The Cove School District’s new cafeteria is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Cove City Council passed three votes Tuesday — two on variances and one on the overall site plan — to give its green light on the project.

Two of the votes — a parking variance and the overall site plan review — passed 3-1, while a setback variance passed 4-0.

The new larger cafeteria, which is to be 5,120 square feet, will be a benefit in that it will allow a more efficient student lunch schedule. A previous Observer article reported that the current cafeteria only has a capacity of about 40 students for a district of about 300 students, and that the staggered lunches take place between about 11 a.m. and 12:40 p.m.

“This is being driven by education more than anything,” said John Frisch, a school board member who spoke during public comment Tuesday. “The lunch period staggers on for two hours. This is going to allow them to restructure the class schedule.”

Frisch also pointed out that because of the spending and saving habits of the school board over the years, “we have an opportunity to do something nobody does: improve a building without going to the taxpayers.”

Dion Zimmerman, an architect with Design West, said the overall project also has a long-term vision in mind. The location of the new cafeteria, which will be to the east of the elementary school on Haefer Lane, will allow for construction to the south of the building in a prospective future plan the school board has.

“It’s a pretty neat plan, and this is the first piece of it,” Frisch said.

In the application, the district asked for a parking variance to “omit the requirement for additional off-street parking.” There are 37 parking spots at Cove High School — across the street from the elementary school — and 25 spots along Haefer Lane. There is additional parking along French Street to the west of the school.

“Currently the parking lots at the school district have proven sufficient to support the existing use,” according to the application for the variance.

“We’re asking for (you) to allow us to maintain the existing parking as it is,” Zimmerman said.

The city’s zoning requirement is for there to be one off-street parking spot added for each 100 square feet of assembly area. That could mean as many as 20 additional parking spots for the new cafeteria if the variance wasn’t requested. The assembly portion of the building, Zimmerman said, is about 2,000 square feet.

Zimmerman, in reading the application noted, though, that the new cafeteria would be replacing an older building and won’t result in the addition of more students or staff to the school.

Mayor Del Little commented that parking needs could be accommodated in the coming years as needed.

“I understand that the future goals have been incorporated into this development (and) the development of parking would come in in that phase,” he said.

The district also requested a setback variance from the property line of just 13 feet to the south of Haefer Lane instead of the 20 feet that is standard within the city ordinance. The application stated several reasons for the request, including that a supply loading zone in between the existing elementary school and the proposed site of the cafeteria would “perform better if the building were placed in line with the existing elementary school.” The application also stated the difference would allow for better supervision of students, and that it would not alter the stability of the land.

Councilor Shawn Parker was the lone nay on both the parking variance and overall site plan votes. Parker’s concern with the parking variance request was that there would be too few parking spots.

“It seems like you’re already short of parking. Kids are parked clear down to the other side of the drive-in (on Main Street),” he said. I’d like to see some off-street parking myself.”

Councilor Lana Shira was not present at the meeting.

The next step in the process is approval of a building permit from Union County.

Other action items at Tuesday’s meeting included a 3-0 vote, with one abstention from Parker, to renew the city’s insurance from CIS Oregon, and a unanimous vote to adopt the previously approved city budget.