Commission considers permit changes for outdoor businesses

By Chris Mannara
Staff Writer

Outdoor commercial establishment (OCE) permits and a subsequent Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) amendment were discussed by the town planning commission at a regular meeting on Aug. 25.

The town has had conversations about temporary use permits for its various vending commercial businesses, Town Planning Director James Dickhoff explained.

Over a year and a half of planning involved discussion with the vendors on how the current regulations could be changed, Dickhoff described.

The current temporary use permit regulations allow a temporary business, defined as someone who is operating out of a nonpermanent structure, to operate for six calendar months per year, according to Dickhoff.

“What we are hearing from many of our vendors is they want to operate longer than that. Many wanted to operate year-round and some were comfortable with a nine-month period, as well,” he said.

Following the planning process done with vendors and other stakeholders, Dickhoff noted that three scenarios were developed.

“We want to change the name from the temporary use permit, even though we’re going to still have that in our code because it does apply to other types of temporary uses,” Dickhoff said. “We want to change it for this particular license for commercial vendors as an outdoor commercial establishment license.”

Seasonal OCE

The first scenario presented by Dickhoff was seasonal OCEs, which would allow these types of businesses to operate for up to nine months per calendar year at locations that are identified in an approved OCE permit.

“The permit would allow a vendor to operate from more than one location,” Dickhoff said. “However, we do feel that a separate permit for review for those particular locations is needed.”

Tents and other temporary structures that are erected on site will need special approval from the building code official regarding fire safety and snow-loading concerns, among other code requirements.

Event OCE 

The second scenario outlines that businesses with event OCE licenses will be able to operate within the boundaries of a permitted special event during the duration of the event with the permission from the event coordinator.

“We see vendors come to participate, and these can be local businesses and have a venue cart and they just want to set up at the Folk Fest, for example, or the Park-to-Park craft fair or any other events that are being held on private or public property as long as they’re permitted,” Dickhoff said. 

According to Dickhoff, those businesses would not need an OCE permit because they are permitted through the special event permit and are under the purview event coordinator for that event.

Year-round OCE

The third scenario would allow vendors with this type of license to operate year-round at approved locations, according to agenda documentation.

Existing site improvements required include, but are not limited to hard-surfaced driveway, parking area, landscaping, drainage and pedestrian paths, according to agenda documentation.

“One thing that has come up and one of the reasons why we issue temporary use permits is we want to make sure the operation is in business,” Dickhoff said. “This is all meant for active businesses. We did include a provision in our code considerations that would limit these OCEs to nonoperational periods to 15 days to ensure that the equipment, trucks, trailers and the like do not end up just being stored on the property.”

According to Dickhoff, the problem lies when the winter months come around and 15 days of no operation could be common.

Dickhoff added that there could be language added to the code that would address this issue.

Fee structure

The town does not want to overtax or overburden the OCEs because they are already required to have various other licenses, leading to the fees being “backed down substantially,” Dickhoff described.

A onetime $35 application fee for seasonal and year-round OCE is what is being proposed, Dickhoff explained, adding that if an OCE wanted to operate at another location, it would need to pay another application fee.

This would require an amendment to the town’s existing fee schedule in addition to the LUDC, Dickhoff added.

Commissioner thoughts

“There is really no motivation here for someone to apply for a seasonal OCE versus a year-round OCE. I wonder if we really need to make that distinction? Is there a purpose for that? The fee is the same. Everything else is the same, it’s just one is a quarter period of time,” planning commissioner Jeff Posey said.

Posey added that the nonoperational period of 15 days seemed a “little bit short” to him.

“This is major for us, for the businesses, to help these small vendors start business here in Pagosa,” planning commissioner Anne-Marie Sukcik said.

In regard to enforcement of the 15-day nonoperational period, planning commission member Mark Weiler questioned on how the town would even know how long a business has not been operational.

Later in the meeting, Dickhoff noted that he would be in favor of extending the nonoperational deadline to 30 days.

Posey later suggested that year-round OCEs operate at a minimum of eight days per month and should be able to go one month without operating.

“If someone is operating eight days a month, weekends only, should that be OK with us? I think it should,” he said.

Community member Deni Blaisch spoke during public comment and noted that each business is so unique that the town should ask each business how it operates and its schedule in regard to the 15-day nonoperational provision.

“Some people might be closed down for a week or two at different periods of time,” she said, adding that businesses should give notice to the town if they are not going to be operational for a period of time.

Community member Merlin Wheeler suggested that for “completeness,” there should be a final set of amendments to the LUDC that cover all of the OCE discussion.

Wheeler added that the 15-day nonoperational provision, to him, only applies to the year-round OCE and does not apply to the seasonal OCEs, but would be clarified if there was a complete LUDC.

Wheeler noted that he likes the $35 charge for the application fee for the OCEs.

Following more discussion, Dickhoff suggested that the item could be tabled while he makes more revisions to the scenarios and proposal, and present those to the planning commission at its next meeting.

The planning commission later approved a motion to continue the discussion further at its next board meeting on Sept. 8.

This story was posted on September 9, 2020.