Residents of a well-established Farmington cul-de-sac attended the Sept. 16 city council meeting to express their concerns about a large aluminum carport put up last month by city Public Works Director Larry Lacy on his private property, because they contend that it detracts from the appearance of their neighborhood.
Serving as spokesperson for the residents of Will-O-Way Court, Dr. Jim Bullis read a statement to the council during the public participation portion of the meeting.
“On the morning of Aug. 27, after weeks of preparation work, a homeowner on Perrine Street with a vacant lot that borders on three sides with Will-O-Way Court, began early in the morning to put up a metal, two-story building of some sort. To say the least, we were shocked at the offensive industrial-looking building being erected in a residential neighborhood.”
Bullis told the council that the residents began calling city hall, Ward III council members and City Administrator Greg Beavers to find out what was going on.
“What we discovered was very disconcerting,” Bullis said, reading from the statement. “First, the homeowner is a city employee with an administrative position. When the city administrator was questioned about it, he said he had told the city employee, ‘You know your neighbors are going to be upset about this.' The reason they were having this discussion is because Mr. Beavers was viewing the building permit. Mr. Beavers also pointed out to the resident he talked to that the building met all existing ordinances.”
Bullis, still reading from the statement, detailed the neighborhood’s complaints.
“If Mr. Beavers knew that this would be upsetting to a number of people, why didn’t he or the city employee wanting the permit contact the neighbors first? Does the fact that it was a city employee obviate this step? Because in similar situations, when it is just a normal citizen, that is what was done, usually involving the appropriate city council members as well. If the city ordinances allow such an egregious thing to happen in a neighborhood with a rich history, then the ordinances are way past due to be reviewed and changed. This is not a question of individual property rights. It is a question of common courtesy.
“Neither of our Ward 3 council members knew that this was happening until Friday morning when they were called by the residents of Will-O-Way. If everything was so above board, why all the silence? People look for transparency in government, not secrecy. Mr. Beavers says that the city has no more responsibility in this matter and if the residents want something done, we should hire an attorney and seek a legal resolution. This is the type of advice that just passes on responsibility. Farmington has always been known as the ‘City of Tradition and Progress.’ When did city employees, paid by the taxpaying citizens, take the right to erect commercial, aluminum barn structures in residential neighborhoods? What a travesty for the neighbors who have invested 35 and more years caring for their homes and properties, only to have their investment plummet.”
Bullis ended the statement by inviting the city council to visit the “quaint little neighborhood” to make their own judgment concerning the structure and “then take appropriate action so it doesn’t happen somewhere else in the city.”
Addressing the city’s development services director, Tim Porter, Ward II Councilor Chad Follis asked, “So, we don’t have anything… you can put up anything you want basically as long as it falls within the reign of the guidelines… it can look anyway it wants?”
Porter said, “The answer is, ‘yes, in some cases.’ Like for fences, for example. Council and planning and zoning have parts of the ordinance that say you can’t have agricultural fence up, for example. You can’t use T-posts and things like that.
“But when it comes to actual structure, we don’t have anything that says, ‘you can’t have that type of building up as an accessory structure.’ There’s a couple of other places in town that have them — but not necessarily the same type of neighborhood that Mr. Bullis is describing — in residential areas.
Bullis offered Councilor Follis an anecdotal example of a garage he had constructed on his property 18 years ago.
“In 2003, I put a garage on my property,” he said. “I went to the building inspector then who was Mr. Eaves and explained to him what I was going to do. He told me that I needed to get a plan written up, which I did. I met with a contractor and had a plan drawn up. He also got a copy someplace in the files in his office of the deed restrictions for Will-O-Way Court. He handed them to me. He never said that I had to follow the deed restrictions. He said, ‘You would do well to read these over.’
“And he said, ‘When you get your plans drawn up, go meet with your neighbors and make sure they agree with what you’re putting up. Because the deed restrictions said that the building I was going to put on my property for the garage had to be located in such a way that you couldn’t see it from the front of the house.”
Bullis confirmed for Follis that the property in question is not on Will-O-Way Court.
“But the property it was erected on, you can’t give it any other address besides Will-O-Way Court because three sections of it are on Will-O-Way Court,” Bullis said. “If there was a house erected there, it would be a Will-O-Way Court residence, if that answers your question.”
Ward III Councilor Chris Morrison asked, “Is there a separate property? Because there’s guidelines on structures on separate properties.”
