present were Jodi Stefforia, Planning Director; James W. Porter, Township Attorney; and three other interested persons.
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m.
The Chairperson called for the approval of the Agenda. Mr. Larson made a motion to approve the Agenda as submitted. The motion was seconded by Mr. Ahrens. The Chairperson called for a vote on the motion, and the motion passed unanimously.
The Chairperson noted that the next item on the Agenda was consideration and approval of the minutes of June 24, 2004. Ms. Everett made a motion to approve the minutes as submitted. The motion was seconded by Mr. Schley. The Chairperson called for a vote on the motion, and the motion passed unanimously.
ELY -SPECIAL EXCEPTION USE - HOME OCCUPATION - 9490 ALMENA DRIVE - (PARCEL NO. 3905-17-455-010)
The Chairperson indicated that the next item up for consideration was the special exception use review of a proposed home occupation for property located at 9490 Almena Drive. The Chairperson asked for the report from Staff. Ms. Stefforia presented her report to the Commission dated July 8, 2004, and the same is incorporated herein by reference.
Ms. Stefforia explained to the Commission that the applicant, Mark Ely, had constructed a 3,076 square foot family residence on a 10-acre parcel in 2001. She then explained that the applicant was converting the former 1,712 square foot dwelling into an accessory building for use as an office for himself, his wife and his father-in-law. She said, because the home occupation was to be located in an accessory building including a nonresident employee, it required approval pursuant as a special exception use.
Ms. Stefforia said that the applicant's description of their request showed that the proposed home occupation would be primarily for office use. However, daily operations did not require public access for persons other than Mr. and Mrs. Ely and Mr. Ely's father-in-law.
Ms. Stefforia provided an overhead showing the subject property in relationship to the Springwood Hills Plat to the west, as well as the properties to the northeast and south. She discussed the location of the accessory building in relation to the surrounding properties.
Ms. Stefforia took the Planning Commissioners through the special exception use criteria of Section 60.100. In addition, she reviewed the standards for approval of a home occupation set forth in Section 78.900. In doing so, she reminded the Planning Commission that the Township had only recently adopted the provisions to allow a home occupation in an accessory building, and therefore, she reviewed the purpose and intent of the Ordinance with them, as well as the provisions of Section 78.920, subsections a through e in detail. She reminded the Planning Commissioners that they could attach conditions to the home occupation which they deemed necessary to avoid and mitigate adverse impacts on the surrounding properties. She also emphasized that the accessory building could not be used for purposes other than those approved by the Planning Commission, and that the accessory building cannot be used as a residence since there was already a newly-constructed principal residence on the property.
The Chairman asked if there were any questions of the Planning Department, and hearing none, he asked to hear from the applicant. Mr. Mark Ely introduced himself to the Planning Commission. Mr. Ely said that the business operation consists of a small finance company assisting independent insurance agents and their clients. He said that his father-in-law had started the business and had operated it out of his home for a number of years, and that the primary purpose was to finance insurance premiums.
Mr. Ely said he ran a tech company himself, and that he would be assisting the business in growth and development through technology. He said their business was handled primarily through the mail, e-mails and facsimile transmissions. He said that the extent of the traffic to and from the site would consist of he and his father-in-law traveling to and from the post office once or twice a day.
Mr. Ely explained that when they initially purchased the property, they thought they would fix up the residence on site, but when they evaluated the cost of remodeling, they decided to build a new home on site. He said that, once the new home was completed, they had to address what to do with the pre-existing residence. They decided to renovate it for use for business use.
The Chairperson asked if there were any questions of the applicant. Mr. Schley asked if the three employees on site would be full-time employees. Mr. Ely said that generally all three employees would work an eight-hour day, on average.
Ms. Everett asked if they anticipated much vehicle traffic. Mr. Ely said that they did not anticipate much traffic since they did not sell anything from site and most of the communications with their agents was over the phone or the Internet. Mr. Rothi, Mr. Ely's father-in-law, said they did business with approximately 250 agents in the Kalamazoo area and outlying cities, as well as in Indiana. He said it was rare that an agent ever came to their home, except possibly to stop by and say hello or have lunch, but that it was an uncommon occurrence.
Ms. Garland-Rike asked if they would be changing the exterior of the building. Mr. Ely said that they were currently in the process of re-siding the building, and much of the work had been done. He said, in addition, they had changed the pitch of roof and the porch on the home. Ms. Garland-Rike asked if the home still looked like a home, and Mr. Ely said that it did, but it has been vastly improved. He said originally they thought it would look more like a barn, but that had changed based upon the proposed changing use.
Ms. Stefforia asked if there would be any storage in the building. Mr. Ely said possibly some small yard equipment, such as rakes and shovels or a wheelbarrow, but nothing much more than that.
