Construction of the future Marion County jail began without a required conditional use permit due to a mistake in the City of Marion’s oversight of the permit process.
The city’s zoning code doesn’t include any areas set aside for government functions, except for schools, so a conditional use permit is required to build for government purposes. Buildings that were in place before city zoning was enacted were grandfathered in.
When the county applied for a building permit before construction began, it asked whether there were any other necessary permits. City officials searched an electronic version of the zoning code, using search terms such as “jail” and “correctional facility,” City Administrator Doug Kjellin said.
When the searches turned up no results, city officials told the county no additional permits were needed.
“I take full responsibility for missing it,” Kjellin said.
He said it was the city’s obligation to inform anyone applying for a building permit about any other required permits.
If it hadn’t been for former Marion Planning Commission member Roger Schwab’s curiosity, the omission might never have been discovered.
While chatting with a property owner in the neighborhood of the future jail, Schwab asked whether the owner had gone to a public hearing required for a conditional use permit. When the property owner told Schwab he had never received notification of a hearing, Schwab requested a copy of the application for the permit and minutes of the Planning Commission and City Council meetings involving the permit.
It was while searching for the records Schwab requested — which didn’t exist because no application was filed — that Kjellin found the relevant zoning requirements. The city’s zoning regulations specifically require a conditional use permit for “public buildings erected or land used by any agency of the city, township, county, or state government.”
The city notified Schwab and the county of its discovery and the process for correcting the mistake. The county has since applied for a conditional use permit, which will be considered at a Marion Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in the council room of Marion City Building.
The city will have to notify property owners within 200 feet of the property and publish a notice of the public hearing in the city’s official newspaper, the Marion County Record.
Kjellin said that with construction already in progress, and given the strong margin of Marion residents who had voted in favor of the jail, the permit process is likely to be a formality.
He said he was in the dark about what the consequences might be if the permit was denied. The city’s zoning regulations don’t spell out any penalties for such a situation.
The city and county previously went through a conditional use permit application for a jail. Before a referendum proposal was rejected in November 2008, the county received a conditional use permit for a jail in Marion Industrial Park, contingent on approval of the referendum issue.
Schwab said that process, especially because it involved Marion Zoning Administrator Marty Fredrickson, should have prevented the mistake this time around.
“Marty knows how to do this,” Schwab said. “Marty has done this many times before.”