by Jason Wright / Appen Newspapers
March 20, 2009
In its one zoning case March 16, Milton's City Council followed staff's recommendation and approved 4-2 a site plan for office buildings on Webb Road with two variances.It was those two variances that split the vote, with Alan Tart and Julie Zahner Bailey voicing concerns — also aired that night by citizens in public comment — that letting a business at Webb Road and Ga. 9 reduce certain setbacks by 10 and 15 feet, respectively, was a detriment to the area.
The crux of the case for developer Ken Morton who owns the land was that the site was narrowed after government planners found a stream on site. That required buffers which affected the amount of buildable land. Though the land had been zoned for office use in 2005, multiple plans had to be worked up because of the buffers."The financial impact to our family was significant," he said.
Add in the site's topography, said Morton, and the variances to reduce a side yard setback by 10 feet and rear setback by 15 feet were necessary to ensure office condos with adequate parking and an usable entrance.Otherwise, he said, the condos would be "unsellable and not worth building."Staff concurred, and said it would constitute a hardship, in their opinion, if he was not allowed to build.
The adjacent property owners all supported the variances, as well — both of which were virtually invisible unless one were standing at the back of the building."Our hardships are not self imposed, he told council. "We've tried to make your decision easy."
Citizens who opposed the site disagreed. They said Morton, who had taken about a half acre of land from the site in question and added it to an adjacent property for a self-storage unit project, created his own problems on the site."I'm having trouble making the math work," said John Bratten.He and others insisted it is far better for the city if development is held within the guidelines already established — thus, no variances, even if the effects couldn't be seen by a vast majority of Milton's citizens.Tart agreed, asking what the difference to the site would be if that half acre were added back in.Morton said it didn't matter, as the issue was finding space for a driveway away from the half acre.
Zahner Bailey took a slightly different route, arguing the density was too great for the site — though Morton had technically decreased the overall project density to fit in the buildings."I don't think we can look at this from a straight density per foot viewpoint," she said. "It's density per buildable acre."A motion by Tart to approve the plan but deny the variances failed 2-4, with only Zahner Bailey supporting.Almost immediately, Council-woman Karen Thurman moved that council approve the plan with staff's recommendations. It passed with no discussion.
After the vote, Mayor Joe Lockwood said the vote passed with little fanfare from the majority because it was reasonable."He was asking for a 10-foot buffer that backed up to a retaining wall," he said. "All the neighbors had signed off."I'm all for the preservation of Milton, but we have to be reasonable — and that means keeping commercial development where its zoned and keeping low density residential in the rest of the city so as not to burden the residential tax base."