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Albany council oaths

Alex Johnson II and reelected members of the Albany City Council take the oath of office at the start of Wednesday's regular meeting.

The Albany City Council held its first meeting of the year and welcomed a new member, but old tensions heated up.

Mayor Sharon Konopa and Councilor Rich Kellum in particular sparred over accessory dwelling units — a public hearing will be reopened in two weeks — committee appointments and other issues.

About 20 residents were scheduled to be appointed to committee positions on Wednesday night, but that was postponed as city staff will look at the system through which appointments are made.

Kellum took aim at a process that allows the mayor to appoint many committee members, which are then ratified by the council, and the council to appoint other committee members.

He said that allowing one person to appoint committee members led to like-minded advisory groups and government bodies that didn’t have true diversity of thought.

“There are no people who want to tear down houses on Landmarks,” Kellum added.

Konopa responded that committees often don’t agree, and that in many cities, mayors appoint all boards.

Bessie Johnson, council member, said that councilors want more input into committees that make decisions that affect the public, and all councilors should be able to appoint members to each body, such as the Landmarks committee.

Konopa took umbrage at Kellum’s stance. “Are you doing that for the benefit of the city, or are you doing that because of me?” she asked Kellum.

The council also voted to reopen a public hearing at its next meeting on accessory dwelling units and could vote on the issue. If that vote isn’t unanimous, however, the matter would come back for a second reading at a subsequent meeting.

The majority of the council had previously voted to allow ADUs to expand in size from 750 square feet to 900 square feet, and to remove a mandate that the owner of the property live in one of the homes on site.

Konopa vetoed the vote twice.

On Wednesday, the mayor introduced  what she called a compromise that kept the status quo, which Kellum lambasted. “You mentioned the word compromise about 50 times, but you seem to have the same position as before,” he said.

In other council news:

• Alex Johnson II was sworn in to the City Council.

• Bill Coburn was named council president.

• Konopa gave her 2019 Mayor’s Message, pointing out that Albany’s economy was strong and exciting things are taking place in the city. But there remain problems with housing availability and affordability, population growth, homelessness, roads and other issues.

Residents should be assured that “your City Council is solidly focused on Albany and its livability,” Konopa said.

• The council made housekeeping changes to the development code, most significantly by removing limits on uses for structures built prior to 2003 in the neighborhood commercial and office professional zones.

Under the prior rules, commercial uses were limited to 5,000 square feet if building in those zones were vacant for more than a year.

About eight structures larger than 5,000 square feet existed in each of those zoning designations when they were established in 2003.

That includes the massive Mega Foods building, and the zoning was posing problems with those who wanted to put a business in the structure, as any such retailer would have been capped at 5,000 square feet — only about an eighth of the building. Councilor Bessie Johnson said she knew of a business owner that had been looking at the site.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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