Sv Zoning Law Labeled As ‘Unfair’

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The Star Valley Council Tuesday backed off one restriction intended to get rid of businesses that don’t conform to new town codes — but that wasn’t enough for the owner of Rim Country’s only topless night club.

“It’s just not fair — it’s not reasonable,” said Pete’s Place owner Joe Soldevere of provisions in an existing law governing so-called “nonconforming uses.”

The issue stems from Star Valley’s incorporation about two years ago and the subsequent adoption of new zoning laws. Some of those new rules would have barred businesses previously approved by the county.

The town has to allow the continuation of such existing non-conforming uses, according to state law — but can impose various restrictions on their future.

The ordinance adopted in January set out the ground rules for such nonconforming businesses to operate.

One provision in that law would have prevented the sale of such a business to a new owner without bringing it into compliance with all the new regulations. The agenda for Tuesday indicated the council would reconsider that restriction.

However, another provision in that same ordinance says that if such a business doesn’t operate for six months, it will lose its “nonconforming use” exemption.

The council on Tuesday voted unanimously to repeal the restriction on the sale of such nonconforming businesses, based on complaints and legal advice.

Opponents argued that such a provision would make established nonconforming businesses nearly worthless, since they could not sell to a new owner.

However, Soldevere urged the council to also reconsider another part of that previously enacted regulation of nonconforming uses uses.

Before Star Valley incorporated, Gila County had a less stringent ordinance concerning non-conforming uses. Under the county, the owner of a business grandfathered into the zoning regulations could stop operating the business for up to a year without losing its exemption. That provision was mostly intended to keep the owner of a nonconforming use from losing his business if some problem kept him from operating for up to a year.

However, the town council in January cut that term to six months. As a result, if the owner of a business operating under a grandfathered exemption to current zoning restrictions stays closed for six months, he could lose permission to operate.

Soldevere objected vigorously to that provision, enacted eight months ago with little fanfare.

“The reason this town was founded was for our civil rights, our property rights and certainly our water rights,” said Soldevere.

But he said cutting the time to get a nonconforming business into operation again after a flood or fire or economic problem was “not reasonable or prudent.”

He noted the provision “assumes that a person could have his business burn down, draw up plans to rebuild, have those plans approved by the town, find a contractor, rebuild and open the doors in six months. That’s truly unreasonable.”

In fact, the current ordinance also says that if more than 50 percent of the building is destroyed by flood or fire or other disaster, the business would automatically lose the right to rebuild and retain its exemption.

Soldevere spoke during the public comment portion of the agenda, which prevents the council from making direct responses or decisions on issues raised on the grounds those issues weren’t put on the published agenda ahead of time.

Mayor Chuck Heron noted the council could only discuss the elimination of the ban on selling nonconforming businesses, since only that item was on the agenda.

However, he advised Soldevere to seek a hearing before the planning commission if he wanted to push for additional changes in the ordinance.

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