Planning board wants project rule changes

SALEM – An ordinance dealing with plot diagram requirements for construction projects is coming back to city council, but with several suggested changes from the Salem Planning Commission.

The commission members met Monday and voted to reject the original proposal sent to them by council, instead opting to propose amendments on the type of structures which will be covered by the requirement for a surveyor, engineer or architect-prepared plot diagram.

In December, council held first reading on the original proposal which said the requirement covered only projects whose value exceeded $10,000 for permanent, non-moveable structures greater than 120 square feet. The previous dollar figure was $5,000 and didn’t specify permanent, non-moveable structures or the size of the structures.

City Planning and Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey suggested different language to the Planning Commission to further clarify what projects need a plot diagram. He added “any structural construction addition to a permanent, non-moveable, existing structure, regardless of final completed value,” as one of the three defined project areas.

The other two include: permanent, non-moveable detached structures whose completion value exceeds $5,000; and non-permanent, moveable detached structures whose completion value exceeds $10,000.

Mayor John Berlin, who is a member of the Planning Commission, said he agreed with the suggestions for being more descriptive so it’s clearer for the planning and zoning office what’s covered under the rule.

Morrissey explained that in his experience, he’s learned a lot of people don’t know where their property lines are, which can become important information when building an addition or placing a permanent detached structure on the property. The fact that people don’t know where the property lines are led to his suggestion about including any structural addition to a permanent, non-moveable existing structure among the type of projects requiring a diagram prepared by a surveyor, engineer or architect.

For an example, he referred to a deck project on Ninth Street when a resident said the neighbor was building a deck over the property line on his property. After a survey, it was learned the one corner of the deck was at least an inch over the property line and another corner was 6 inches over the property line.

Morrissey defined a permanent, non-moveable detached structure as one that’s anchored into the ground. A non-permanent is one that can be moved, such as a small shed.

The Planning Commission also suggested taking out language regarding demolition. Morrissey said it’s never been an issue and he doesn’t remember that part of the language ever coming into play. Commission member Barb Loudon had asked how the new suggestions would apply to the language for demolition, prompting the discussion on whether to leave the line about demolition in the ordinance, which was originally passed in 1973.

According to Morrissey, it’s likely council will send the proposal back to the Rules & Ordinances Committee for the committee’s consideration with the recommended changes. The Rules & Ordinances Committee had made the original recommendation to council about changing the dollar amount to $10,000 and specifying permanent, non-moveable structures greater than 120 feet.

Their concerns had been about having a burdensome requirement for someone who just wanted to install a moveable shed on their property, noting that these days the cost of a shed can exceed $5,000.

Morrissey said the one section moving the value up to $10,000 for non-permanent moveable structures should satisfy what the committee had been trying to accomplish.