Commission uncovers conflicting Nevada City codes | TheUnion.com
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Commission uncovers conflicting Nevada City codes

John Orona
Staff Writer

Municipal code inconsistencies were revealed last week after the Nevada City Council voted to reverse a Planning Commission decision that denied a renovation request in the city’s historic district, despite it not adhering to its Mother Lode era architecture requirement.

The Planning Commission originally was split on whether to approve John Conger’s application to install a garage door on the front of his building on the 200 block of Church Street, which went expressly against the commission’s direction that historical district renovations “must be in strict keeping with the Mother Lode era,” according to the zoning ordinance.

However, after the Planning Commission found that direction was in conflict with the building code — which states that all buildings should be recognized as products of their time and discourages alterations with no historical basis — the commission voted against Conger and asked the council to take up the matter and provide further clarity.

“Part of the reasoning for denying was because they wanted to highlight this conflict in the code and they were hoping you could find some direction on how to resolve that,” Nevada City Planner Amy Wolfson said to the council at its latest meeting.

During the meeting, the council decided in Conger’s favor and that going forward conflict between the historic zoning and building codes should defer to the architecture of the building’s time, if it is not a Mother Lode era style.

“We’ve got to fix the code, but when we do we’re not going to be able to turn these 1960s buildings into Gold Rush era,” Mayor Reinette Senum said. “First we have to clarify that because otherwise we’re going to end up in court one of these days.”

A similar situation came up at the last Planning Commission meeting, where a variance for a 100-square-foot, hand-painted sign on the eastern wall of the National Exchange Hotel was denied. That occurred despite general support from the commission due to wording in the municipal code that would make it difficult to make an exception for the hotel without allowing large signs on other buildings in the district. That proposal is expected to be appealed before the City Council and could call for a similar clarification or rewriting of the municipal code.

According to Nevada County Historical Society President Daniel Ketcham, these conflicts of code are coming up more and will continue to plague the city as it moves away from the historical ordinance’s original intent.

“I think what’s lacking is that we’re just generations removed from the makers of the original document, and I think what’s really needed is education,” Ketcham said.

The historical society, which is a nonprofit organization unaffiliated with the city and county, has offered the Planning Commission its expertise in dealing with historical issues. According to Ketcham, that standing offer has not been taken up.

“Nevada City exists today because of the historic district ordinance and it needs to be protected. It’s well thought out,” Ketcham said. “We’re concerned about how planning commissions can be swayed into approving variances that clearly deviate from the intent of the ordinance. You open the doors to a variance, and it’s going to be really hard to close it on the next business who wants to have a building that’s not compliant.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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