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NC council to examine rejected building plans

The Nevada City Planning Commission, the panel that tells property owners what they can and cannot do with their property, has regularly raised the ire of some and the praise of others.

While some say they’re too picky and finicky, others maintain the commissioners, all of whom are volunteers, are simply doing their job.

The Nevada City City Council could soon discuss two proposals the Planning Commission turned down: a proposal to build a house with a four-car garage on Chief Kelly Drive and a plan to build a new set of windows on the front facade of Miners Foundry Cultural Center on Spring Street.



Laurie Oberholtzer, a professional planner and chairwoman of the commission, strongly defends the commissioners’ votes.

“The Planning Commission is painfully consistent in our decisions in the historic district,” she said, referring to the vote on the Miners Foundry proposal. “We can’t change the rules for every applicant.”




The commission has received great support in the surrounding American Hill neighborhood, where Chief Kelly Drive in located, she added.

But Councilman Steve Cottrell and others say the majority of commissioners, each of whom is appointed by a member of the council, enforce rules as they would like to have seen them written.

“If you want to change the (zoning laws and design guidelines), change them,” he said. “Otherwise, adhere to them.”

Cottrell said he continues to support his commissioner, Ruth Poulter. Poulter, he said, often votes against the majority, does her homework and applies the rules as they are written. “She doesn’t make it up as she goes.”

Denis Kutch, a Nevada City architect and former member of the Planning Commission, said the city’s design guidelines and zoning ordinances are vague and subject to interpretation.

Commissioner Victor Prussack said the zoning rules may be cumbersome and not user-friendly for either the commissioners or the applicants. They should be online so people can do a search to find what they need, he said. Tossing them altogether is no solution, Prussack said.

The job of a commissioner is not black and white, said Prussack, who was appointed last year.

“It’s OK to criticize,” he added.

The Foundry’s trustees, who have spent $5,000 and five months trying to get their plans approved, want the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision not to approve their original proposal.

But Oberholtzer and Prussack said the trustees missed their15-day deadline to appeal the planners’ decision.

In a letter to the council dated Friday, City Attorney Jim Anderson said it will be up to the council to decide whether or not to send the proposal back to the commission for further review, or to uphold the decision.

The commissioners have repeatedly said the Foundry’s proposal could endanger the historic standing of the Gold Rush-era building.

The two other commissioners are Harry Stewart and Evans Phelps.


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