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APPEALS FILL COUNCIL EVENING
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
One appeal worked. The other didnt when the La Grande City Council met Wednesday.
The council heard requests to overturn a planning commission decision and to give relief to another business for penalties levied for late payment of transient room taxes.
The meeting included a presentation about the citys Arbor Week celebration. City forester Brian Kelly urged everyone to celebrate the gifts that trees bring to La Grande, both aesthetically and economically, and invited the council to the 4 p.m. ceremony today at Eastern Oregon University.
Then council business turned back to dealing with past events and actions.
A public hearing on annexing land on South 20th Street was continued until June at a residents request, and the council unanimously approved an amendment of the land development code and map, started at the last meeting.
Then came the first appeal.
Meadow Outdoor Advertising, city development director and planner Mike Hyde explained, had asked the planning commission to approve removing three large advertising signs on two sides of the SunSpot building along Island Avenue, to be replaced with one 12-foot by 48-foot flag overhead sign.
The planning commission had voted 2-2, effectively denying the change.
The decision then moved to the full council.
Ray Baum, the attorney representing Meadow, explained that there really was no public opposition to the new sign and that Chris and John Zukin of the sign company were interested in helping the Jim Voelz family, owners of the property, improve the area.
The new flag sign, Baum added, would still meet the requirements of the citys sign ordinance.
While no one spoke against the new sign, business owner Maureen Anderson and several others spoke in favor of it.
Anderson pointed out the new sign would allow more parking near the SunSpot. Voelz, the property owner, added that wed like to upgrade that block, and we want to start with the SunSpot building.
Chris Zukin responded to a council inquiry that 12-feet by 48-feet is the national standard for outdoor advertising, and the size nearly all signs are made to fit.
After asking questions about the parking issue, the placement of the new sign, and the removal of the three existing signs (for a motel, a fast-food restaurant and an insurance business), the council approved the new sign unanimously and a conditional permit was granted.
A second appeal wasnt as successful from the appellants view.
Sue Patel, co-owner of the Stardust Lodge motel along Adams Avenue, asked that the $610 in penalties assessed against her business for late payment of monthly transient room taxes be forgiven.
Business isnt as good as it was seven to nine years ago, Patel said. Were willing to pay, but we cant.
The Stardust, city finance manager Eldon Slippy said, had fallen behind between July and December 2001 on paying the taxes.
The business was fined first 10 percent of the taxes due, then another 25 percent when the penalties were not paid.
No interest was assessed on the penalties, as city ordinance permits.
Trying to explain the financial bind they find themselves in, Patel asked, Do we pay the mortgage, the utilities or the taxes? The franchise motels take all the business.
Mayor Colleen Johnson responded that the city was willing to work out a payment plan over the next few months to get the taxes and penalties paid up, but theres not a whole lot we can do.
The offer is the same one given to at least two other motels that have, in the recent past, also fallen behind in their tax payments.
City attorney Jonel Ricker explained to Patel and the council that the motel operators cant, legally, tell people they dont have to pay the tax in negotiating a fee for the nights lodging, nor is there much the city council can do to relieve one operators tax burden.
Dealing with the delinquent penalty for the late tax bill is the councils only negotiating point.
With only councilor John Bozarth disagreeing, the council voted to order the penalty payment by April 15, with an agreement to work out a payment plan for additional late tax payments.
I am sorry the motels arent going well along Adams Avenue, Johnson added, explaining that the fines have been collected from the other motels that were penalized for late payments.
In other business, the council voted four to two to give the Union County Board of Commissioners $3,000 to help cover the $21,000 cost of having Ray Baum lobby state legislators for the new science building at Eastern Oregon University and the Riverbend youth camp.