Possible changes to the city's ordinance requiring "dust-free" parking lot construction for new businesses within city limits was discussed at the Chillicothe Planning and Zoning Board's regular monthly meeting. The board met for a public comment hearing Monday evening in the city council chambers. The hearing sported a full-capacity audience.

"[We] do find [the ordinance] vague, and, therefore, unenforceable," said board member Jody Case. "It's vague to me. It really doesn't specify anything."

"I think it needs wording other than 'dustless,'" said Code Enforcement/Planning and Zoning officer Donnie Vandevender.

Board member Don Overton said that aside from a lack of dates stating when the ordinance was put in, "I don't find it too vague."

Case read from a summarized memorandum, sent by Chillicothe City Administrator Ike Holland, who was unable to attend the meeting. It read as follows:

"1. This process can take as long as six months. There is no hurry; we want citizens and business owners and managers to participate.

2. You cannot penalize people financially and make laws that are retroactive.*** Therefore, it was never considered in the past, nor will it be considered now, to have people make current lots into concrete or asphalt.

3. Purpose of this discussion: to discuss what the city and community would desire in commercial parking lots.

4. Process: discuss and recommend changes to City Council.

5. Goal: changes would make the parking lot code, [sic] more comprehensive, match the desires of the business community, easier to understand, cover unique situations, and enforcable."

"We're asking for input," Case said. "We're trying to figure out what our commercial parking lots would require. We're not considering making the current lots into concrete or asphalt.

"I would ask that you refrain from making any remarks towards an individual," he said, adding that he'd like to limit comments to three to five minutes in length, to avoid excessive meeting length.

"With that," he said, "we're going to have a public hearing."

Norman Gregg was the first to make a public comment.

"Why should we try to penalize the [business] owners who want to come here?" he asked. "I was raised in the '30s, when there [actually] was dust."

"Could you tell us, what is the ordinance?" said Julie Kline.

"That's kind of what we're all here to figure out," Case said.

Bailey's Studio owner John Shannon requested information regarding whether or not the ordinance was related to sewer problems that dust and gravel caused, and where exactly changes to it were brought up, and by whom.

"It's nice to have dustless [lots]," he said. "[But] is it worth all of this?"

"We have a code that we're trying to follow," Case responded. "[This discussion] came from a city council meeting that I did not attend."

"I was at the meeting," said city councilman Wayne Cunningham, who was in attendance at Monday's meeting, along with fellow councilmen Reed Dupy and Tom Douglas.

"Apparently, the enforcement [of this ordinance] hasn't always been done," Cunningham said. "I think everybody would like to have a concrete parking lot [if they are able, but] I think common sense needs to prevail."

Cunningham brought up the question of whether or not concrete entranceways on gravel roads made sense. He asked if car dealerships got enough traffic to create dust on their gravel parking lots.

"We need to get something on the books so codes can enforce it," he said. "This council does not want to drive away businesses from this town. It generates tax dollars."

"We have no definition," Douglas added. "You can't enforce a code you don't understand.

"Our job [is] to do what you all want us to do."

"I know all of you are trying to do what's best for the community," said audience member Fritz Kline. He offered, however, that by forcing persons to pave lots, that it really gives the city no advantages besides aesthetics; that it devalues property when sold, because the next owner would have to pave over the existing lot; and that such decisions should really be left to the public, in regards to graveling versus paving.

He suggested that if paving were to be mandatory for new business owners, that perhaps there be an incentive program for such.

"I don't know if there's grant money," he said. He recommended looking into such, and said that, perhaps, the city could go in 50/50 with the business to pave their lot.

"It might encourage them to do something like that," he said. "I just think if [the ordinance] hasn't been enforced for seven years that it shouldn't even exist."

Jason Bone, of Woody's, took to the podium, speaking of a similar situation in Cameron, where old lots were grandfathered in with a new paving ordinance.

"What that's done is stifled growth," Bone said. He reiterated Gregg's prior point, that doing such would drive new businesses away from the city, because of the cost of paving lots.

"Those new businesses might be us," Bone said. He said that Woody's has been known to expand its lot ownership. "I don't know if [paving them all] would be feasible.

"Small towns are struggling right now," he said. "I caution you: will you think of every circumstance?"

Assistant Code Enforcement/Planning & Zoning Officer Tammi Venneman said that she had spoken with several cities about their policies pertaining to hard-surfacing lots.

Molly Barnett spoke next for the public.

"My husband and I were considering opening a business [in Chillicothe]," she said. When they discovered that they would have to pay out over $50,000 for parking lots for the business, however, she said that it became out of the question.

"We first turned to land outside of the city limits," she said. "Since then, we've dropped it completely.

"I'm here to testify that one new business has not come to Chillicothe," she said.

