May 18, 1998


Planning Board to revisit proposed downtown historic district

  by Jane McClure
Contributing writer

   CARNATION--Owners of commercial and residential properties in the downtown district turned out in force at last week's Planning Board meeting to oppose an ordinance that would establish an historic district the length of Tolt Avenue within the city limits. Objections centered around new restrictions the ordinance would place on land uses and the size of buildings within the district, the added bureaucracy of a new design review board and lack of notification and involvement of affected property owners regarding development of the proposal.
   "It shook me up, to be perfectly honest," said long-time Tolt Avenue resident Glen Paulsen, who added he learned of the proposal only recently. Paulsen and several other property owners said they read the ordinance as a downzone of currently approved uses, which would decrease the value of their property. Others pointed out that the majority of businesses currently located within the proposed district would not fall under any of the 13 permitted uses identified in the ordinance, which failed to outline any grandfathering provisions.
   Still other property owners described how the proposed building size restrictions and regulations regarding lot dimension and setback would preclude expansion of existing businesses, and how additional permitting requirements would discourage new businesses from locating downtown. "If you're looking for economic development, this is the wrong way to go about it," said area realtor Pat Grady.
   Described as an overlay that would be applied in addition to existing city zoning and land use regulations, the proposed ordinance would impact properties on both sides of Tolt Avenue from Blanche Street to the city's southern border. The ordinance also would establish two subareas--a downtown core and a gateway area--within the district, which could have different land uses, architectural and landscaping requirements. Boundaries for these subareas were not defined.
   Complaints also were made that the review process contained in the ordinance gave too much power to the design review committee, gave too much discretion to city staff and would require too much of the Planning Board's time to administer. Perhaps the harshest criticisms, voiced many times over, came from property owners who said they were unaware the city was considering anything that had the potential to impact them so significantly, especially when they had not been made aware of opportunities to provide input into the process.
   "You're doing this backwards," observed Gordon Tang, who said he didn't know about the ordinance until the day before the hearing. "You should solicit suggestions from citizens first." Planning Board chair Donna Curley responded that the ordinance was prepared by the board with help from the city's downtown design and revitalization committee. City planner Steve Munson said the committee, which included two current city council members and three planning board members, had worked from April of last year until February of this year on the downtown district concept. City building inspector Bob Rohrbach said this was the fifth version of the proposal.
   After over an hour of public testimony, the Planning Board voted to rewrite the proposed ordinance at a workshop scheduled for June 3.