Updated Thu, Jul 24, 2014 5:38 pm
With more traffic, tourists and people coming into Hocking County and Downtown Logan, it would be beneficial for everyone to support small businesses and entrepreneurs wishing to open businesses.
However, this is not the case for one local woman who was denied a request for a variance from the Logan City Zoning Board of Appeals to reopen Sunnyside Grocery.
Brenda Walker first opened Sunnyside in 2008, but closed the convenience store in December 2009 when her father became ill. Walker and her sister cared for their father until he passed in February 2009.
Shortly after her father’s death, Walker listed the store for sale with a local realtor, but it never sold. So, being the smart businesswoman that she is, she recently decided to reopen it.
Although she knew she had some challenges ahead of her, she forged forward and began to make a checklist of what needed to be completed before opening day. Logan Fire Department inspected the building and found nothing wrong; she contacted the Industrial Commission just to make sure she wasn’t missing anything and they stated since nothing changed with the building status since 2008, the occupancy permit is still valid; she called the Ohio State Department of Liquor Control, who conducted a walk-thru and gave her a “glowing” report.
Walker did everything in order to be in compliance with reopening Sunnyside Grocery. However, there was one final step — she needed to apply for a variance due to the building not being a permitted or a conditional use building in an R-2 zoning district (residential). For the businesswoman this was a huge setback and detrimental to the opening of Sunnyside.
Walker never dreamed that she would not be able to reopen Sunnyside — it’s the same owner, same location and the same type of business as before.
“What could possibly go wrong?” she questioned. “It’s not like I’m constructing a new building or opening a different type of business. Everything is the same as before.”
She applied for the variance permit through the Logan City Zoning Board of Appeals, but was denied the request by a 3-2 vote at a recent meeting.
“When I applied for the permit, I was told that it would be denied,” Walker told The Logan Daily News. “It was already decided before I even met with them. Obviously some of them had already had their minds made up to deny this.”
However, she completed the necessary paperwork despite being told beforehand it would be denied.
“There’s been a store on that corner for over 100 years,” Walker commented. “I know it’s zoned for residential, but there’s the store and another building, which should be considered commercial buildings (the former Olde Town Pizza).”
With two commercial buildings located within a residential area, Walker argued that “the neighborhood has the potential for having a small business located within a residential zoned area.”
Zoning board member Gene Morgan questioned whether the five years the store has been closed adds anything to the legality when making their decision. Dan Stohs stated that it “eliminates the ‘grandfather’ clause.”
Stohs continued and told Walker, “The problem is, you are asking this board to re-zone the property. We do not have the authority to do that. That is city council jurisdiction.”
According to Stohs, who referred to the code, in order for a use to be conditional permitted, the specific use must be specified as a conditional permitted use in a zone district. “This is not the case,” Stohs stated. “This is a business and it is found in an R-2 district.”
Stohs further indicated that if the board finds that a use is substantially similar to a specific use listed, the substantially similar use is deemed to be a substantially similar permitted use in those districts where the specific use is a permitted use and substantially similar conditional use in those districts where the specific use is a conditional permitted use.
In making a determination that a proposed use is a substantially similar use, the board shall notify Logan City Council in writing of its decision and shall include findings of facts showing its rationale for action. “There are none,” Stohs said.
Stohs said if this is done, it means anyone could open a carry-out in the city, because that makes it a precedent for the city.
President of the board Mike Berry said the board granted a permit in 2006 based on historical use and feels what the issue now becomes is to how much discretion the board has to waive that one-year discontinuance period.
“As a board, we have to decide whether or not we have the discretion,” Berry said. As he reads it, the board does have some discretion. However, Stohs disagreed and said the board does not have any discretions.
Other board members questioned Walker about parking and infringing on the people living in the area. According to Walker, there is space for at least six vehicles to park on the lot and that does not include street parking. For the most part, the store is a convenience for the people living in the immediate area and is within walking distance.
“I have not had any problems with infringement in the past,” Walker told the board.
When the board voted, Stohs, Chris Veidt and George Crow voted against Walker reopening the store. Berry and Morgan voted for the reopening.
“I am disappointed by the decision,” stated Joy Davis, executive director of the Hocking County Community Improvement Corporation. “Our community needs to embrace and encourage business growth because it is vital to the survival of our city.”
Logan City Mayor Martin Irvine also was disappointed in the board’s decision.
“It’s evident that we still have some work to do to make our city more business-friendly and partner more closely with entrepreneurs and small business owners when they invest their own money to get their business dreams started,” Irvine stated.
“Small businesses make up the economic backbone of every community.”
Walker indicated she has products sitting on the shelves of the store in anticipation of reopening. She also has filed an appeal with the Logan City Council, which will be heard in August.
For now, Walker is hopeful she will be permitted to reopen Sunnyside and fulfill her dream of being a successful businesswoman in Logan.