GEARHART — Shannon Smith, owner of a 124-year-old livery stable on Pacific Way, is seeking a third extension of time to complete renovations so she can eventually use the barn as an events center.

In a presentation that was supposed to last 20 minutes, but continued for two hours during a Gearhart City Council meeting Wednesday night, Smith argued she had the right, under the city’s zoning ordinance, to request an extension because she has completed “substantial construction” on the barn.

The City Council eventually informally agreed to consider her request at its next meeting June 4.

Smith received her first conditional-use permit from the city to use the “Neacoxie Creek Barn” as a commercial and community events center in August 2010, but before she could receive an occupancy permit, she had to make structural improvements that would comply with the Oregon Building Code.

The Gearhart Planning Commission placed 12 conditions on the permit and the City Council added another condition that she had to meet before she could conduct any events inside the barn. Most of the conditions dealt with fire and safety issues, parking requirements, restroom construction and the days and hours the barn could be used in the residential area.

Since the initial permit has been issued, Smith has worked with local architects and structural engineers to develop plans acceptable to the city. Smith told the City Council she had had little response from the city’s building official, Jim Brien, during the four years she has been working on the project. Brien was not at Wednesday night’s meeting. Smith said she had consulted county and state building officials, the Department of Environmental Quality and others to determine what codes she should be following.

City Councilor Albert Carder, who noted that the architects should already know which codes are applicable, said the issue boiled down to two questions: the time frame involved in completing the project and “the complete disconnect between Shannon and our building inspector, and that needs to be resolved.”

Smith said she had completed eight of the conditions, or approximately 79 percent of the required construction. She said she has spent $22,000 and estimated it would cost another $6,100 to complete the project. Her contractor, John Nelson of Coaster Construction, told her she had another four to five days of work left, Smith said.

However, the six-month extension on the conditional-use permit expired April 26, according to a letter City Administrator Chad Sweet sent to Smith.

“The City of Gearhart does not agree that you have substantially completed your project,” Sweet wrote. “We have not yet issued a permit for the structural plans. ... We have not received a complete set of fire, life and safety plans for your project. These two items are major portions of the project, and work has not yet started.”

If work has started, Sweet added, Smith would be in violation of city ordinances because building permits haven’t been issued.

He noted the city’s ordinance does not allow for an additional extension. This was Smith’s second conditional-use permit and second sixth-month extension. To gain more time, Smith would have to apply for a third conditional-use permit, which could take three months for public notification and a planning commission hearing.

However, Smith argued that the city’s ordinance says a conditional-use permit is void one year after it is issued “unless substantial construction occurs.”

City Councilor Dan Jesse asked what the “downside” would be to give Smith more time.

Carder replied that, if the city went against its own ordinance, it could set a precedent.

“We’re not following our own rules,” he said. “We have the potential of opening a Pandora’s box in the future. Maybe the ordinance itself needs to be reviewed.”

Then Carder turned to Smith. “This council is on record; we support you. We just want you to follow the rules.”

In what was often a testy meeting, Smith also repeated claims that Mayor Dianne Widdop had previously shown bias against her in October 2012 and had a conflict of interest resulting from Widdop’s membership in the now disbanded Chautaqua Association, which had sought to put on community events similar to those Smith plans to conduct in the barn. Smith asked Widdop to recuse herself from the discussion, but Widdop sternly read a statement refuting both of Smith’s claims.

As the discussion wore on, the audience also got involved. One man told the council that he had come to the meeting to get an idea about how the city was run because he was considering moving to Gearhart.

“This is a bloody joke,” he said, as he walked out of the council chambers. “I’ve got some doubts about this. I may not move here after all.”


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