MORGAN -- Gary Snyder had a plan to build a new home in Morgan County and keep an existing home on the same lot. Two appeals and almost two years later, he can continue with those plans.
A hearing officer recently found in favor of Snyder, reporting that the Morgan County Council "was arbitrary and erred" when it decided Snyder's conditional-use permit was no longer valid because construction on the proposed residence had not commenced within the allotted one year.
Snyder filed a permit application May 25, 2010, that was denied by the county council July 20 of that same year. After a successful appeal of that decision, Snyder obtained a permit to keep the existing 1,800-square-foot home as an "accessory apartment" on Aug. 25, 2010.
Before the county issued a building permit July 27, 2011, Snyder worked to finalize building plans, obtain a septic permit, solidify utility plans and test water. Site improvements commenced, including grading and excavation within the footings and foundation area of the proposed 3,600-square-foot home.
Because of concerns voiced by subcontractors, new building plans were drawn up. However, site work, including removal of several mature trees, continued and Snyder solidified financing.
After being informed of Snyder's new design plans, the county building official issued Snyder a 180-day building permit extension on Jan. 23, 2012.
Now into the project some $14,228, Snyder was surprised when the county planner notified him via email on Jan. 26 that the matter was being referred to the county council, acting as the zoning administrator, because construction had not yet commenced.
On Feb. 7, the county council voted that Snyder's conditional-use permit was invalid and no longer in effect.
"At the heart of the matter is the definition of 'commencement of construction,'" according to a Morgan County Appeal Authority decision written by Megan Ryan. "The Morgan County Code is silent as to this exact definition. There are, however, code citations that exist that can offer a clearer interpretation to the matter."
Specifically, code relating to performance standards for conditional uses mentions that in the absence of "substantial and positive development," a conditional-use permit can expire. Further, county code deems building permit applications as well as communication with county staff "substantial
Ryan wrote that issuance of a building permit is a step above the required code standard of simply applying for a building permit.
"It is the determination of the appeal authority that the citations present in their code should have been utilized. The council made an arbitrary decision that was not based on their own codes," Ryan said in the decision. "As supported by code citations, the county did not follow the standards in its own land-use ordinance in making their (Feb. 7) decision."
Although the latest appeal has set Snyder back another two months, he is "cautiously anxious" to get back on track. He is finalizing the new home's redesign and has an excavator and surveyor on standby.
"Following a two-month delay, hours of preparation, roller-
coaster stress and another $500, we can continue building," Snyder said in an email. "We can only hope that the county will not find another way to exert unnecessary and overt power."
Rental income from the accessory apartment will be used to cover half of the financing for the new home, Snyder said. He said using the existing home as an apartment benefits the community because it is creating moderate-income