Commission denies waiver again
The planning commission voted unanimously against a request to waive easement requirements on a Commonwealth Road property in the city’s planning area for a second time during its regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 4.
The commission previously voted against this waiver during its Oct. 9 regular meeting. The applicant, Richard Utecht, was out of the area during the previous look at his lot and brought the issue back during the work session to plead his case directly.
If the waiver was granted, he said, he intended to split his lot for estate planning purposes and build an orchard that would remain in his family. The required easements, he said, are not compatible with how he wants to develop his land.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that a municipality is going to need easements on that property anytime in the foreseeable future,” Utecht said. “At some point in
the future, generations from now … we’ll sit down like reasonable people and discuss the need for easements at that time.”
Utecht said he was frustrated with the direction of the discussion. He was concerned, he said, that the commissioners could be focusing excessively on future possibilities and not on the merits of his case and how it fits with code.
“Either I’ve made valid arguments to the four points of the criteria that address the code or I haven’t,” he said.
Sarah Bingham, associate planner with the community development services department, said that in the staff’s analysis of the four criteria for granting an exemption, only one — whether the exemption would be injurious to other properties or detrimental to public health and safety — is answered in the affirmative.
The special conditions that make these easements problematic, she said, are not caused by the land but by the proposed development on it.
City staff recommended denial of the request, she said, based on that criteria.
Commissioner Don Robinson said that he was concerned granting these easements could create problems down the road.
“I still feel it sets a dangerous precedent to allow this thing. It seems to me we’re just doing this to appease a landowner,” he said. “The way the area’s growing, you never know what might happen out there.”
He’s seen cases in Colorado and Florida, he said, where electric lines had to run across streets and take a longer way around because there were no easements in place, which resulted in higher costs.
Vice-chair Doug Farner said he agreed.
During the work session, he said, it was stated that these easements are very unlikely to be used.
“My question is if the easements are never going to be used, what difference does it make?” he asked.
“Once those easements go away, it’s virtually impossible to get them back. And we can’t see, sitting here as a group, what might happen 10, 15 years from now.”
Additionally, he said, the easements are around the edges of the property, not running across it, and they do not prevent the property owner from most uses of that space — though a permanent structure cannot be erected in the easement.
Commissioner Shawki Al-Madhoun said that he didn’t believe this waiver was ideal because those easements are a public good.
“Utilities came to this parcel, this property, through someone else’s easements,” he said. “So I have a hard time supporting this.”
Removing them, he said, is not in keeping with the city government’s obligation to serve the public.
The board’s chair, Daniel Ellis, said he does not believe the commission has ever granted a waiver like this.
Chris Suneson, director of the Community Development Services Department, said he could not recall a situation where the commission did so.
The commission voted unanimously to deny the waiver.
The commission also looked at and voted unanimously in favor of a lot split for a Cooper Communities property off Forest Hills Blvd., and agreed to move the next work session from Dec. 28 to Dec 21.