City to proceed with Legion waiver hearing




Despite complaints from a planning commission member, the Garden City Commission made no changes to a scheduled April 2 hearing about granting a waiver of zoning ordinances for the proposed redevelopment of the old American Legion building downtown.

Planning commission member Ken Rishel expressed his concerns about the waiver request bypassing the planning commission, and restated his opposition to the proposal to create high-end apartments out of the building at 125 Pine St.

At the March 5 meeting, the city commission decided with a 3-2 vote to back the planning commission's recommendation to not amend current zoning ordinance to allow ground floor apartments in the central business district.

The planning commission felt it was important to maintain the integrity of the downtown core area by not changing zoning, and felt the American Legion building project would do little to address the city's need for housing.

Carlos and Candace Gamino want to renovate the two-story property into apartments. Because of its split-level design, the American Legion building doesn't fit well under existing central business district zoning.

The commission suggested the Gaminos could request a waiver of zoning requirements, starting with the planning commission, to allow the project to move forward.

After consulting with the planning department and the city's legal counsel, City Manager Matt Allen decided the waiver request ought to come directly to the city commission, arguing that the project has already been through the planning commission several times over the past few months and additional input at that level was unnecessary.

Rishel said Allen's actions "cast suspicion" on the project, and objected to the argument that no further input was needed about a zoning modification by the city's appointed advisory committee.

Allen said he took full responsibility for the decision, arguing it was intended to get the issue in front of the ultimate decision maker, the city commission, sooner.

Initially, the goal was to get it on Tuesday's agenda, Allen said. But it was changed to April 2 to allow time to send notices to adjacent property owners about the public meeting so all who are interested could attend.

Allen said there are two fundamental questions the city commission needs to answer before it can move on to consider other aspects of the project. Whether to grant a waiver to allow residential use on the first floor of the building, and whether to grant a waiver to requiring dedicated parking spaces for the apartments.

"I think it would be a benefit to you and the person submitting the proposal to know that now. Other decisions that need to be made can be made later," Allen said. "If there's not a majority in favor of either of those, then the applicant may want to withdraw their proposal."

Other issues for Rishel included selling the building for $1,000, the city potentially paying for water and sewer line improvements and the city's decision to not consider a second proposal for creating offices out of the building from Downtown Vision and Finney County Economic Development Corp. because it was a day late.

Rishel also argued that technically no proposal from CCS Properties, LLC, has been presented to the city, noting that city commission minutes refer to "CSS Properties, LLC." Though CCS Properties is clearly stated on the proposal the Gaminos submitted to the city last fall, Rishel thinks the error in the minutes should result in the proposal being thrown out.

"Since there has never been a proposal from a legitimate company accepted by the commission, the request for proposals should be reissued," he said.

Commissioners disagreed, as did city counselor Randy Grisell.

Grisell said the minutes can be amended to the correct business name, and the correct name will be used whenever a developer's agreement or a deed transfer is prepared for whatever the lawful entity is that purchases the building.

"Whatever the minutes reflect, we can address it at some point. I don't think it's a technicality that voids anything and everything you've done to date," he said.

Grisell said because it is a local zoning ordinance, the city commission is within its rights to issue a waiver, as it has done many times in the past 25 years.

Bill King, chairman of the planning commission, asked to clarify the idea that the planning commission was having trouble making a decision. King said the issue has been in front of the planning commission three times, not because of indecision, but because of a lack of information about the project.

"Three times, we asked for a plan, and we never got one. We're the planning commission. We don't deal in good ideas. We need facts, figures and plans to work off of. It doesn't matter whether it's a new bank, a car wash or fencing your backyard we need a plan to see where you're going," King said.

King said the Gaminos indicated they were getting an architect, but the planning commission has never seen a plan.

Rishel also claimed that Commissioner Dan Fankhauser has a conflict of interest and shouldn't vote on the Gaminos' project because Fankhauser worked as the Gaminos' architect on a different project a year ago at 704 Main St.

Fankhauser said he is not, nor will he be, the architect for the Gaminos on the American Legion building project.

"Let's just clear that up now so everybody understands it. I did check with counsel and as long as it's a past project it has no bearing on this one," Fankhauser said.

King disagreed, saying Fankhauser probably should abstain from voting on the project since he worked for the Gaminos a short time ago.

Candace Gamino said it wouldn't accomplish much to go back to the planning commission because there likely wouldn't be any new arguments. She added that a waiver would not set a precedent leading to other first floor apartments downtown because the city would consider each case individually, and because there are no other buildings like the American Legion building in the central business district.

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