Encouraging business through building codes
• Planning Commission recommends code for existing buildings
May 2, 2021
The Alva Planning Commission accomplished a lot during their meeting Monday. It was the first time since 2019 that the group has met. The commission approved two rezoning requests, recommended the adoption of building code for existing commercial buildings and discussed guidelines for electric vehicle charging stations.
Members present were Chairperson Christie Kornele, Tyler Crawford, Charles Murrow, Matt Adair, Mark Nichols and Mary Hamilton, who is the city council representative on the commission.
Alva Fire Chief Bryan Miller is also the interim code enforcement officer or city inspector until that position is filled. He reported receiving a lot of building permits. Three construction projects are currently underway in Alva including work at Alva High School on remodeling of a locker room and the art room, remodeling at Northwest Technology Center and the Legacy project on the downtown square.
Miller said he's receiving a lot of permits for residential work such as adding carports. He's also beginning to receive the yearly complaints about properties that might be considered a nuisance.
Mayor Kelly Parker gave a brief report on the city council. He has been contacted about some businesses about current building codes not being conducive to businesses. That's why the commission had the International Existing Building Code on the agenda. Parker also noted that a couple of positions on the commission are reaching the end of their terms so he'll be looking at appointments. Kornele said she believes her term is up in June.
201 Flynn St. Rezoning
Alva builder Ernie Minjares spoke to the commission on behalf of clients Michael Dale and Lindi Wiggins of Sapulpa. The retired couple bought two empty lots at 201 Flynn with the intention of building a home and did not learn until later it was zoned commercial. Mr. Wiggins played football at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. Minjares said, "He loved the town. He wanted to bring his family here."
He said the property is surrounded by residences. Across the street is a hairdressers and there's a funeral home down the street. Otherwise, the area is residential.
Hamilton asked if there was any reason the property should not be rezoned. Miller said the property had a residential structure on it previously, but it was torn down about ten years ago. If a residence had been built on the property quickly, it would have been fine. Since the property sat idle so long, it required bringing it to the planning commission because it is zoned commercial.
"My recommendation would be to take lots 1 and 2 and make that an RG8 for it which would require it to have at least 8,000 sq. ft. of property to build on," Miller said.
Mayor Parker said he was under the impression if it was zoned commercial you could construct a residential property, but if it was zoned residential you couldn't construct a commercial property.
"Our zoning ordinance on that property and how it is zoned states that if it has a residential property on it, it can go to residential until it is torn down, then it reverts back to commercial," said Miller.
Murrow asked if neighbors within 300 feet had to be notified of the rezoning request. Miller said since properties around it were residential, he didn't think it was necessary.
Murrow said a few years ago he had a buyer for the property. With a different city inspector, "it was a 25 step process to get it done."
Miller said he didn't see a need to notify neighbors with a chance to protest since it had a house on it previously.
City Business Manager Angelica Brady said there still was the ability to protest because the agenda of the public meeting was posted several days previously.
"Well, yeah," said Murrow. "Build a house there. It looks better than a vacant lot."
"Exactly," said Miller.
"And it's not going to be a modular home," added Minjares. "I know. It's going to be a stick-built frame house," said Murrow.
"It would be my recommendation to rezone it," concluded Miller as he sat down.
Murrow made a motion to rezone the property as RG8, and Crawford seconded. The motion carried unanimously.
314 Maple St. Rezoning
Miller spoke on behalf of Aaron and Lisa Vermillion who requested rezoning from RG8 to RG6 on their property at 314 Maple. He described the address as a corner alley lot off Maple between 4th and 5th. He said they want to enclose a carport and extend it out but they don't have 8,000 sq. ft. of space. In order to get a building permit, they need to have the lot rezoned to RG6 which requires less space.
In answer to questions about vehicle access, Miller explained that the building permit is for additional living space, a bedroom and living room area. He said, "Their family's growing so they need this square footage." He recommended the property be rezoned to RG6.
Murrow made the motion to change the property from RG8 to RG6, seconded by Hamilton. The motion passed unanimously.
Murrow commented that this goes back to the rezoning the planning commission has been working on. He said on the number streets there numerous lots that are split over parts of two lots. "You get some that are 25 and 100, and then you get some that are 85 and 150," said Miller.
