Sparks fly over permit issue at Oronoco City Council meeting

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By Karen Snyder

ORONOCO – Whether you call it fur or fireworks, it flew at the August 19 Oronoco City Council meeting. The flashpoints of contention were permits, one to add a second driveway and the other to operate a business from a home in a residential zone. 

The meeting began with decorum. “Can I talk now?” Haeng Heng, the seeker of the permits, asked the council during the public forum portion of the meeting. (Public forum is the time – the only time – for members of the public to speak. When public forum closes, the council devotes itself to city business.) 

Heng said she appreciated Councilor Nathan Hartung’s help in explaining her case to other council members. “Thank you for being my voice,” she told him. 

“I am here to ask three things,” she said. She listed the special permits she needed, for the driveway and the home-operated business, and another for a shed to store business machinery. 

The Hengs own a lawn mowing/snow removal company. “Once we have the shed, we will have all the equipment stored,” she said, “and so it would not be messy outside.” 

There are complaints about the driveway, but it’s for business purposes, she said. The truck will use it to reach the shed. 

Mayor Kevin McDermott thanked her for her comments and assured her the permit requests were on the agenda and would be addressed later in the meeting. “You did a good job explaining,” he said.

She held up several sheets of paper. “I have a lot more to say.” 

He thanked her again, adding, “Everyone is quite clear.” 

Then he closed public forum and the council pressed on through the agenda, finally reaching the matter of the Heng’s second driveway, for which she needed a conditional use permit (CUP) because the city ordinance bans dual driveways. 

Her request came after the fact. The second drive was added, permit-less, months ago – 18 months ago, according to Hartung. The new driveway, gravel but ready for paving, connects with the concrete original, and the two form a horseshoe. The road the drives connect to is narrow and a main street in the subdivision. 

Hartung moved for approval of the CUP, and because motions die without a second, McDermott seconded. “For discussion,” he said. 

Some residents had told him they oppose both the driveway and the plan to run a business, particularly one that required machinery and a truck to haul it. “This is a residential neighborhood,” he said. “This is not a personal thing.”

“It’s a prejudice thing,” Heng asserted. 

McDermott, looking surprised and dismayed, declared, “No.” 

One goal of the driveway ordinance is public safety, but the Heng driveway, contended Hartung, “is not a safety issue. It enhances safety. They have three teenagers who are drivers. Two driveways would be safer than one for them and their friends.”

Councilors Trish Shields and Jayne Krause disagreed with Hartung’s argument. When Shields showed a plan she’d drawn up as a safe alternative, Hartung dismissed it. When Krause said having that many accesses is indeed a safety issue, Hartung scoffed, “That’s right, Jayne. It’s safer to park on the road.” 

Then Heng interrupted again, snapping, “That’s all right. “We’ll just park on the street.”

McDermott brought up another concern. If the council okayed this CUP, how could it not okay another and another and another? Sixty driveways could turn into 120, he said, “and that I have a problem with. If we allow one, how could we not tell everyone else yes?”

“With a CUP,” was Hartung’s comeback. And, he pointed out, CUP fees could bring in good money for the city. 

“I don’t want CUPs to become a resource-making tool,” Krause said.

“None of this is fair,” said Hartung.

The council rode out another Heng interruption and then took a vote: Hartung aye, McDermott, Krause and Shields nay. CUP denied.

Heng had more to say, and said it until Hartung asked her to stop.

Then he moved for approval of the shed. “Why?” asked Krause. “I don’t know why we have to approve it. They can just get a permit.”

Yes, they can.

So, on to the home business permit with Hartung again making the motion to approve. The voting went Hartung and Shields aye, McDermott nay, and Krause saying, “I wish there were more conditions.”

Heng launched yet another interruption, and Hartung told her, “You’re not helping yourself.” 

When asked what conditions Krause meant, she responded, “Can they put the truck in the shed? The equipment needs to be in the garage or the shed or on the trailer and off the road...That’s my opinion and I’m allowed to have it.”

“I make one more motion,” said Hartung, “to approve the CUP with the conditions that Jayne sets forth.” He turned to her: “What parameters would you find acceptable so we can allow these people their livelihood and not force them to move from our community because they can’t operate their business out of their home?”

Krause repeated her stipulations, and the council approved the amended motion 3-1 with McDermott dissenting.

Bats or homing pigeons?

Bats, evicted a year or so ago from Oronoco Community Center, are back. 

“I know bats are good for many things,” Mayor McDermott said, “but we don’t need them in our building.” 

The councilors peered at the ceiling, were relieved to see no bats and voted unanimously to authorize paying Falls Creek Animal and Pest Control $800 to remove and relocate the interlopers. 

Thanks from the mayor

Kudos from Mayor McDermott to all who contributed to “the two occasions that bring the town together, both sides of the highway.” 

He said thank you to everybody who helped with National Night Out and to everybody who attended.

And more thank yous to Gold Rush volunteers “and to the residents for putting up with the inconvenience.” 

He said both events were well-attended, and the weather was perfect. 

Other business

 The deadline for hooking up to the municipal water system was July 31, and on September 2 the city will start billing the penalty fee to non-compliers. However, there will be no penalty for residents who had, by the end of June, notified the city that they’re making arrangements to connect. 

“Schumacher Excavating did a wonderful job removing debris from the dam,” McDermott said. The job is finished, and the council authorized paying the bill of $2,475. 

The council voted unanimously to:

• Approve an amended driveway ordinance, reworded to clear up any confusion over the regulation. 

• Advance $19,875 to the contractor for city shop construction. The vote was 3-0 because Hartung, the project’s contractor, abstained. 

• Authorize a $104,946.50 payment to Aslakson’s Blacktopping Service for roadwork in Cedar Woodlands subdivision.

The council will hold its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on September 16 at city hall.

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