Planning board has questions on apartment rules

SALEM

Salem Planning Commission members expressed concern about the city losing oversight if commercial building owners can put in apartments on upper floors as a permitted use, without going through the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Mayor John Berlin, a member of the commission through his position, also questioned whether that could mean someone could build a garage on a first floor and then put a residence on the upper floors of a vacant lot in the downtown.

He questioned whether the city could just leave the requirement to appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals for a conditional use, but waive the $50 fee for people seeking to put in apartments as a compromise to ease the burden.

Also at issue is whether allowing residences on upper floors as a permitted use needs to be spelled out in each of the three commercial districts, C1, C2 and C3.

The commission tabled making a decision until getting some clarification from members of city council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee, which had recommended the change from a conditional use to a permitted use for residences on upper floors. Council already had a first reading on three ordinances, one for each commercial district.

The Planning Commission will reconvene at 4 p.m. April 23 to discuss the proposals again. The commission had already scheduled a meeting for a half hour later on another topic, but decided to add the permitted use ordinances to the agenda and move up the meeting time with hopes of getting more information.

“There’s just too many questions,” Commission Chairman John Panezott said.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the Rules & Ordinances Committee, said previously that the intention was to help building owners make their buildings more profitable and ease the process for renovating upper floors.

Currently, a residence on a second floor or above is listed as a conditional use in all three commercial districts and requires approval from the city Board of Zoning Appeals and a fee of $50 with no guarantee that the board will approve the request. From what was discussed by the committee, even as a permitted use, anyone doing construction would still have to follow the rules and get the proper permits from the city, county or state.

That’s the part commission member Barb Loudon questioned — who does the oversight? How does the city know if the second floor meets proper safety standards or current codes?

Commission member Bob Merry commented that this could be one of those situations where somebody thinks they don’t have to tell anybody about putting in an apartment until they get caught.

Berlin explained that a building owner would have to apply for a mixed use occupancy permit from the Ohio Department of Commerce. They would also have to get a building permit from the state if they’re doing any electrical work or any construction that could affect a load bearing wall. For plumbing, a permit from the Columbiana County Department of Health would be required.

The proposed ordinances have a line that says putting a residence on an upper floor is a permitted use when in compliance with all state and federal codes. There were questions on whether that line should be placed at the top for all permitted uses, not just the one dealing with apartments. Questions also arose on who would inspect the premises, the fire department or the housing inspectors. The fire department deals with commercial buildings while the housing inspectors deal with residences, including apartment and rentals.

Commission member Frank Zamarelli said his business doesn’t get inspected by the fire department every year. He questioned who’s gonna watch the situation with the upper floor residences.

Commission member Kathy Gano made the point that not everything can be controlled. Laws and rules can be put in place, but if someone decides they’re going to be dishonest, they’re going to do it regardless.

Loudon said she’s concerned with why the city wants to do away with the one step of going to the Board of Zoning Appeals, where building owners can learn what they need to do, such as go to the Ohio Department of Commerce.

The commission debated whether to just vote against supporting the ordinances or not, but members felt tabling the issue would be a way to get their questions answered instead deep-sixing the whole process.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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