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Cargo container legislation in the works

POSTED November 6, 2009 10:51 p.m.
The City of Turlock may soon adopt a policy to address the countless cargo containers around town.
The Turlock Planning Commission held an information-gathering workshop on the increasing blight of cargo containers Thursday evening, looking to develop a solution that remained business friendly while preventing some excessively large eyesores from going up around town.
Art Seeger, owner of Turlock’s Seeger’s Printing — and two cargo containers — first requested the Planning Commission look into the cargo container issue back in May. He then advised the commission to consider implementing a formal Cargo Container Permit regulating size, safety measures, and aesthetics.
“Years ago, I was driving around and I noticed all these cargo containers,” Seeger said, noting that 18 are present on the Turlock High School campus. “… I came up with the idea that everyone else has them, I need to have that.”
Seeger’s business was in need of additional storage space, but a physical expansion of his existing building, purchased in the 1970s, would have necessitated the installation of pricey fire sprinklers under Turlock code. Two cargo containers, placed in the rear of his property, provided that storage until a 2008 fire inspection questioned the safety and legality of his containers.
“Cargo containers are a very, very safe, sturdy answer to some of the small businesses’ problems in storage,” Seeger said.
The Planning Commission has many questions yet to answer in the process to develop a cargo container policy, ranging from what zoning districts cargo containers should be allowed in to how — or if — the use of cargo containers for habitation should be restricted. Commissioners voiced a desire to draw a distinction between industrial, commercial, and residential zoning districts, offering more stringent guidelines for more trafficked areas.
Questions also remain whether temporary cargo containers should be treated differently from permanent uses.
“We don’t typically receive a lot of complaints about these temporary uses, which is why we don’t really look to (currently) regulate them in any way,” said Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore.
Some consensus was reached between the planning commissioners to investigate a permitting process for cargo containers. A set of standards will likely be drawn up that, if adhered to, could lead to an expedited permit.
Otherwise, those interested in owning cargo containers would be able to submit a conditional use permit, which would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the planning commission. The need for a CUP could be triggered by a certain square footage, or perhaps a specific threshold number of cargo containers.
Costs for the permit have yet to be determined, but are intended to be affordable and business friendly while still helping to offset some of the Development Impact Fees the city is not currently collecting from cargo containers.
While much work is yet to be done, the commissioners stood in agreement that now was the right time to address the issue. Since Seeger brought the issue up, Planning Commission Chairman Mike Brem says he now notices cargo containers everywhere he looks.
“So I guess thank you, but darn you for bringing it up,” Brem said to Seeger.
The Turlock Planning Commission will take up the issue of cargo containers again on Jan. 7, 2010.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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