Board of Adjustment votes 4-1 that operation not allowable under current downtown zoning.
By Mark Esper
The Silverton Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 Thursday evening to uphold the town staff’s ruling that Mountain Boy Sledworks’ shop behind Smedley’s Ice Cream Parlor is a manufacturing operation not allowable downtown.
Board member Ken Safranski, filling in for Fritz Klinke who had to recuse himself owing to a financial interest in the building, added a provision to the motion recommending "that the Town allow temporary use if an application for ED-L (Economic Development-Limited) zone change is submitted."
Voting to declare the sled-making shop inappropriate for downtown under current zoning were Jim Lindaman, Chris Tookey, Aaron Brill and Safranski. Ernie Kuhlman voted against the motion.
Then, on Tuesday evening, Dec. 8, the Town Council held a conference call with Town Attorney Jeff Robbins to discuss the case in an executive session.
Robbins said before that meeting that the next step is for the council to decide if it wants to file a lawsuit to shut down the 2-person sled-making shop.
The dispute centers on whether the sled-making shop is an arts and crafts studio, which is allowed downtown, or a manufacturing operation, which is not allowed.
Several Silvertonians spoke in support of Mountain Boy Sledworks at the Board of Adjustment hearing Thursday, and town officials acknowledged they have received no complaints about the “manufacturing” operation downtown.
The town’s enforcement action against Mountain Boy Sledworks has drawn criticism in the media, with the Denver Post editorializing that “grownups need to intervene in this spat.”
Mountain Boy Sledworks owner Brice Hoskin told the Board of Adjustment on Thursday that “yes, we are” manufacturing sleds. “Manufacturing sleds is the number-one thing we do. It’s 95 percent of our revenue,” Hoskin said.
“But manufacturing is not what we do in Silverton,” Hoskin added, with the couple of hundred sleds constructed here being instead hand made.
He said the small shop poses no hazard to downtown.
“None of these products are flammable, combustible or hazardous,” Hoskin said and he said the shop has a fire-code approved dust collection system.
Hoskin complained that town building official Dee Jaramillo never asked what Hoskin had planned for the building.
“By his reckoning we were guilty until proven innocent,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin pointed to the stop-work order Jaramillo posted at the site Oct. 1, claiming a building permit was needed for the minor renovations at the shop.
Hoskin said the project, involving putting up a few 2x4s and plastic sheeting for a dust-free area, cost a total of $283.11 including labor. The Town Code requires a building permit for work in excess of $500 value.
He said town officials’ claim that an architect’s review is needed due to an alleged change of use is nonsense.
“State law requires an architect review for substantial changes,” Hoskin said, which were not involved in this case.
He pointed to the shop’s prior use as a printing shop and use for woodworking, and manufacturing items for the printing industry.
Hoskin accused town officials of then “shopping the issue,” raising the zoning matter after all else failed.
“After you jump one hurdle, you get another one,” Hoskin said. “Now suddenly two weeks later they said we were a manufacturer.
“What we do here is arts and crafts,” Hoskin said, showing slides of the sleds being made by hand.
He said the shop involves “hand craftsmanship” and not “industrial mass production.”
“We’re clearly an arts and crafts studio or shop,” Hoskin said.
He pointed to the sleds’ presence at various arts and crafts shows and on the cover of a gallery guide for Silverton.
“1314 Greene Street is a design studio,” Hoskin said. “We do not use industrial machines to make products on a large scale.”
Hoskin said other woodworking and metal-working shops have been operated downtown. He argued that means “legally the town has accepted their use.”
Hoskin also argued that the neighbors of his shop are feeling no impact and in fact are supportive of his operation.
And Hoskin said there are “no other suitable buildings in all of Silverton for us to rent for this purpose.”
“Don’t be arbitrary,” Hoskin told the Board of Adjustment.
Hoskin also accused Jaramillo of not doing required inspections of at least one other construction project that actually did require a building permit.
“I would like to see clarity, fairness and I would like to be considered innocent until proven guilty,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin said that he will appeal the board’s decision and has a “powerhouse lawyer” ready to take on the town over the issue.
In the meantime, if the shop is ordered closed, “I’ll have to let two people go,” Hoskin said. “Is this what is best for Silverton? (Town Planning Director) Adam (Sickmiller) and Dee made decisions without asking the right questions.”
