Spencer board debates housing code changes
SPENCER — The Spencer Board of Aldermen debated possible amendments to the city’s housing code and how best to help those who can’t afford repairs.
Monday’s meeting started with two motions to add items to the agenda.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel proposed a possible amendment to the town’s housing code to bring it more in line with Salisbury’s.
Alderman Mike Boone proposed a new fund to assist needy homeowners with repairs to bring their homes into compliance with housing laws.
The board voted 5-0 to add the items. Alderman Reid Walters was absent from the meeting.
Before the discussion, Gobbel distributed copies of Salisbury’s minimum housing ordinance.
“I am proposing that we use Salisbury’s ... standards as a guideline to make an amendment to our standard codes,” Gobbel said.
Gobbel said Salisbury’s ordinance allows less time to correct dangerous situations. He asked the board to review Salisbury’s ordinance and come to the July meeting ready “to discuss and possibly amend our code.”
Alderman Jeff Morris replied, “I make a motion that we reject a board-driven code change, and that we ask our town manager ... to see what enforcement actions are deficient.”
“That’s what this is all about,” Gobbel replied. “I can’t imagine why you would oppose anything that would move the town forward.”
Alderman Scott Benfield seconded Morris’ motion.
Morris then said he didn’t want the board to possibly contradict ordinances that had already been passed.
He said the proper avenue was for Town Manager Larry Smith and staff to examine possible changes and report the findings to the board.
Alderman Kevin Jones agreed. “I think there could be some positive things here, but changes should come from staff.”
Gobbel replied, “Board members, at some point you’ve got to bring something forward ... and not give all the work to staff.”
“I prefer not to rely on Salisbury to do that,” Morris said.
“And your grudge against Salisbury has nothing to do with Spencer,” Gobbel replied.
The question was called. Morris’ motion not to pursue the issue passed on a 3-2 vote, with Gobbel and Boone opposed.
Funds for repairs?
Aldermen found more to agree on in discussing Boone’s proposal to help residents bring their homes up to code.
The plan would create a fund to offer grants of up to $500 to qualifying Spencer homeowners whose properties are in violation of town housing standards.
In the discussion, aldermen and Mayor Jody Everhart discussed a plan under which up to 10 such grants might be given per year, totaling no more than $5,000.
Members agreed that any such program would include eligibility standards and rules for how often one could receive a grant.
Morris said perhaps existing federal grants might provide similar relief.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Morris said, saying that since the budget for 2014-15 had been adopted earlier in the meeting, “We now have up to a year’s notice.”
Benfield made a motion directing Smith and town staff to explore options for creating a grant fund.
Morris seconded the motion after Benfield agreed to add language directing staff to include “means testing, implementation time frame and guidelines.”
The amended motion passed on a 5-0 vote.
The board also approved allowing “customary home occupations” in the Highway Business district.
During a public hearing on the proposed change, Beth Nance, of Fourth Street, asked for an explanation of what “customary home occupations” are.
According to the ordinance, Smith said, these are jobs “customarily conducted entirely within the dwelling.”
Gobbel asked Smith for examples. “Perhaps a plumber,” Smith said. “We have an alteration shop that just recently moved in, a lady doing alterations out of her home.”
The new ordinance sets rules for such businesses, including no window displays or outside storage, and no signs larger than two square feet.
Retail sales are not allowed, except for goods made in the home as part of the business.
Only residents of the house can work in the business, and it cannot operate before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
And no more than 25 percent of the total floor area of the house — including the basement, if any — can be used by the home business.
Morris said that many homes in the Highway Business district are already near existing standalone businesses.
Because of that, Morris said the change “would not have a big impact on the character of a residential neighborhood.”
No one else spoke to the issue during the public hearing.
Gobbel moved to approve the changes and Morris seconded the motion, which passed on a 5-0 vote.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.