The Chairperson asked if he was clear that there would not be any visitors to the site. Mr. Ely said there would be no regular customers coming to the site, but on occasion, perhaps once a month they would have an insurance agent stop by to say hello or go to lunch, but nothing more than that.
The Chairperson asked if there would be more employees. Mr. Ely said that there would not, and that they did not see a need, with the improvements in technology, to add any employees in the future. The Chairperson asked if there would be any signs on the property, and Mr. Ely said that there would not be. The Chairperson asked the applicant to confirm that they would not be selling anything from the site, and Mr. Ely confirmed that was correct.
Ms. Garland-Rike asked if they would be changing any lighting on the site. Mr. Ely said that perhaps they would add some driveway lighting for aesthetic purposes only. He said he did not believe there would be any need for constant outdoor lighting.
Mr. Ahrens asked if there would be just the one drive to the site. Mr. Ely said yes and no; he said they are currently using a second drive on the neighbor's property because of sight distance concerns but that they would have to address that issue in the near future, and use the driveway which is currently located on their property.
The Chairperson asked if there were any other questions of the applicant, and hearing none, he opened the hearing for public comment. Diane Erickson introduced herself to the Planning Commission. She said she lived west of the property in the Springwood Hills subdivision. She said most of her questions had been answered; however, she asked whether or not there had been previous approvals of home occupations in accessory buildings. Ms. Stefforia said that there had been two others granted - one for a drywaller for storage of his equipment and the other to a landscaper for storage of his equipment.
Ms. Erickson asked, if the business changed, whether or not they would be allowed to transfer the business. Ms. Stefforia said it would depend upon how specific the approval of the application was, and that the Planning Commission could limit its approval to the existing business on site. Ms. Erickson then said that the automatic transfer of the business was not necessarily assured. Ms. Stefforia said that was true.
Ms. Erickson said she thought the hours of operation had been addressed, but raised a concern regarding lighting. She said, given the topography of her home in relationship to the accessory building, the outside lights would often shine directly into her home.
Ms. Erickson asked if the other home occupations allowed in accessory buildings had had a negative impact on surrounding properties. Ms. Stefforia said that she had not received any information indicating that they had any negative impact on their neighbors. Ms. Erickson asked if this would be a stepping-stone to commercial rezoning of the property. The Planning Commissioners and Planning Department representatives indicated that it would not.
Ms. Erickson said she had discussed with Mr. Ely planting pines along the property line and wondered if he would continue to allow that. Mr. Ely said he would, even if the plantings were on his property. The Chairperson did note for the record, however, that was not a matter which the Planning Commission could enforce.
Ms. Garland-Rike said she thought the Commission could place some restrictions on the lighting, and specifically directed the Planning Commission to the provisions of Section 78.910. She noted the provisions set forth in subsection H which prohibited causing a nuisance by means of vibrations, noise, smoke, odor, dust, dirt, fumes, glare, heat, electrical disturbance, lighting or creation of vehicular traffic. She said, in this sense, she thought there should be some restriction placed on the property for purposes of alleviating glare and nuisance caused by lighting.
A brief discussion ensued regarding the location of lighting on site. Mr. Ely asked if the porch light on the property had caused Ms. Erickson any problem. Ms. Erickson said that it had, and that it was quite bright, and that she was concerned about it. Mr. Ely said he thought pines in the area would be a good idea, and that it would help to avoid the problem. The Chairperson complimented the parties on trying to work out the problem and being willing to work together to seek an amicable solution.
Mr. Ahrens inquired about the parking of the vehicles. Mr. Ely said that parking would be located on the west side of the property on a pre-existing concrete slab and gravel area. Mr. Ahrens said he was concerned about the parking and asked whether or not the Commission should put in screening since the parking area would face adjacent residential property. Mr. Rothi said there would likely be only two cars at the most parked at the property. Mr. Ely said that any manmade screening would be detrimental to the natural appearance of the area. Ms. Erickson agreed with that statement.
The Chairperson asked if there were any other comments from the public, and hearing none, he closed the public portion of the meeting. The Chairperson asked that the Commission review the special exception use criteria and make any additional comments that they wished as part of the deliberations.
Mr. Schley complimented the applicant on his overall design. He said he also thought the applicant was trying to be a good neighbor and a good citizen in making his request. However, he said he was very concerned with the proposal and questioned whether or not the proposed use was clearly incidental and subordinate to the existing principal single-family residential use on the property. He said it was very troubling to him to see a freestanding office building in a residential area and questioned whether or not this met the spirit and intent of the Ordinance. He said, if there was any additional activity associated with the proposed operation, he would certainly object to the proposed use. Ms. Everett then asked if that was not why the Commission asked about the hours of operation and the activity on site. Mr. Schley said that was true, but what was really being proposed here was a full-time office building. Ms. Everett asked Mr. Ely if they always worked an eight-hour day. Mr. Ely said that they did not always work an eight-hour day, but it was typical for them to do so.
