Task force suggests changes for Marshall building ordinances

MARSHALL — They said their group was formed to help address stigma — in this case, the perception that Marshall is a difficult town to build in. Now, members of a local task force have some suggestions for changes to Marshall city building ordinances.

At a Tuesday meeting of the task force, members agreed to submit the proposed changes to Marshall city committees, like the Legislative and Ordinance Committee and the Planning Commission. City staff said it would be the first step in possibly changing or getting rid of some city ordinances governing landscaping and building appearances. Both the landscaping and building appearance standards have been the subject of criticism by local property owners and contractors.

The task force has been meeting since December. The group’s members were appointed by the Marshall City Council to review the city’s building department practices and building ordinances, after local residents and businesspeople said they were hurting growth in the community.

Task force members reviewed proposed ordinance changes at Tuesday’s meeting.

“What we want to get out of here today is what we want to bring to (the Legislative and Ordinance Committee),” said group facilitator Brad Gruhot.

Several proposed changes focused on ordinances governing the type of landscaping required around building projects in Marshall. The task force proposed to delete several parts of the ordinances, including requirements that a minimum of 30 percent of a lot be landscaped, and that lots plant at least one tree per 4,000 square feet of ground area, or one tree per 50 feet of street frontage.

The task force also proposed to completely get rid of a section of the city ordinances governing exterior appearances for buildings in residential and business districts. The appearance standards included rules about the kinds of building materials allowed for certain types of buildings, the kinds of colors and designs allowed for the outside of buildings, and rules about the appearance of awnings, accessory buildings and outdoor mechanical equipment.

In discussion of the proposed changes, Marshall assistant city engineer Jason Anderson said that he was “hesitant” to have city staff members give an opinion on the proposals when they present them to committee. However, he said staff can gather information for discussion, and comparison with other cities.

Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson said if the Marshall City Council wants staff recommendations on the proposals, they can give staff that direction.

“But really, we shouldn’t be” giving opinions, she said.

Task force members also asked whether they should consider reviewing the way the building department reviews architectural plans. Anderson said the review process is “very prescriptive,” only looking for possible building code violations. Anderson said city staff encouraged architects or engineers with concerns to talk to the building department.

“I don’t think they’re comfortable,” said task force member Travis Madden.

Gruhot and Hanson brought up some other possible avenues of discussion for the task force. Hanson said a local businessperson had requested that the group look at the city’s sign ordinances. Gruhot said he had also spoken with state legislators Gary Dahms and Chris Swedzinski, and asked them to keep an eye out for any future ways to help with issues with the state building codes.

The next step for the task force’s proposed building and landscaping ordinance changes will be to present them to the Marshall Legislative and Ordinance Committee, and the Planning Commission. Those groups can discuss the proposals, and make recommendations to the city council.