By Dennis Minich
The Harrisonville Board of Aldermen gave first reading Monday night on three changes to the planning and zoning codes for the city. One of the changes addressed regulations for driveways and parking lots that have been questioned by some members of the community.
Under existing city ordinance, residential driveways and commercial parking lots in the city are to be paved with asphalt or concrete. The new proposal would allow gravel driveways and parking lots to remain. The staff recommendation included in the board packet explained the changes.
Its first point was in the past few months the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) has granted two requests for individuals building homes on large tracts of land that had requested to gravel the driveways instead of paving. Staff contends allowing gravel when warranted “can be more efficiently decided during construction plan review.”
The second point stated, “the building official” is seeing considerable interest in infill development in older parts of the city. It is believed that by waving the paving requirement, it could encourage development and improvements in older neighborhoods.
Finally, it says staff is seeing several instances where the hard surface requirements in commercial zones is impeding redevelopment of buildings. It states staff thinks the city can help reduce the number of empty buildings by allowing more flexibility in the use of gravel.”
Although the report indicates the change would help reduce the number of empty buildings, there are only a few such lots actually impacted. Most businesses with gravel lots are grandfathered in and would only have to be paved when sold.
Lots generally noted that would have to be paved include one on M-291 Highway on the north side of town, one that serves the American Legion Hall, across the street from city hall and two on the south side of the square. The one most commonly cited is the lot located on Mechanic Street between Lexington and Independence. The lot once contained several buildings including the Lee Theater, but has been either vacant or used for parking for more than 10 years.
The land had been owned by Del Dunmire, but was sold to the Beck Event Space. The lot is not grandfathered in to be gravel as the special-use permit granted to the Beck’s owners, it was agreed that: “The proposed parking area must be paved to meet or exceed City Standards. A parking lot of not less than 65 spaces shall be constructed and completed no later than December 1, 2018.”
It has been discussed the current gravel lot on one of the main thoroughfares in the city is unsightly. Additionally, paved lots are safer and much easier to maintain following snows. Gravel from lots can wash out and cause damage to city streets.
Harrisonville resident John Foster addressed the board and expressed his concern that washout from gravel parking lots can cause damage to the streets and also noted it does not seem many city ordinances are not enforced.
Mike Freeland, one of the owners of the Beck Event Space, told the board Monday night that paving the lot is not financially feasible.
Scott Beck, another owner of the event space, said earlier they had not made any plans to pave the lot nor had he requested a variance. He said the cost would be prohibitive.
“It would cost us $300,000 for asphalt. I had one contractor give me an estimate and it was $150,000,” he said.
He said the lot can accommodate about 80 cars. He said when they bought the lot, it was mostly grass, but when construction was done on Mechanic Street, the company doing the work wanted a parking lot and they cleared the land for use.
Although the cost of paving the lot would be expensive, there seems to be a disagreement about the cost. The lot is 190 feet by 180 feet. To lay an asphalt lot, the minimum two inches deep would require just over 427 tons. At the current market rate of $49 per ton, it would cost about $21,000 for the asphalt. With work to level the lot included the total project would likely be $50,000 to $60,000.
The special-use permit was signed by Mayor Brian Hasek. At that time, Keith Moody was city administrator. He said last week there were efforts to get a block grant to pay for the paving.
“We applied for a Community Development Block Grant to pave the parking lot. Part of it was the owners would donate the land, but they would be given private use on Fridays and Saturdays which would be their biggest days. In reality, the city would never need it except maybe for the festival days.
“We didn’t get the grant and there were some on the board who weren’t excited about the city being involved,” Moody said.
Although the timing of the new ordinance seems just in time to free the Beck’s owners from their agreement, City Administrator Happy Welch said it was a coincidence.
“The optics are what they are. We didn’t’ push this through the committee or planning and zoning. This is just how the time worked out,” Welch said.
He added the thought process on the ordinance came from the residential needs, not the commercial areas.
“We had a couple of requests for the board of zoning adjustments for driveways and it just opened up the whole discussion so we looked at all of the ordinances. We are trying to correct different things from an administrative point of view,” Welch said.
A review of the BZA minutes for the past year show only three occasions where requests were made about a variance for paving, all three were for residential properties.
The first request was made by Alderman Brad Bockelman in November 2017. He wanted a variance at 501 N. Main St. Bockelman said a majority of surrounding neighbors also have gravel driveways. The property will be for his personal use. The area in question is zoned C-2 for commercial use.
One request made in June of this year was from John Coffey for property located at 310 N. Clearwater Rd.
During the meeting, Coffey said none of the other driveways on that road are paved and it would not benefit him to pave the driveway or the approach, but he will do what the board decides.
The third variance request came from Stephen D. Litle in July for a home at 2515 S. East Outer Rd. Litle told the board there is only one paved driveway near his location.
The board passed to second reading a revision involving repairs of damaged homes in non-residential districts. A first reading was also heard regarding the use of accessory structures for businesses.