Many Spring City residents apparently
ignoring rules on storage containers
By Doug Lowe
SPRING CITY—A new type of fixture is cropping up in yards in Spring City and just outside the city. And whether the new items are making a visual contribution to the community is questionable.
“We now have close to 30 storage containers in town, which translates to a container being on nearly 20 percent of our blocks,” Craig Paulsen, chairman of the Spring City Planning and Zoning Commission told the city council Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Property owners are supposed to get a permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission before bringing in a storage container or anything to be used for storage, such as a semi-trailer or train boxcar. But property owners either don’t know about the requirement or aren’t following it. Failure to get a permit is the most common violation related to the containers, Paulsen said.
Paulsen described three recent instances where a container suddenly appeared without any of the owners three property owners applying to Planning and Zoning.
To get a permit, the property owner not only needs to submit the application paperwork but also needs to get on the commission’s agenda for a face-to-face discussion of his or her plans for the container.
Playing by the rules, including going through the application process and consulting with the commission, can help property owners avoid the cost of rectifying mistakes in use of the containers. For instance, Paulsen said, the second most common code violation is placing a container too close to something else; that is, failing to provide the minimum setback required between the container and a building, property line, utility right-of-way or adjacent street.
While violating a city code may not sound like too big a deal, it is a Class C misdemeanor and can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750. In terms of seriousness, it’s comparable to driving on a suspended license.
The city council discussed the possibility of a new ordinance requiring visual screening, such as a fence concealing the container. Paulsen said such a measure could actually contribute to a serious container-related problem—the potential to modify them and turn them into residences.
The existing city code allows guest houses to be constructed for temporary unpaid use, or as housing for a domestic worker. By such houses must be “designed and constructed with materials that are comparable to and compatible with the primary residence and other residences in the vicinity.”
Reading aloud from sections of the city code, Paulsen also pointed out that no more than two containers are allowed on any one lot.
A citizen in the audience announced, “I know of two lots that each have reached their two container limit.”
And, someone else chimed in, “I know of a lot that has five or six cargo containers in a row.”
Subsequently, it was determined that the “row” of containers was outside the Spring City limits and not subject to the city container ordinance. No one present seemed to know whether the county regulates cargo containers.
Another problem not related to cargo containers specifically is the idea that if owners planning to modify their properties chat informally with planning commission members those discussions are binding on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Individual members of the commission’s individual members, as public-spirited volunteers, are free to give their counsel to any citizen who asks; however, nothing is official until the whole commission discusses the issue and reaches a group decision, Paulsen said.
Asked if he would like council to impose a moratorium on bringing any more containers to town, Paulsen answered that he would like to conduct a survey to get the thoughts and feelings of Spring City residents about storage containers.
A questionnaire will be drafted by the Planning and Zoning Commission and sent out to city residents in their February utility bills.