Ms. Garland-Rike told the Commission that she agreed with Mr. Schley. She said she continued to read the question regarding incidental and subordinate use of the property and that she, in her own mind, continued to answer the question in the negative. She said she did not believe it was incidental because it was a whole business constituting an entire livelihood for two or three people. She said in all other respects she thought the proposal met the criteria set forth in Section 78.920. However, she said she was very concerned and cautioned the Commission about allowing small offices like this within the residential areas of the Township.
Ms. Everett said that one could read the Ordinance that strictly, but she thought the purpose of the Ordinance was to permit offices which were pre-existing in the Township to become lawful uses. She also said that, if the building was going to remain, she would rather see it used for some good purpose and fixed up, especially when the proposed use was not intrusive. Mr. Schley said he agreed that there would no negative impact in this context, but because the building might not be fixed up or repaired was not a reason for granting the proposed special exception use.
Ms. Everett said that she thought the use was incidental to the principal use, in that, Mr. and Mrs. Ely lived on the property 24 hours, 7 days a week, but only worked in the accessory building 40 hours per week. Mr. Ely said he read the Ordinance in such a fashion to say that, if you had an occupation which could be carried out at your home, that it was incidental to the residential use.
Mr. Schley said, when it came to previous approvals such as the landscaping business, the actual operation of the business was off site. He said that was also true of the drywaller. However, in this context, he said the applicant has a full-time operation in a separate building which, he believed, was not incidental to the home occupation, and therefore, it was similar to a spot zone.
Ms. Stefforia said that there was a limitation on the number of square footage allowed for home occupation use in an accessory building, i.e., 2,400 square feet. She said she thought this was done to address the home occupations which existed within the Township, but which the Township was not necessarily aware of their existence.
The Chairperson said he appreciated Mr. Schley's comments, but he was somewhat torn because he felt this was exactly why the amendment to the Ordinance was made; he said he thought it was to address the ability to use an accessory building. His concern was that turning away the applicant on a technicality without looking at the overall intent of the Ordinance would thwart the spirit and intent of what was proposed. He said it was better to have individuals come forward for approval and have the ability to review and approve those uses than simply have people go ahead and use facilities without no oversight.
Ms. Garland-Rike said she thought the terms of the Ordinance were vague. She said she understood what Ms. Everett was saying regarding incidental use, but she said she thought that was reading incidental in very broad terms. She said perhaps if the Commission approved the request, they could clarify the issue of incidental use as part of the overall approval.
Mr. Larson said he believed there was a problem in putting office buildings in residential areas. He said he thought the purpose of the Ordinance was to allow accessory buildings for what they are normally used for, and that is the storage of equipment. He said he did not visualize offices being allowed as accessory buildings at all. He said he thought that the office should only be allowed as part of an accessory use in a residential home.
Ms. Everett said this case was a bit unique in that the applicant had not built but only remodeled the structure. Mr. Larson said he was not saying that it was necessarily detrimental but that he did not envision offices being allowed in accessory buildings.
Mr. Ahrens said he thought this situation was a close call and was very much on the line.
Mr. Schley said he could envision someone having a shed on their property and wanting to locate an office in it, and that if it was used only by the occupants of the property or family members, he thought he could consider approval of the same but there would have to be a specific requirement that the majority of the people involved in the use of the structure would have to be occupants living on site. The Chairperson asked if he meant that somebody who lived on the property would have to be involved in the business. Mr. Schley said yes, to which the Chairperson noted that two of the three people in this situation would be living on the property.
Ms. Everett said she thought the original intent of the Ordinance was to recognize the existing uses that were out there and to allow the continuation of the businesses as home occupations throughout the Township. Mr. Schley said that was true, but he thought, in most incidents, the home occupations were located within the home itself.
Ms. Everett pointed out that the intent of the Ordinance was to allow home occupations that are incidental and subordinate to the residential use of the property and to allow a threshold of acceptable nonresidential activity beyond that normally permitted, but which would then have to be approved by a special use permit. Mr. Ahrens pointed out that the Commission was currently in the process of testing exactly what those limitations would be. Mr. Schley agreed with Mr. Ahrens and said that the Commission should be quite clear that it would permit such an activity to allow only one outside employee. He said in doing so, the Planning Commission should be looking at the size of the operation and the impact it would have on the neighborhood. Mr. Ahrens concurred and said that they must consider the size of the proposed activity.