Porter responded, “The applicant did a boundary adjustment to remove the lot line.”
Ward III Councilor Wayne Linnenbringer asked, “So, what I’m hearing, there is a deed restriction on the property where the structure went up?”
Bullis replied, “I don’t know that there is or not. I’ve come to speak for what was shown me for my property which is 16 Will-O-Way Court. I don’t know about whether that property that’s located behind the house on Perrine has deed restrictions on it or not.”
Responding to the enforceability of deed restrictions, City Counselor Scott Reid said, “The city can’t enforce private deed restrictions. It’s not part of our powers. If we went to court, we wouldn’t have standing. The case would be thrown out if we tried to enforce private deed restrictions. Those aren’t the city’s restrictions. They belong to all of the landowners in the subdivision. It’s up to them to enforce those.”
Councilor Morrison said the Planning and Zoning Committee needs to research whether or not an ordinance needs to be changed. Porter responded that Ward IV Councilor Vanessa Pegram had already asked that planning and zoning look at the pertinent ordinance to see if they would recommend any restrictions and then any recommended changes would need to be looked over by City Counselor Reid before going to the city council.
Mayor Larry Forsythe said, “Well, Mr. Bullis, I’m sorry. I think he’s followed all the guidelines according to the city, as far as I know, right?”
Porter said, “Yes sir.”
Forsythe continued. “Personally, I do not like the building, but I do not live by it, so I’m very sorry about that. If it was by me, I would probably feel the same as you, but I’d just go on and say, ‘Well, let’s put some trees around it.’”
Bullis responded to Forsythe, saying, “Just a little common courtesy helps.”
Since he had been mentioned by name in the statement, City Administrator Beavers asked the mayor for permission to respond to the accusations.
“So, some of this is correct,” Beavers said. “I told Mr. Lacy that in my opinion I thought his neighbors would not be happy with it because I know that that the homeowners there have a particular pride in their neighborhood. That I know. So, that is correct. There is an accusation contained in this statement that a city employee and I obviated a step because in similar situations they would have to consult with their neighbors. That is not true.
“Under no circumstance would we advise people to go talk to their neighbors about what they’re going to build. That is out of scope for us. In regard to [Former] Mayor Bullis’ circumstance in 2003, that is probably correct. I actually put a stop to any attempts to enforce restrictive covenants. The building department had been doing it. That was a couple of years after I came to work here. When I became aware of it, I told them the same thing that Mr. Reid said. We can’t enforce them. It’s not in our scope to enforce them.
“Regarding that they would need to hire an attorney, that specific comment was not meant to imply that they needed to hire one against the city. That comment was specifically regarding their deed restrictions. I told Mr. Bullis that, I believe — I know with certainty that I told one of the neighbors — that we can’t enforce deed restrictions. If they feel that they have deed restrictions that are enforceable, they have to settle and enforce things in the courts in the county. So, that is true. I didn’t imply — didn’t intend to imply — that they should wage a lawsuit against the city because I wouldn’t do that.”
Prior to the regular meeting four public hearings were held regarding an application for a final record plat at Woodlawn Drive and Maple Hills Drive; an application for rezoning at Woodlawn Drive and Maple Hills Drive; an application for a final record plat at Martin Creek Subdivision Phase 1; and an ordinance of the city of Farmington approving an amendment to a municipal code that would allow special use permits for construction of living quarters in certain commercial buildings for the prevention of theft or property damage. There were no comments made by the public during any of the four hearings.
In presentation of legislation, the city council performed first readings of the following ordinances: approving and accepting a final record plat at Woodlawn Drive and Maple Hills Drive; amending the general zoning ordinance and accompanying map changing the classification of the zone district for certain parcels of land at Woodlawn Drive and Maple Hills Drive; approving and accepting a final record plat at Martin Creek Subdivision Phase 1; an amendment to the municipal code pertaining to special use permits for construction of living quarters in certain commercial buildings for the prevention of theft or property damage; approving the second amendment to the fiscal year 2021 budget and authorizing expenditures; approving and adopting the annual budget for fiscal year 2022 and authorizing expenditures; and amending the municipal code of Title II: Public Health, Safety and Welfare, Article II: Offenses Against a Person, Chapter 210: Ordinance Violations, Section 210.180: Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"Just a little common courtesy helps." – Dr. Jim Bullis