Sickmiller gave the town staff’s brief response to Hoskin’s presentation.
“For the past seven years this business has considered itself a manufacturing business,” Sickmiller said, pointing to the company’s business license application.
“This is not my arbitrary decision. It’s in their business license,” Sickmiller said. He pointed to the company’s literature which claims “local and offshore manufacturing.”
“It wasn’t until they moved into the BP (Business-Pedestrian) district they were interested in being arts and crafts,” Sickmiller said.
He also pointed to an article in the Gunnison County Times where Hoskin cited the need for “good industrial space” in Silverton for his operation.
The public comments
After Mountain Boy Sledworks and the town staff had their say, Jim Lindaman, who chaired the panel after Fritz Klinke recused himself, opened the floor to public comment.
The first to take the podium was Kyle Roberts of Silverton, an artist in his own right. He said an arts and crafts producer is also a manufacturer and the town staff is making an unnecessary distinction.
“I’ve been a craftsman for 35 years,” Roberts said, producing some 140,000 pieces of pottery. “On my IRS form it says manufacturing. As a fellow craftsman, I have to support them (Mountain Boy Sledworks) on this. They clearly are an arts-and-crafts operation.”
Jackie Kerwin urged the Board of Adjustment “to stand behind the staff decision.”
Kim Buck, who operated the Gear Exchange shop adjacent to the sled-making facility last summer and fall, said there were no adverse consequences from the sled-making shop.
“It turned out the noise was a lot less than the espresso machine (at Smedley’s Ice Cream Shop,” Buck said. She said it was actually a big plus to have the sled-maker at hand, noting she sold some models, including some custom orders.
She said town officials should allow the small shop to exist.
“If you have a choice, it’s a big advantage to choose art and crafts for this case,” Buck said.
Everett Lyons suggested the town staff was being too aggressive on the issue and didn’t have much of a case except the word “manufacturing” on a business license.
“You cannot hang your case on one word on a piece of paper,” Lyons said. “What I heard from Adam was not a case.”
He said he was convinced the small sled-making outfit was an arts-and-crafts outfit based on the evidence, and to declare otherwise did not serve the interest of the town.
“In a small town like this we need to be flexible,” Lyons said.
George Foster said he saw no need for the town to seek the ouster of Mountain Boy Sledworks.
“These guys are trying to put these beautiful sleds together,” Foster said. He said the town needs the jobs and the Board of Adjustment should not decide the squabble based on the characters involved.
“The Board of Adjustment isn’t the place to do that,”
He said the sled shop should be permissible given its minimal impact and its qualifications as an arts-and-crafts producer.
“We all know that’s craftsmanship,” Foster said.
Kevin Gagnon, operations manager for Mountain Boy Sledworks, said the products have been “showstoppers” at arts-and-crafts shows across the country.
He said the company makes “individualized kicksleds for those with special needs. We individually craft every sled. We are craftsmen, not industrial producers.”
Megan Kimmel said she didn’t understand what the fight was about.
“I don’t know how you can even argue it,” Kimmel said. “These things are hand-made arts and crafts. There is no doubt about it.”
Scott Fetchenhier said there may be some grey area here, “but it is obvious these are hand made, hand crafted.
“What we’re coming down to is that your decision is whether to support or not support a business,” Fetchenhier said. “Your interpretation of words is going to mean whether a business stays in Silverton and survives.”
Bruce Conrad said the zoning rules are set up for the betterment of the town in the first place.
“It seems like a no-brainer to me,” Conrad said.
Karen Hoskin said the dispute has taken its toll.
“It has affected my life,” Hoskin said. “We’re trying to make a living. I don’t understand why this has had to be so difficult.”
Sharon Zimmerman, owner of the shop in question, said she and the Hoskins have little in common other than “none of us can sleep and we both have our own lawyers now.”
Her husband Paul Zimmerman noted the planning commission is in the process of refining the Business-Pedestrian zone rules anyway.
“That may be another reason to take a close look at this,” he said.
She said the space behind Smedley’s has a concrete floor and walls and steel beams and was built for such light shop work.
Larry Raab said “we need to support jobs in this town,” but he said “we have an industrial park and the Economic Development Zone. It makes more sense these things go on in those areas.”