Clinton business owner responds to letter

In this article, Craig Hansen responds to a Letter to the Editor from historic zoning commission member Melissa Snead. Hansen is a local entrepreneur who owns Cadence Craft and Trade on Main Street in Clinton. Hansen is passionate about not only historic preservation, but the codes and zoning ordinances for the entire business district in Clinton.

In regards to the opinion piece written last week by Melissa W. Snead, I generally agree with her conclusions and thrust (and her desire to protect and enhance downtown) with just a couple of exceptions.

First, Melissa assumes I was speaking in regard only to my building, the old Daugherty building.

That is not the case.

As a citizen of Clinton I am concerned with overall development guidelines and how they relate to the city’s success. Given that, I have two responses.

First, I don’t believe it is necessary to require even one parking space for new residential developments with ground floor residences as outlined in Ordinance 639. While new builders may want to add a space for their personal use — and that should be allowed — given the smorgasbord of parking in the downtown Clinton area it does not need to be required.

Second, section 14-604 on B-1 the Central Business District does not currently permit the following uses: boutique hotel or inns (a comment provided to the City Council on March 25) a common (and highly desirable) use in historic downtowns. Since the use is not specifically designated, nor is there any current existing hotel, both it and specific parking requirements would be determined by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The only current guidelines for hotels and other similar- tourist attractions require a space for each room rented plus more for employees. (Section 14-302). In fact, that was the guidance I was given by city employees when I first bought the building in 2014. Hence the comments I provided two weeks ago to City Council. I believe it would be better to simply identify Boutique Hotels/Inns as an accepted use and claim the general B-1 parking exemption.

Second, as currently formed, the Historic Zoning commission has broad powers as designated in 14-1103 Powers and Duties which state:

“The Clinton Historic Zoning Commission shall have the following powers and duties:

1. To review all projects within any historic district that require the issuance of a

permit before such projects can be lawfully commenced within the City of

Clinton, and following such review, grant, grant with conditions, or deny a

certificate of appropriateness; and further to review any projects not requiring a

permit, but which the building official has been authorized to review by the

Clinton Historic Zoning Commission within its “Design Review Guidelines,” and

for which he has refused to issue a certificate of appropriateness, and thereafter to

grant, grant with conditions, or deny a certificate of appropriateness. “

It is notable that the formation language grants review, approval and denial powers to “all” projects within any historic district that require the issuance of a permit (essentially everything) in addition to its powers under the its Design Review Guidelines. If the city has meant to limit the CHZC authority to strictly projects impacting the external structures of buildings then the Section 14-1103 needs to be reworded to reflect that reality in order to provide clarity to building owners and potential investors.

Third, Section 14-1105. Review of Decisions, states: “Any person who may be aggrieved by any final order of judgement of the Historic Zoning Commission may have such order or judgement reviewed by the courts by the procedure of statutory certiorari, as provided for in Title 27, Chapter 8, Tennessee Code Annotated.”

As demonstrated by the multiple discussions on this topic during last months city council meeting there is substantial confusion regarding an applicant’s rights and the process to be filed should an applicant disagree with a finding by the CHZC.

I believe the City attorney was correct at March’s City Council Meeting when he stated any such disagreements would go straight to Chancery court, which could be a lengthy and expensive process.

When that is combined with the current wording in 14-1103 it could present a substantial burden on developers and landowners when pursuing projects. The city and the applicable planning boards need to clarify the procedures for dispute resolution (which could include review by the Board of Zoning Appeals and city council along with either binding or non-binding arbitration.) (To be fair, some of this may be covered in the bylaws of the CHZC which I have not been able to find on either the City’s website or the general Internet.)

If duly implemented by the city these clarifications would enhance the operation of the CHZC, provide clarification and assurance to developers, and enhance CHZC authorities while remaining consistent with state law.

Fourth, It is critically important to provide this clarity if we are to preserve the character, beauty and sense of community of our downtown as we enter a period of change (with Magnet Mills coming down, change is here).

For example, developers interested in purchasing the Magnet Mills site could do that right now and be in the B-2 zone, which allows a variety of developments that would be inconsistent with the character of our downtown, significantly impacting property values, our sense of community, and perhaps negatively sealing the fate of our beautiful business district for decades into the future. The city has been slow on acting on the recommendations of Gianni Longo, particularly in implementing changes to the portion of the B-2 zone which runs through our central business district. The hesitancy to act may be the primary reason why developers are not expressing greater interest in the site.

Lack of clarity and the potential for protracted negotiations and potentially significant court costs are viewed negatively by developers. These issues can be resolved by the city taking action to define how they want this part of the city to be developed, and how it will fit into an expanded historic overlay district (perhaps with different requirements than the first historic overlay district) that will ensure our city’s success and continuity. Lack of action by the city at this point is only delaying commitments by potential investors as they await clarity on the city’s plans.

I recognize that the issues involved in planning and zoning are complex and at times convoluted, and there is much more to discuss here…but the main thrust is clear: clarity and transparency in codes and regulations, and ensuring the continuity and preservation of what has already been built in our community.