"It's a nightmare, just a nightmare," said Murrow.
International Existing Building Code
First, Miller corrected the agenda which listed discussion and recommendation to adopt the International Existing Business Code. He said it was supposed to be "Building" not "Business." Brady apologized for the error.
Over the last five years, Miller said, he's talked to various committees about existing building codes. "I've never really understood why we've never adopted it, because we have such a historical and aged infrastructure downtown on the square. Buildings, you know, that continue to be sold and used as mercantile buildings for retail sales."
The code only concerns commercial property, not residential. "It gives you three phases of construction ... based off of percentages, that lessens the code and keeps you under the requirements of bringing it up to code, to new code or the new code standard."
He said it would really help on some buildings, but some it wouldn't. "But this is something that we do need to utilize and have within our codes," Miller said.
This is not to be confused with state statutes. He said, "When you buy property, or change the use of property, or when the property stays vacant for more than 90 days, you still have to bring those up to code."
He said for example if someone had a retail shop and wanted to do a different design and do something different, this code would allow them to make changes and not have to bring it all the way up to new code standards.
"As our code stands right now, anybody who does anything ... Tyler (Crawford) can attest to this, and Bernie (Minjares) can attest to this ... you have to bring everything up to code standards. That's just how our ordinances are set. We have nothing else to turn to," said Miller. "Legally we couldn't turn to the Existing Building Codes because they're not adopted into our current city ordinances.
"It's my recommendation, because it helps us to start to occupy buildings, or make remodel constructions that don't bring everything up to code. It gives people a little bit more of a pocket-friendly code edition."
Miller briefly talked about what the code covers. "We should have adopted this code back in 2002 when we adopted the International Building Codes and Fire Codes," he said.
Murrow asked, "Is that why Taco Mayo is for sale again?"
Miller said that basically they just didn't want to follow the rules. "This wouldn't have prevented that change," said Brady.
"No, because the architectural statutes and standards in Title 74 say that anytime a building is sold or the occupancy use is changed, or sits dormant for 90 days, they have to have an architect. Since a restaurant is considered an assembly where people gather, and retail sales for a marijuana shop for what it was going to be require an architectural set of plans. They were just never provided. That's why it's being sold."
Brady said if the commission voted to recommend adoption, the city attorney is reviewing the ordinance and it will also go before the ordinance committee for review to make sure it has a appropriate language before it goes to city council.
Parker added, "I think it would help some of our businesses that are growing to grow more easily. I think we can still do this and keep our community safe."
Following a few more questions, Adair made a motion to recommend the adoption of the code to the city council with Hamilton seconding. The motion carried.
Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
The final item for the meeting was discussion on electric vehicle charging stations on city sidewalks.
"We don't have anything in our ordinances right now that would allow or prohibit electric vehicle charging stations to be put on the city sidewalks, but I feel like this is something that we'll potentially see more and more of going forward," said Brady. "So I'd like to have some discussion on what you all think. Do we need to have some ordinances on this?"
Mayor Parker added that in the role of the planning commission and the strategic use of property in the community, he'd like recommendations on zones appropriate for charging stations.
Someone asked if there was an age limit on the electric scooters, and Parker clarified this was not about the scooters. The charging stations are for electric cars or vehicles.
Miller said the charging stations look a lot like gas pumps and showed plans for an installation at the Days Inn in Alva.
"They would not be the property of the municipality," said Parker. "They would be leasing property from us or another agency."
Miller did some research on what can be on city sidewalks. He said, "Within our city ordinances it says you can't obstruct any city sidewalk." Miller sent that ordinance to the city attorney, Parker and Brady to make sure he was interpreting it correctly.
A construction project downtown on the square proposed putting them in. This made the city start looking to see if anything in ordinances or safety measures restricted this.
Miller said there are codes coming out soon that address electrical charging stations, but right now they just fall under the electrical code. "The International Fire Code addresses them in the 2018 code which may or may not be adopted in November through legislation, and that's when we change," he said.
The proposal was for the outside of the square rather than the inside. Miller said the outside has better access to the three-phase electrical power needed. The inside of the square would require extra work like boring under the street.