"We're not all born with a silver spoon in our mouths," said Chris Carr, who had a similar experience when he first took over the local saw mill in 2004. He said that Gil Gates, a city official at the time, made him cover his lot with crushed asphalt — a very costly addition that he still considers a "sore spot."

"There's no way we can do this," he said. "I can't afford all of this concrete. Make it cost-effective."

"Before the next person comes up," Case said, "let me take a poll." He asked all audience persons in favor of having no code at all to raise their hand.

"I can see at least 90 percent," he said. "People can't afford aesthetics. Can anyone require a need for concrete and asphalt?"

"How are we going to enforce this?" asked Jack Dickerson. He also pondered what the city would do with businesses who were forced to close because they could not afford to pave, and whether or not the city's storm sewers could handle the runoff caused by increased smooth asphalt or concrete surfaces.

"It has to go somewhere," he said.

Board member Brent Anderson said that the storm water drainage system did struggle with filling with gravel and debris.

Dickerson said that he was currently working on a 40,000 square-foot expansion — a $1.5 million project that would bring a multitude of new jobs to Chillicothe. However, to pave his driveway, it would cost in upwards of $750,000, because the size and weight of the vehicles passing over the area would require a thicker concrete surface to avoid its deterioration.

"That building goes on hold, those jobs go on hold," he said.

"[Holland] wants us to have something that we can enforce — not to the detriment of anybody," said councilman Dupy. "This is just a start. We're going to [be moving on to other ordinances] then."

It was made known that the original ordinance regarding parking lots came about in 2000, and an amendment regarding driveway standards was added in 2007. There was slight confusion over this point prior.

"You feel a lot safer getting out on concrete than on gravel on crutches," said councilman Cunningham. He added that persons with health problems frequent businesses along with healthy persons, and that dust and uneven surfaces can be dangerous.

"The only [lot] I've ever had a lawsuit over was a concrete lot," F. Kline said, mentioning ice as the cause.

It was noted that Trenton's ordinances, as compared to Chillicothe's, were much simpler, to the point where the phrase "They've got practically no codes there whatsoever" was used by a member of the audience. They said that Trenton seemed to be doing just fine with such.

"We need to go back to common sense," F. Kline said.

"Let the businessman take care of his own problems," Gregg added.
Case asked Gregg what he felt should be done if there was no ordinance in place, and a complaint of dangerous levels of dust were to occur.

"The council should stop and deal with that question at hand," Gregg said.

"I do think that we should have some laws," said Jason Benson, of the SALT organization. "I do think that our laws should reflect the opinions of our community.

"Make it fair across the board," he said. Benson noted that things like traffic numbers through the lots and equipment size might be items taken into consideration when deciding which lots need paved, and which should be left alone.

Darrell Rinehart said that he currently rents out gravel parking lots in the community, which he said he will someday sell.

"It's not fair for the person who buys it," he said, of the ordinance. He noted that the storm sewers were worse off a few years ago, and that we had more gravel back 150 years ago (when Chillicothe was founded) than now, and that everything got along just fine.

"What we need to do is to absorb this," said Case. "I would... consider forming a committee of people from the audience.

"Several people have spoken tonight. That means you're on the list," he joked. "We want to look at everything."

"I think it is important to have a code that will cover everything," board member Earle Teegarden said. "If I had a choice, I'd table [this discussion] and go home."

"There's a lot more to it than saying we're not going to have [an ordinance]," board member Brent Anderson said.

"I'd rather abolish the code than restrict businesses," said board member Gene Moyers.

"This hit us as quick as it hit everybody else," said board member Don Overton.

"I'm glad everybody's here," said councilman Douglas. "That helps us a lot. It's going to take a while to do this. We need businesses. We need all of the tax dollars we can get."

"You elected us. You are our voice," said Cunningham. "We did see the [poll] count tonight. We will listen."

Venneman revealed that there had been five complaints pertaining to violations of the ordinance in the past two years — three in business areas and two in residential areas. Judges in said cases even found the ordinance too vague for prosecution at some points, she said.

"It really needs to be in black and white," said Vandevender.

"Is it enforceable right now?" asked Venneman. She answered herself with "No."

As the meeting hit its 1.5 hour mark, Case suggested again that the board form a committee of public participants to discuss the matter further, and at a later date. It was approved.

Persons willing to participate in said committee should call the Chillicothe Code Enforcement/Planning and Zoning office, at 646-5636.

It was moved to table the item until the next meeting. This measure was seconded and unanimously approved.

Board member Julie McCoy was not present at Monday night's meeting; nor was Mayor Chuck Haney.

The Planning and Zoning board's next regular meeting will be on Sept. 4, at 7 p.m.