Expansion of storage unit complex gains board okay

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Hooray for Harvey-wood

Jim Harvey stands on a vacant lot on Thomsen Avenue, which last week gained a variance from the city to expand Harvey’s business The Storage Place into the area zoned for residential use. J.P. Plutt photo

It’s a complicated case.

And a seemingly unique one.

But that uniqueness helped the matter navigate through all its complications and last week bring it to a happy resolution for pretty much everyone involved.

Though its epilogue last Thursday evening revealed that at least one person involved was displeased—not with the resolution, but with how some had behaved towards him during the process leading up to that conclusion.

The City of Dillon’s Board of Adjustments last week voted unanimously to grant a variance to Harvey Investments LLC for an expansion of its longtime storage unit business on the city’s eastern edge, just northeast of Parkview Elementary School.

The expansion will add dozens of storage units in a pair of new structures to be erected on a currently vacant piece of and at 728 Thomsen Ave. The project will also include an addition to an existing structure that houses storage units on the lot next door, where Harvey Investments LLC has rented out storage spaces for decades through its business, The Storage Place.

Harvey Investments LLC’s Jim Harvey applied to the Board of Adjustments for a variance after the project got turned down on Oct. 27 by the city’s Zoning Commission.

“When this application came before the Zoning Commission, it doesn’t meet the requirements to, because it is an R-3, so we had to deny it because it’s not allowed in an R-3 zone,” said Board of Adjustments member Tim Stoker of Harvey’s doomed zoning compliance certificate put before the Zoning Commission.

“The storage units are not allowed,” added Stoker, who also serves as chair of the city’s Zoning Commission.

“But this is the reason you have a variance process.”

The project and Harvey himself gained positive reviews from almost all of those who wrote letters to the city about it for a Dec. 3 public hearing on the project.

“Dillon needs affordable housing, not storage units,” wrote Leaf Magnuson, the only letter writer to question the project.

“If they do pursue a variance maybe they would consider adding a path thru one side of the lot to connect the trail behind Parkview Elementary to Thomsen and on to Overland. That would buy them some support from area residents as well as improve non-driving amenities for the community,” added Magnuson in a suggestion Harvey intends to act on by adding a trail on the property during the next two years.

“A lot of those kids will have the opportunity to go straight into the school property. So, I think that’s a real positive effect that would have on the school system for the safety of the kids,” said City Director of Operations Todd Hazelbaker at the Dec. 17 Board of Adjustments meeting.

The variance also gleaned support orally at the Dec. 3 public hearing from Randy Shipman, the superintendent of Dillon School District #10, which includes Parkview Elementary and the adjacent Dillon Middle School.

“He has been a great neighbor to us,” stated Shipman, emphasizing that he was presenting his own perspective and not speaking for the school district’s Board of Trustees.

Others wrote letters and emails endorsing the project.

“I am writing this letter in support of Jim Harvey and The Storage Place to be able to expand their storage units on Thomsen Avenue,” penned Jamie Flynn in a letter submitted for the public hearing.

“My mom lives across the street from the existing storage units. We moved into that house when I was 5 years old. When the Harvey family bought the rental properties and cleaned up that awful mess, it was such an improvement to the neighborhood and such a relief to my mom,” added Flynn of a pair of older structures Harvey purchased and removed from the neighborhood.

“Now they want to build on the lots and because the zoning has changed they need a zoning variance.”

Harvey’s father installed dozens of storage units on Thomsen Avenue almost four decades ago before the area they sit on got annexed by the city last decade, along with 728 Thomsen and a number of other properties when the city extended sewer services to them.

The city designated as part of an R-3 zone early last decade.

“The history of that area and the fact that it’s in the city, and our business has been there for 38 years, but it’s only been in the city for a decade—apparently that doesn’t weigh in on the variance. So, if that’s the case, let’s look at re-zoning, because it was improperly zoned a decade ago when it was annexed,” said Jim Harvey at the Dec. 10 Board of Adjustments meeting.

But some conundrums emerged on providing a variance for the project or rezoning the properties it and the existing storage units sit on into a commercial zone that would allowed for commercial storage units.

Debbie Pierce said city ordinances only allowed for variances to be granted for eight things, with a change of use, such as the one Harvey was seek ing from residential to commercial, not among them.

“So, if you change the use by variance,” stated Pierce at the Dec. 10 Board of Adjustments meeting.

“It makes little to no sense to have a zoning district in the first place. That is what our zoning districts are for,” commented Pierce.

But in a letter to the Board of Adjustments, City Attorney Jim Dolan wrote that a 2018 change in the zoning ordinances expanded those eight criteria, deeming that the Board of Adjustments will review all standards set in Title XVII” (the chapter of city code concerned with “Unified Zoning and Development Regulations”).

“I don’t particularly have any heartburn, if a variance is granted and that’s the way you want to see it that’s fine,” Dolan told the Board of Adjustments on Dec. 17, about a half hour before he told them about some things that some of the board’s members had done that did give him heartburn (see story on page 1).

“What I do want is something stated on the record that when you make a variance decision, you are as quasijudicial board setting precedent for future decisions. So, if you decide to do it that way, you’re going to have to live with that if you have a similar situation with another applicant in the future. The only thing that concerns me is what’s to stop somebody from saying, ‘I want a sandwich shop next to my R-2,” said Dolan.

“I think the rezone is the more proactive approach because it addresses what use the property can be put to looking into the future,” added Dolan.

The dark gray specter of “spot zoning”—a frowned-upon practice that creates a tiny island of a zoning district for one property surrounded by a relatively large district with a different zoning designation

“I submit that going for a zoning change would be spot zoning,” asserted Board of Adjustments member Ed Mooney.

“I pondered the business about setting precedent and I’m convinced myself that by following the criteria in the ordinance, we would not be setting precedent,” averred Mooney at the Dec. 17 meeting.

“Variance by definition almost is a one-off. You have to consider the unique characteristics and the uniqueness of the situation,” said Mooney.

“And the three musts that have to be satisfied is: one, the variance has to be consistent with the intent of the ordinance; two, strict compliance with provisions would create unnecessary hardship, or an unreasonable situation in a particular property due to extreme topography etc., or the prevalence of similar conditions in the immediate area; and three, approval of the variance has minimum adverse effect on abutting properties or the permitted uses thereof,” continued Mooney.

“In the truly residential neighborhoods, especially if you tried to plop something down in the middle of one of them, these criteria would not be satisfied,” said Mooney.

“He’s currently running the business in an R-3 zone, it’s the same business that he has currently, looking to expand and improve the community, you know he’s taking and improving the area,” said Stoker of Harvey and his storage unit business expansion.

“From what I can tell, the vast majority of the neighbors are not at all against what he’s doing down there,” noted Stoker.

“To me this is a perfect example of where a variance should come into play.”