Days before Tom Weigand prepared to order steel units, he was told mini storage is forbidden in downtown Ottawa.
His conditional use permit application for 419 S. Main St. was tabled noon Wednesday at the Ottawa Planning Commission study session, when the five members present agreed not to consider changing the current city code to allow the business in the vacant facility.
“It’s just disappointing that a city that likes to have buildings filled on Main Street doesn’t act in that manner,” Weigand said afterwards
Weigand said he was hoping they would favor adjusting the code, considering it had reached a final step in approval after review by the Community Development Department, permission by the Planning Commission and two study sessions of discussion by the City Commission.
But when Ottawa city commissioners were slated to vote at their regular meeting May 18, the city attorney said they had no legal authority to move forward.
Blaine Finch, city attorney, said in further review, he found warehousing and storage by conditional use is permitted in the C-4 Downtown Core zone, but mini and self storage is not permitted. He said the more restrictive provision controls when there are two conflicting provisions. Upon his recommendation, city commissioners remanded it to the Planning Commission.
“I apologize for the delay and I apologize for the issue that has happened,” Sara Caylor, mayor who has opposed the conditional use, said. “However, that’s the process and kind of the cost of doing business. Thank you, Weigands.”
Wynndee Lee, community development director, said her liberal rather than restrictive interpretation caused advancement of the application past what was allowed.
“I was aware that the mini storage was in there, but frankly felt that the two uses created a conflict,” Lee said at the May 18 City Commission meeting.
“Then I made the interpretation, not double checking the most restrictive of the two, which was really the error...so that was completely all 100 percent my failure and I apologize for that and have apologized to the Weigands as well.”
Mini storage is currently only allowed with a conditional use permit in a C-3 General Commercial district. Warehousing or storage is allowed with a conditional use permit in both the C-3 and C-4 zoning districts. Neither term is defined in the City’s Zoning Regulations, according to the May 25 Planning Commission study session agenda.
“Yeah, this is disappointing to me. It’s costly to me,” Weigand said. “From the very beginning, staff knew, planning commission knew, commissioners knew this was mini storage.”
If the Planning Commission had not tabled the application, the idea could have progressed so members could have discussed alternatives, such as making new findings supporting a denial of the application, granting an exception if possible or considering revision of the code to allow for the use. The first opportunity for a public hearing on the matter would have come in July, the agenda said.
John Boyd, chairman, said the issue could come up again, “but it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much appetite on the condition for changing that rule. My apologies for yanking your chain, Mr. Weigand. I understand we approved this and now we’re saying no.”
Tom and Mary Weigand had proposed filling most of their building with up to 41 units in varying sizes for storing collectibles, electronics, furniture, paper files and other sensitive materials. Tom Weigand previously said people are traveling to neighboring cities for climate-controlled storage.
Tom Weigand previously said the set-back storefront with a paved pad out front has been undesirable for retail businesses, but would have allowed room for storage deliveries. It was previously an appliance center and a Radioshack.
The Weigands said the building has been actively marketed, but it remains vacant going on three years. Churches, an auto body shop, a motorcycle wheel manufacturer and even a beach-themed restaurant have passed up the property over the years, they said.
The 9,760-square-foot lot previously on the market for $287,500, has been lowered $20,000 as a strategy to attract a buyer, Tom Weigand said. He said in the meantime he’ll be researching a new use.
“We can’t do a strip joint or a Chinese massage parlor or any of those but we can do smoking, we can do shooting we can do a number of things but we can’t have indoor, clean, well-managed mini storage. It doesn’t make sense,” Tom Weigand said.
Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.