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Decision on K-Mart building usage delayed into December

Steve Keiser, left, points out easement interpretations on a map in front of Marietta City Planning Comission Chairman John Paugstat, front, Councilman Bill Gossett, center, and Mayor Josh Schicher on Wednesday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Under scrutiny from both the Marietta City Planning Commission and from surrounding established business franchises, future use of the former K-Mart building on Acme Street won’t be decided at least until December.

The building was purchased last year by a partner of U-Haul with the intent to establish the chain of storage and do-it-yourself moving retail within the C-3 zone (commercial) in Marietta.

The sale closed on Dec. 26, 2019.

An initial visit to the planning commission seeking a special exception to allowed the uses within the zone last year proved unsuccessful on Nov. 6, 2019.

David Ruff, president of U-Haul Company of SE Ohio, returned to the commission Wednesday to plead the case again.

Councilman Bill Gossett asks a question during Marietta City Planning Commission on Wednesday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“In C-3, which is what this is, there is no provision for having a rental unit or a mixed use, and that’s what they’re asking for,” explained City Law Director Paul Bertram following the meeting. “The last time they asked what they wanted to do is have the whole front area hold their equipment and shipping containers known as pods … have it watched by the employees there.”

The special exception requested Nov. 6, 2019, is still the use wanted, but now with the modification of more retail and interior use, Bertram analyzed.

“The big question today is is it proper to grant a special exception to something that is clearly not in the code section,” said the law director. “That storage clause (referred to as a blessed use during the second argument Wednesday) is specifically for boats.”

Ruff first focused on the proposed investment into the K-Mart building, a $3.2 million purchase, that Ruff shared would see a total investment near $4.7 million invested if the exception is granted and the corporation is allowed to renovate the property.

“That’s quite an investment into the community that U-Haul’s willing to make,” noted City Councilman Bill Gossett.

Gossett is not a voting member of the planning commission but was one of four city legislators in attendance in addition to Councilman Geoff Schenkel, Councilman Bill Farnsworth and Councilman Mike Scales; and City Engineer Joe Tucker.

Voting members present either via teleconference or in person were Chairman John Paugstat, member Jeff Adkins, Mayor Josh Schlicher and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz.

But interpretations of zoning use, impact on past investments of $12 million into surrounding restaurants and hotels, and easements differed between Ruff, and representatives of McDonalds of Marietta and Christy and Associates.

Arguments against the exception highlighted expectation of sleeping hours, impact on shared parking space between the restaurants and former retail space and the worst-rated intersection in the city — Pike Street with Jefferson Street and Acme Street.

When Paugstat tried to reach a compromise informally between the disagreeing factions, the response was not amenable from Ruff, who instead indicated that the business doesn’t plan to purchase other properties or sell its property, regardless of the commission’s ruling.

Those disagreements for acceptable use and interpretation of easement agreements dating to Oct. 24, 1980, left Paugstat asking for more time to reflect, consider zoning codes and consult with Bertram.

“I need to look over this easement paperwork and read the codes and see what decision can be justified in the law,” said Paugstat.

Bertram explained that the mayor’s motion to table the matter allowed for that time.

“It’s not dead yet,” said Bertram. “(Planning Commission) may want to see a traffic study and call to see if anyone else (has) interest in it or not.”

Bertram explained that the commission could have and still may grant the exception, but is legally able to impose additional modifications, requirements or protections, as outlined by Chapter 1137 of the city codified ordinances.

Ruff also highlighted a timeliness to the reapplication, due to current economic conditions in 2020.

“I thought I heard a comment made that U-Haul is driving people out of businesses here, we are about to be in a second phase of COVID shutdowns,” Ruff referenced. “U-Haul is not hurting small businesses … If anything we are providing a product and service for when people go out of business.”

Planning Commission will next meet to review the exception request on Dec. 16 at 1:30 p.m. in room 10 of the Armory, 241 Front St.

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