By Conrad Dudderar
A longtime Yukon property owner is asking Yukon city officials to exclude outdoor food pantry boxes from the proposed Unified Development Code.
Joe Horn, a fifth-generation Yukon resident who lives in the historic downtown area, spoke out during the May 2 Yukon City Council meeting.
Council members postponed consideration of Yukon’s new development code and zoning map until their June 6 meeting.
“Don’t ruin my neighborhood,” Horn implored the city council.
“This needs to be studied. We really need to think about whether or not we can do something that’s going to make our town better. Or we’ll destroy it.”
A Yukon banker since 1984, Horn held up photos of homeless people and transients near where he lives and works.
“I want you to see what you’re bringing to my part of town by putting these food boxes in,” he said. “You set this food out, for people to come and go all hours of the night.”
Horn asked the city council to bring church food pantries inside and limit hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Minister to the people that you’re trying to help, trying to feed, and bring it inside,” he said. “It’s simple.”
At issue is section 306 titled “Accessory Structures and Uses” in Yukon’s proposed Unified Development Code.
This section would allow food pantry boxes in non-residential zoning districts or “as an accessory to an allowed Place of Assembly use” in any district.
An outdoor food pantry box would be limited to 60-inches high and 36-inches wide and deep and be constructed to protect its contents from the elements.
“Enclosures shall be sized and arranged such that no person or child is able to enter,” the draft language reads.
“We’ve restricted it to a small box that no one could enter,” Yukon city planner Mark Zitzow told council members. “The concern is, if you strike this, nothing would stop a church from putting out a shed that would allow someone to walk in.”
Zitzow, of Johnson & Associates, referred to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. This U.S. federal law prohibits the imposition of burdens on the ability of prisoners to worship as they please and gives churches and other religious institutions a way to avoid zoning law restrictions on their property use.
“Based on that and court cases that stem from that, you cannot treat a church or a house of worship differently than other entities,” Zitzow said.
“They are allowed to have accessory structures on their properties. They’re allowed to have art pieces. They’re allowed to have permanent installations of a Nativity scene. They can put a shed out there. They can put a bird house out there.”
Horn, chairman of the Yukon Board of Adjustments, asked the city council to strike or amend the proposed code section as it relates to food pantries.
“I live right here, and I work right here,” he said. “I don’t get very far from here, and I see everything that’s going on. We can go ahead and say ‘This is what we have to do – you can’t regulate this’.
“And we can let a certain group destroy your neighborhood. And that’s what I see is happening.”
Horn is worried about the increase in homeless tents across downtown Yukon. He challenged the Yukon City Council to do something about it.
“We were terrorized, within three weeks, by a guy on drugs,” he said. “Now I’m not saying these food pantries are the cause of it, but they’re part of it. And if you build it, they will come.
“Or you can fight. And you’re in a position to fight it. You can make our town better, or you can just let it degrade. I want to make it better. I’m not going anywhere. But if you bring this in, there’s a lot of people who are going to leave.”
After Horn’s plea, city planner Zitzow told council members they “absolutely have a right” in the code to require that food pantries be indoors.
“Based on our review of it, it becomes less defensible,” he pointed out. “You have to treat every zoning district, and every user, with the same set of standards. If a church or a house of worship is permitted accessory structures – to put up a flagpole, to put up a bird house – why is it different? If it’s stopping their mission, they then have the ability to challenge you on that.”
Other types of accessory structures in section 306 of the proposed code include book exchange boxes (“little free libraries”), carports, fences and walls, mechanical equipment, refuse containers, dumpsters, swimming pools, and private wind turbines.
SHORT-TERM PROPERTY RENTALS
Also during the May 2 city council meeting, Mike and Susan Burris of E Platt Drive addressed another section of Yukon’s proposed United Development Code.
This one would establish license and permit requirements designed to regulate short-term property rentals in Yukon city limits.
Some Parkland II homeowners have expressed frustrations to Yukon city officials about safety, noise, trash, lighting, and privacy issues with an Airbnb house in their neighborhood. Mike Burris previously distributed photos and videos showing some of these problems.
“We really don’t want another lost summer,” Burris told council members. “It’s been tough for a year and half now.”
Under the proposed Yukon United Development Code, anyone who wants to rent their property as an Airbnb would have to apply for a conditional use permit. Yukon Planning Commission and City Council approval would be required.
Daily fines for “bad actors” who illegally operate a short-term rental would be “upwards of $750,” Zitzow pointed out.
“What we have done, which doesn’t exist today, is allow the city to correct what’s been going on for the past couple years,” he explained.
“Everyone agrees that the photos of videos that have been shared are out of line and completely unacceptable.”
Yukon’s city planner asked the city council to adopt the new Unified Development Code at the May 2 meeting. He suggested members defer action on the two sections causing the greatest concern – specifically food pantries and short-term rentals.
“Over two years, there’s been extensive research and conversations around what we felt was legally defensible for the city,” Zitzow told Yukon’s elected officials. “We believe we’ve brought forth a code that is legally defensible. Our goal is to never see you end up in court over something we’ve drafted.”
Horn said he cares about Yukon a great deal.
“The city needs to protect themselves, but the city should protect its citizens and protect ourselves from the bad element that’s coming into town,” he added.
The Yukon City Council agreed to postpone a vote on the Yukon United Development Code until June 6.
That decision came after Ward 1 Council Member Rodney Zimmerman asked for more time to adequately review the 148-page document before voting.
The proposed Unified Development Code, which incorporates the official zoning map of Yukon’s corporate limits, is intended to establish land use regulations for the city of Yukon.