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Village zoning code update to begin soon

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In recent years, a vision of how Yellow Springs should stay vital has emerged, expressed both in the recently revised Village Comprehensive Plan and last year’s visioning effort. Most villagers prefer greater housing density as opposed to an expansion of boundaries, along with lively neighborhoods in which a variety of land uses — residential and business both — can co-exist, rather than neighborhoods in which use is strictly segregated.

But Village leaders have faced a significant obstacle in moving ahead with this vision: the current Village zoning code does not allow it.

“The zoning code we have isn’t working well to shape the village in ways the majority of the village wants to see it shaped,” said Steve Conn of the Village Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA, in a recent interview. “We have a set of guidelines that are out of whack with what we want to accomplish.”

Now Village Council is addressing the problem by moving ahead with the hiring of a consultant to revise the Village zoning code. Council budgeted $75,000 for the code revision in the 2011 Village budget, and recently took initial steps toward the revision. The first step is forming a Technical Review Committee, or TRC, of villagers with expertise in the field, who will vet the firms that apply for the job.

At its meeting Monday, June 6, Council approved a list of villagers to serve on the TRC, which include two representatives from the Village Planning Commission, two from the BZA, two community representatives and a Village Council member. Those appointed to the group are Matt Reed and Lori Askeland of the Planning Commission, Conn and Ted Donnell of the BZA and community reps Marianne MacQueen and Ellen Hoover.

“I see us doing some of the leg work required to review proposals, drafts, etc., and reduce the burden on staff and Council, while also providing another mechanism for citizen input into the process,” Reed wrote in a recent e-mail, regarding the role of the committee.

According to Village Manager Mark Cundiff, the TRC will be helpful to the process because “we have some residents who have skills in this area, who have tips to offer,” as well as providing more perspectives on applicants.

The TRC will first review applicants for the consultant position who respond to the Village’s Request for Qualifications, or RFQ. The deadline for RFQs is June 8. Applicants could include engineering, architectural or planning firms, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff, who said he expected a good response to the request, especially given the struggling economy.

The TRC’s job is to identify firms that seem most able to meet the needs of the village; at that point, the firms chosen will be asked to complete a Request for Proposal, or RFP, to identify how exactly they would perform the zoning code update. The TRC will review those applications, narrow them down to a few, and present these finalists to Council, which will choose one.

Several models for zoning are currently being used, according to Village Assistant Planner Ed Amrhein. The current Village zoning code uses the oldest zoning model, called the Euclidean model, which separates land uses into segregated areas. More modern models include form-based zoning, which places emphasis on how zoning will affect the appearance of a community, and performance-based zoning, which emphasizes how zoning allows a community to meets its needs.

The Village seeks a code revision that uses the best elements of various models to meet local needs, according to Amrhein.

“We’re resisting any attempt to say we want a form-based or performance-based code,” he said. “We need someone who will read our visioning document and Comprehensive Plan, talk with people, and help us craft a code that will allow us to do what we want to do. I think we’ll end up with an interesting hybrid.”

The Village’s current zoning code is 30 years old, and was last revised in 1981. Consequently, it’s outdated in may ways, Amrhein said.

“There are lots of little detail problems with the current code,” he said. “It forces people to get variances when none should be necessary.”

The rigidity of the Village’s current code means that property owners who seek to build additional structures on their land most often need to get a variance from the BZA, which may or may not be approved. And even if approved, the whole process takes longer than it would have without the variance.

“A month’s delay can be the difference between being able to do a project and not,” Amrhein said.

The current code favors large lots, which works against the desire expressed in the visioning document and Comprehensive Plan for more density — including smaller lots with smaller homes — in the village.

““As we move away from the center of the village, we have zoning like Beavercreek,” Conn said. “Our zoning prohibits more creative design and privileges large lots rather than a more efficient use of space.”

In the recent visioning process, villagers also expressed their desire for more affordable housing, and greater density is “one way to address the problem of affordability and more broadly, diversity,” Conn said.

The current zoning may also adversely affect economic development in the Village because it discourages the creative use of space for both housing new businesses and expanding existing ones, according to Conn.

“When we talk about having more jobs, more businesses, we have to ask, where will we put them? Current zoning says, nowhere,” he said.

The TRC hopes to recommend finalists for the position of consultant to Council by the end of the summer, he said.

Ed Amrhein, for one, will be greatly relieved when the current zoning code is revised. As assisstant planner, he’s the Village staff member who addresses requests for new construction.

“I hope I can help people realize their dreams and ideas rather than always saying no,” he said. “I’m excited to be starting down this path.”

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