FD board nixes storage site plan

A plan to turn a Fort Dodge building into a storage facility was rejected by the city’s Board of Adjustment Tuesday evening.

The board voted 2-1 to deny a request for a special exception for operating a climate-controlled storage facility at 934 S. 17th St.

Board members Steve Hoesel and Eric Ruttum voted to deny the request. Board member Jeanne Gibson voted in favor of it. Board Chairwoman Susan Hayden abstained, citing a conflict of interest, while board member Matt Johnson was absent.

Although the property’s address is 934 S. 17th St., it doesn’t face that street. It is on the west side of an alley that runs north and south behind the houses that actually face South 17th Street.

It was built in 1925, long before the city’s first zoning laws were adopted in 1960. Dennis Jordison, the city’s building inspector, said that before zoning was adopted property owners could do whatever they wanted with their ground.

Over the years, the building has housed a door business, a massage parlor and a sheet metal shop, according to Carissa Miller, the associate city planner. Former owners Jim and Sharon Lee, of Fort Dodge, used the building as a storage site for their antique business from 2004 until last year.

In December 2013, Jack and Kathy Riley, of Fort Dodge, bought the property from the Lees. The Rileys proposed to divide the building’s interior into 15 storage units to be leased to the public.

To carry out their plan, the Rileys needed Board of Adjustment approval because storage units aren’t allowed in that neighborhood, which is zoned for single family homes.

Miller recommended rejecting the request on the grounds that having multiple tenants using the storage facility would have a negative impact on the neighborhood. She added that access to the building appears to be ”questionable.”

Hoesel also questioned the access to the site. The most direct access is on the building’s north side by what appears to be an alley or driveway leading from South 17th Street. That isn’t an alley. however. It’s owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which has tracks nearby.

”The real issue I have is allowing access through someone else’s property,” Hoesel said.

Ernie Kersten, an attorney for the Rileys, said that since the railroad has allowed people to go on that right of way for so long it has essentially allowed the ”establishment of an easement by prescription.”

”They can shut you off immediately,” Hoesel replied.

The only other access to the site is an alley that connects to10th Avenue South.

Hayden, who abstained from the vote, sat in the audience while her board colleagues discussed the issue. She urged them to approve the special exception. Any traffic generated by the storage site would have a ”very low impact” on the neighborhood, she said.

”If anything, knowing the Rileys, they will improve the area,” she added.

By the end of the meeting, concerns about the proposed storage site’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood were enough to result in the rejection of the proposal.

”A single owner using his own property is a less intense use than 15 non-owners using the property,” Ruttum said.