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Building owner Jim Taylor has been fighting the city for a certificate of occupancy on his commercial building that he restored after a fire last year.

An ongoing dispute about city requirements for a building at 31816 S. Ona Way in Molalla is finally over.

The building has been ready for occupancy since January, but stood empty while the owner and the city argued about other street repairs. It came to a head May 2 at a Molalla City Planning Commission hearing.

According to Jim Taylor, owner of the building, this was the third time he met with the planning commission for a certificate of occupancy. A city attorney came to this meeting and after a review dropped all of the city's conditions and agreed to issue a free and clear certificate.

However, Dan Huff, city manager, told the Pioneer that the city relented. Typically, Molalla requires all developers to improve their frontage — in this case half of the gravel street with neighbors doing the rest.

Fire destroyed about two-thirds of Taylor's oversized pole barn in late January 2017. The large industrial, commercial building has since been rebuilt and restored by Taylor, but was unoccupied.

Before he's able to lease the building the city requires him to put in new street pavement, storm drains, street lights and sidewalks.

"It's a condition of getting to occupy the building for heavy industrial work," said Taylor. "And, it's illegal extortion, they have no right to extort me and they are holding me hostage."

He's appealed the process and says he has learned other businesses have been negatively impacted by the city's demands. At the same time, he's received an additional letter from the city demanding 10 more feet of property to be given to the city. His attorney says it's too extreme.

But the city doesn't agree. They go back to when Taylor first owned the building 10 to 12 years ago and was asked by the city to develop the frontage on his property.

"Ten to twelve years ago when he was building the building, he was asked to complete a number of conditions," said Huff. "He never did. [After the fire] When he started to rebuild the building, he never got a permit and we checked to see if he'd improved the frontage. He hadn't."

If a developer wants to build a subdivision, it's up to his company to put in streets and access to water and sewers, Huff says. The city just wanted Taylor to do this in front of his property.

"If Molalla Ready Mix has to do it, why shouldn't Mr. Taylor," said Huff.

The city relented, Huff added. "We backed off what we believed to be true despite the fact he initially signed the form that compelled him to do the street improvements. The bottom line is that he's responsible to put these improvements in. At some point that road will have to be built and who else is responsible, all the citizens of Molalla?"

On May 1, Taylor's attorney Wendie Kellington sent a letter to Molalla's planning commission stating the city should "approve without conditions for exactions of money, improvements or property the city's issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for Mr. Taylor's building for his automobile molding business that partially burned in a fire last year. There is no reason not to do so," she stated.

The letter says the city is keeping Taylor from inhabiting a building he repaired unless he gives the city money and property equaling $550,000, a figure larger than the $361,871 assessed value of the property on tax records.

The city, according to Kellington, was also asking for a 10-foot utility easement and another 6-foot for the sidewalk removing his ability to meet Molalla's setback requirements. She further states the application the city has forced on Taylor is not required by city code, but precautionary only.

She writes that the city should release the certificate of occupancy without conditions of land dedication, road construction improvements, sidewalks and street lights and remove the demands for non-remonstrance agreements or to relocate power lines or for city sewer or city water main system improvements or create a storm drain.

The lawyer claimed the exactions demanded in the city staff report that have been ruled against by U.S. Supreme Court judges, she added. "Even the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and the Oregon Courts have been intolerant of the type of city mischief attempted in this case," she stated.

The only change Taylor has made in the building was to rebuild what was destroyed by the fire, she said. "The footprint, building materials, appearance and size of the repaired building are unchanged from the original and the city has conceded there are no new impacts.

"The law is clear, the lack of any new impacts from the repair of the building means any demanded exactions have no nexus to, and are not proportionate to the impacts of building repair," she added. "This means the city's wish list of conditions are unconstitutional as a matter of law."

Taylor says he has lost about $30,000 in attorney fees and $24,000 in lost income.

"I'm not a rich man," he says, "but I'm not sure if I can sue the city to get my money back. They've kept me hostage for four months. It's hurtful and taken a big toll on my savings and income."

He is talking about finding others who have gone through the same process, and possibly forming a class action suit.

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