Miller said he doesn't know of any fully-electric vehicles around here, but local firefighters have been going through some fire training on them. "They can get pretty violent so we were looking at that for safety reasons also," he said.
Brady asked if other cities have adopted ordinances related to electrical charging stations. Miller said some larger cities have adopted ordinances. "Most of them that you see are not on their main sidewalks. They're in parking areas or parking garages, somewhere that they have a fire suppression system in it or close to it," said Miller.
Hamilton said, "So if the scooters are on the sidewalks, and these things are on the sidewalks ..."
"No, no, no," interrupted Parker. "Scooters are not supposed to be on the sidewalks."
"I know they're not supposed to be but that doesn't mean they're not on the sidewalk," said Hamilton. "I sat in front of Rialto the other day just to watch, and oh my, yes they are on the sidewalk."
"That is a separate issue," said Brady.
"I haven't seen electrical charging stations set up on a sidewalk," said Adair. "On a sidewalk, I don't know that I would want to navigate stepping over the cords. But I've seen them on pull-ins. They had three spots on one side and three on the other, and they could pull in on both."
"I think you get into trouble if you've got some older lady at a parking spot that she's going to park there whether there's a charger or not," said Murrow.
"If they're putting them in street parking, that is city property, and it's currently not defined how or to not allow that," said Parker.
"I don't think a sidewalk is a good place," said Kornele. "Because the ones I've seen have been at the back of hotel."
Murrow said on a side street or over behind the co-op would be a good spot. Or in a parking lot, said Hamilton.
"As far as the planning commission is concerned, I would want you to say 'Yes, no, parking lots. Yes, no, street parking. Yes, no, residential areas.' Those types of things to make a determination so that we can draft the proper language or find the proper language that needs to be in place for our community," said Parker.
"When you said residential, do keep in mind they do make a charging station for houses, for people that own electric vehicles," said Miller. "They don't look like what I showed you there. They're a smaller box that increases the voltage and allows them to charge."
"For me it's different having a gas can in your garage and having a gas pump in your driveway," said Adair.
"And I think people that would own it here in town would have their own charging stations at home," said Hamilton. "It's people that come in from out of town that need to have the charging stations."
Brady said there are maps coming out that show towns that have charging stations so this would put Alva on the map, and it would be a draw for people to come through Alva.
"She's right. The person that brought it down, economic development, they wanted it down on the square to bring people into our business district," said Miller.
"So what happens when one blows up?" asked Minjares.
"It's kind of like gas pumps," said Miller. "Gas pumps, when they're pulled over, they do have automatic shut-off valves or switches that kill the voltage because we are talking about three-phase voltage so it is dangerous. The videos that we use for our fire training or have seen in our fire training is the lithium batteries actually venting versus the charging stations. But they were continuously fed. Of course, a lot of this comes from Europe ... it's more the cars and the batteries themselves that are the more dangerous of the two."
Summing up, Brady said, "The direction I've heard so far is that we would like to see designated areas. We don't necessarily want to see them on public sidewalks. When we talk about specific areas, are there areas that you would or would not like to see?"
"I don't have any problems ... like in the city overflow lot," said Adair. "Along either side of that courthouse parking, anyplace like that. Private property, if Love's wants to put in a few, if the hotels want to put them up, I think that's great. If an independent business wants to create a pull-in so they don't have to obscure a sidewalk, that's fine with me. I don't see a real good cause for putting them on the square unless we created ..."
"Unless it's a parking lot," said Parker. "Right," agreed Adair.
Parker asked if there are setbacks required. Miller said right now the electrical code just sets up how they are to installed with bumpers to keep them from being hit, emergency kill switches, etc. "If one were to go, it would be pretty violent until that kill switch," he said. "No different that the power lines hanging above your head."
Brady said they would work with the ordinance committee and bring the results back to the planning commission.
During remarks and inquiries by citizens, Parker said the intention is to "fire back up the strategic property use conversations. You guys got so close to being finished, or the task force did, before the conronavirus hit. And so we need to dust that off, get it back out and get it finished so that we can move forward with taking care of these exceptions within our community that need to be potentially rezoned."
A video of the meeting may be seen at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com.