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The debate became heated during the most recent Spencer County Board of Adjustment meeting Thursday afternoon with one participant being cited as being out of order, prompting an appearance from Spencer County Sheriff Buddy Stump and several of his deputies.
The board was meeting to consider, for a second time, the application being made by Spencer County Habitat for Humanity to construct a duplex on a 5,908 square foot lot on Maple Avenue. The application originally requested five variances including:
• That the organization be allowed to build a duplex on the lot, which is 5,908 feet and zoned R-2. Current zoning regulations maintain that an R-2 zoned lot must be at least 7,500 square feet for a multifamily dwelling.
• Current zoning regulations require a 30 percent maximum lot coverage. The original proposal exceeded that.
• That the structure could be built with a five-foot setback in the rear yard, as opposed to the required 25 feet; a 10-foot setback in the side yard; a 14-foot setback in the street side yard, as opposed to the required 30 feet from the right of way; and a 2-foot setback in the front yard, as opposed to the required 30 feet from the right of way.
The original proposal requested a 2,129.6-square foot duplex be built on the property to house two families.
According to Spencer County Planning and Zoning Administrator Julie Sweazy the amended request included the same variance for a duplex on at 5,908 square foot lot with a setback variance for the rear of the property and a setback variance for the right of way.
According to Habitat President Scott Street, the new duplex would be 1,702.4 square feet and that the new structure would be built as a story an a half.
Community advocate Lawrence Trageser spoke before the commission and warned them that to approve the variance they would be breaking the law and threatened to “take (the board) to task” if they went through with the variance. Trageser then began to directly question the ethics of board member James Allen Tipton, which resulted in a quick announcement from board chair Bruce Kapfhammer that Trageser was out of order. Trageser attempted to continue to speak but was ultimately silenced by Kapfhammer and board attorney Dudley Dale. Shortly thereafter Stump and several Spencer County deputies came into the back of the fiscal court meeting room and Stump and one deputy remained present during the remainder of the meeting.
Board member Davis Lee Downs cited Kentucky Revised Statutes 100.243 and 100.247 and said that he felt that Habitat was asking him to violate the law in voting for their requested variance.
“It would be no different if you asked me to go outside and break one of the windows on the sheriff’s car,” Downs said. The issue in question, according to Downs was the provision in 100.243(2) which states: The board shall deny any request for a variance arising from circumstances that are the result of willful violations of the zoning regulation by the applicant subsequent to the adoption of the zoning regulation from which relief is sought.
At issue is the fact that a single family home was originally on the lot that Habitat planned for a duplex and the home was demolished. Downs suggested that Habitat was trying to get around the zoning regulations by choosing to place a duplex on the home instead of replacing a single family dwelling on the lot.
Downs then made a motion to deny the variance, but no member followed with a second. Tipton then read from 100.243(1) and made a motion to accept the variance. Tipton’s motion also failed for lack of a second.
After the failure of both motions, Downs, citing a recent editorial in the Spencer Magnet, suggested that Habitat return to the board with plans for a single family dwelling. The board agreed that a variance would still be needed for a single family dwelling, but board members Downs, Kapfhammer and Dean Curtsinger said they would be willing to consider such a proposal. Kapfhammer specifically asked Street if the group could go back and formulate a new plan. The board voted unanimously to reset the matter to May 29, to allow Habitat to present its new single family plan.
Attorney Dale also informed representatives from Habitat that they had the right to appeal the board’s denial of a variance to circuit court within 30 days.
Afterwards the board took several minutes to discuss possible amendments to the bylaws. During this time, Kapfhammer counseled the members to review the bylaws regarding outside communication of issues presented during board meetings. He specifically referenced members speaking with the newspaper. Curtsinger agreed with Kapfhammer’s assessment.
“I think it is a very touchy subject,” Curtsinger said. “I think we should refrain from talking to newspapers and we should make decisions here.”
James Tipton left the meeting early, after which, Downs discussed conflict of interest issues. Downs stated that he believed members should recuse themselves from matters where there is even the appearance of impropriety. Dale said that Kentucky law does not go so far as to use “appearance of impropriety” language and said that the board could amend its bylaws to reflect such language.
Downs specifically gave an example of being a realtor and voting on issues involving parties for which the realtor has a current listing. While not directly naming Tipton, Downs was referring to the fact that Scott and Linda Street currently have a property listed with Tipton’s Premier Realty company. The board decided to shelve the measure until its next regularly scheduled meeting.