Mr. Larson again stated that he thought they were envisioning storage use and not office use for the accessory buildings. Mr. Ahrens noted, however, that storage of equipment might have a more negative impact on the neighbors than an office use. Ms. Everett agreed and said that an office building might be much less intrusive than a storage building.
Mr. Schley pointed out that the proposed use created another issue and that was the compliance with the Building Code. Mr. Ahrens agreed with Mr. Schley saying, if the accessory was an office building, it would have to meet a different Building Code than a residential structure. Ms. Stefforia said that they had pulled a building permit, and she thought that would be up to the Building Inspector to determine under what conditions the building permit would be allowed. Attorney Porter noted that the Planning Department should bring this issue to the Building Department's attention, and that the Planning Department should look at the issue before issuing the permit.
The Chairperson asked if there was any further discussion on the proposed application. Hearing none, he said he would entertain a motion. Ms. Everett made a motion to grant the special exception use permit provided that there is continued compliance with Section 78.910 of the Ordinance and subject to the following conditions:
(1) That there be no more than one non-resident employee.
(2) That the owner/occupant of the property also be an owner of the business operating on the subject property.
(3) That there be no sale of goods from the site.
(4) That there be no sign on the property.
(5) That traffic to the property remain consistent with the applicant's presentations and in character with the area.
(6) That lighting on the accessory building be shielded to prevent glare and so that it is not discernible beyond the boundaries of the property from which the occupation is conducted.
(7) That there be no outdoor storage or display on the property.
(8) That no vehicles be parked near the accessory building except for the owners/occupants' of the property and one employee, with the exception of infrequent visitors.
(9) That the business and home occupation is non-transferrable.
Mr. Rothi asked if they could have their board of directors meeting at the property. The Chairperson asked how many board members there were. Mr. Rothi said there were 11 members. Ms. Stefforia said that would not be an appropriate use of the home occupation. The Chairperson called for further discussion, and hearing none, called for a second on the motion. Mr. Larson seconded the motion. The Chairperson called for public comment, and hearing none, called for a vote on the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
MASTER PLAN AMENDMENTS - WORK ITEM
The Chairperson indicated that the next item on the Agenda was the consideration of the update to Chapter 6 Community Services as part of their Master Land Use Plan. Ms. Stefforia said she was still working on the amendment to Chapter 6, but she did introduce a land use map for the Commission's consideration. Ms. Stefforia said she was looking for a consensus of the Commission regarding the proposed map which would be part of the Chapter 6 amendment.
After review and discussion with the Planning Department, it was the consensus of the Commission to accept the Future Land Use Map as proposed, with the inclusion of the Retirement Association's property currently zoned "R-3". The amendment would reclassify the area from "Multi-Family Residential" to "Transitional".
NORTH DRAKE AREA PLANNING STUDY - WORK ITEM
Ms. Stefforia presented the Commission with a memorandum dated March 1, 2004/June 25, 2004, and the same is incorporated herein by reference. Ms. Stefforia indicated that the City was moving ahead on its North Drake planning. She inquired as to whether the Commission wanted to maintain the language that requires the Township to keep residential density at a level that encourages development of owner-occupied housing. Ms. Stefforia suggested that the provision be rephrased to read "residential density should be kept at a level that encourages development of owner-occupied housing". She said by rephrasing this section, it would still allow for multi-family development as envisioned in Oshtemo's current Land Use Plan and Zoning Map.
The Chairperson said he agreed with the proposed change, and thought they should move the process forward. He said he would entertain an appropriate motion. Mr. Larson made a motion to make the change recommended by the Planning Department to the North Drake Focus Area and seek Township Board permission to pursue the plan amendments. The motion was seconded by Ms. Everett. The Chairperson called for further discussion, and hearing none, called for a vote on the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
Planning Commissioner Comments
The Chairperson called for comments from the Planning Commission members. Mr. Larson said he thought the Commission needed to go back and clarify the use of accessory structures for home occupations. He said he thought that the use needed to be better defined, and should be further reviewed by the Planning Commission. Mr. Schley said that he agreed, and he thought that the term "incidental" needed to be addressed. He also expressed a concern about the use of office buildings within the residential areas, particularly if the building was not up to code. There was a brief discussion involving the terms and provisions of Section 78.900 and its impact on home occupations. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Planning Department stated that it would place this item on one of the Commission's upcoming agendas for further review and analysis.
There being no further business to come before the Planning Commission, the meeting was adjourned at 8:45 p.m.
OSHTEMO CHARTER TOWNSHIP
Kathleen Garland-Rike, Secretary
July 15, 2004