Douglas County Commission defers extending septic company’s truck storage permit

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

Douglas County Commissioners discuss Honey Bee Septic's request to extend a conditional use permit that allows for the storage of trucks on a property just north of Lawrence city limits during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

A septic company’s request to extend a permit for truck storage just north of Lawrence city limits will remain unresolved for at least a couple more weeks.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday deferred taking action on Honey Bee Septic’s request to extend a conditional use permit at 1462 N. 1700 Road to give county staff and the company time to discuss other options for the truck storage, such as providing a temporary occupancy permit at a different site that the company plans to move to in the future.

Joy Rhea of Paul Werner Architects, who is working with the company, said they were interested in a conversation on the topic, but noted the current permit is set to expire on March 4. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the commissioners could reconsider the issue during their meeting on March 3, before that deadline.

“It’s a possibility this may not work out and we’ll be back on (March 3) for the same conversations, but I think there is some potential here to get a solution that might work,” Plinsky said.

The company’s permit extension request is for property just outside the city limits surrounding the North Lawrence neighborhood, located northeast of the North Fourth Street and North Street intersection. In March 2020, the commissioners signed off on the permit with a one-year time limit, despite planning staff recommending the request for denial. Part of the reason staff made that recommendation is because the company’s commercial land use at the property does not comply with the county’s plans outlined in the Northeast Sector Plan, which slates that area for residential and open space uses.

Later, in July 2020, the commissioners approved the company’s conditional use permit at a different location south of Lawrence, near the northeast corner of North 1100 Road and East 1600 Road. That permit was approved with the understanding the company would move its truck storage to the site.

However, Greg Polk, owner of the business, told the commissioners Wednesday he was requesting the extension for the northern location to give the company more time to construct facilities at the southern location. While the company wants to move, he said the coronavirus pandemic has hurt the company’s finances and increased the cost of construction.

“I think all small businesses have had struggles over the last year or two,” Polk said, noting the company will not request another extension in the future. “We don’t want to be here. We want to move also.”

But a neighbor who spoke during public said she was worried the county would be setting a precedent to allow permit applicants to wait until the economic situation is favorable to them.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he agreed with the neighbor’s comments. Although COVID-19 has created a difficult situation for businesses, Kelly said he was not comfortable providing the extension.

“I know we have never been through a pandemic before but CUPs can get pretty messy pretty quickly,” Kelly said. “You can always come up with a reason to want to continue a CUP and if one of those is going to be economic stress, then we’re going down a road I’m not comfortable with.”

Instead, the commissioners said they were interested in considering more creative solutions, such as granting the company a temporary occupancy permit at the southern site, allowing it to store the trucks outside on the property before the planned facilities are constructed and have received standard occupancy permits from the county.

In other business, the commissioners approved a site plan for agricultural equipment sales and services at 1493 U.S. Highway 40, which is just north of Lawrence city limits. The property was the former home of the now-closed Airport Motel.

Pine Family Investments, which owns the property, plans to demolish two current structures on the property and repurpose others for an office and a covered display facility. The plan also calls for the construction of a 4,800-square-foot building to be used for the sale, maintenance and repair of agricultural equipment.

Noting concerns about new construction exacerbating flooding issues in the area, the commissioners approved the site plan with the condition that a stormwater retention system is approved by county staff. Although it was not included in the site plan provided to commissioners, Rhea said the company plans to install a water infiltration basin on the site.

The commissioners also approved a five-year update to the Douglas and Jefferson counties Regional Solid Waste Management Plan.

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