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Zoning plans for an eclectic town

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In 1994 local architect and developer Ted Donnell proposed a small residential planned unit development on Hull Court, off of Xenia Avenue. According to the Village zoning code, before the plan could be approved, the builder had to submit detailed engineering plans. Donnell spent over $40,000 to engineer the plat. Subsequently, due to several issues of nonconformance with the zoning code, the plan was denied. Because of what some would call an antiquated zoning code, Donnell lost both the investment and the project.

Forward to 2008, when Home, Inc. proposed to turn two existing structures on a property on Xenia Avenue into a house and three apartment units. Due in part to limits on the number and size of accessory structures allowed by the zoning code, again, the development project was denied.

The zoning code that sunk these two proposals and made others in between them cumbersome and expensive to approve, is currently in the midst of an overhaul. The Village has held several public meetings since August to comb through a new draft of the code. While the reviewers agree on many of the changes, some issues, such as whether to mandate energy efficiency or affordable housing quotas, are yet to be resolved.

The Village will hold more public meetings this month and next to continue discussing the zoning code update. The next one on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Bryan Center will include Village Council and the Technical Review Committee with consultant engineer Paul LeBlanc. Villagers are encouraged to weigh in on issues that will dictate what they can and can’t do with their own properties.

Mandates vs. incentives

One of the areas still under discussion includes whether the new zoning code will encourage certain land use practices by mandate or by incentive.

At the outset of the revision process, the Technical Review Committee (including Donnell, Steve Conn, Lori Askeland, Marianne MacQueen, Matt Reed and Ellis Jacobs), agreed to infuse the zoning code with the four main goals of the village-wide visioning process: affordability, economic development, energy efficiency and walkability/bikeability. The group also agreed to cleave to two main principles: form-based zoning (as opposed to the more traditional Euclidian zoning that divides land into zones with specific land use) and incentive-based zoning (as opposed to inclusionary zoning that mandates uses and imposes quotas each zone must meet).

Parking, for instance, is regulated by a certain number of spaces per land use, but the Village also wants to encourage bicycle racks. The question is, should bike racks be mandated or should they be incentivized by allowing a developer to trade some of its required parking spaces for installing a bike rack?

According to TRC member Ted Donnell, bike racks, along with other demands, should be incentivized.

“Making it a mandate — I reject that idea. It takes away part of the cooperative character of how we get the values of the community put into development,” he said in an interview last week. In addition, he added, mandates sometimes put an undue burden on a developer without benefitting anyone. If, for example, a business at the very south edge of town truly needed 10 parking spaces, and bicycles weren’t applicable, “it would just increase the cost of development with no gains,” Donnell said.

But the usefulness of mandates still needs to be considered more carefully, according to TRC member Marianne MacQueen, who believes mandates should be applied to planned unit developments (PUDs) of larger size. Specifically regarding energy efficiency and affordable housing, MacQueen would like input from experts, such as energy-efficient contractors and Village Energy board members.

“I want there to be a discussion about affordable housing and how it should be handled [in the plan],” MacQueen said last week.

Even if mandates are utilized, TRC member Steve Conn worries that instead of bolstering certain principals, mandates could actually hinder them by making it difficult to use the PUD.

“If instead of offering them a carrot we start whacking them with a stick, they won’t use the PUD at all, they’ll develop it in the conventional way,” he said. With regard to the idea of mandating a certain percentage of affordable housing in larger new developments, Conn said, “I don’t think this will accomplish the goal they wish to accomplish.”

Conn has additional concerns that in a troubled economy, mandates could deter banks from lending to developers who are being handed an “obstacle” they must comply with before getting a project approved.

Conditional permissions

Also still under discussion are the conditionally permitted uses for the various zones throughout the village. The revised draft, for instance, still limits the size of accessory structures, as well as their use as a home business, both of which require a variance or conditional use permit.

MacQueen, for one, prefers that the Village increase the allowable size of accessory structures from the current 600 square feet. She would like parking requirements and property line setbacks to be more flexible, and she prefers that land uses such as bed and breakfasts, businesses and storage, be automatically permitted in some of the residential zones. All of these multi-use purposes would make it easier for property owners to generate revenue from their property and increase its affordability, MacQueen said.

In fact, that mixed-use character already exists, she said. In the first block of West Davis Street, where she lives, for instance, the residence B “single family” neighborhood includes a professional business, a B & B, a four-unit apartment building, an accessory apartment, one duplex and a few other rental units. Her street, which she thinks is “one of the most attractive, livable neighborhoods in the village,” is an example of the creative, multiple uses that are already going on all over the village. And MacQueen would like to see more of it.

“There’s a prejudice about rental units and a mystique that glorifies single-family neighborhoods, but more and more, people are going to be renting, and those people are living in their rental units as long as those who own their homes, and they’re contributing to the neighborhood,” she said. “People who own large homes should be able to divide them into more than one unit, and they shouldn’t be limited to 600 square feet.”

Not everyone supports the more liberal regulations. According to Conn, some activities require a variance to protect the interests of property owners who prefer a quieter environment.

“A variance for a conditional use permit balances the desire for individual property owners to do what they want versus the neighbors who have to live with the consequences,” he said. “A business, for instance, could generate traffic with UPS trucks coming and going a couple of times a day — shouldn’t you need a variance for that? That’s the sort of things that ought to go before a public body.”

Next steps

The TRC has reviewed all the sections of the draft zoning code at least once so far and has found a lot that went right with the recommendations. The new code considers the historically eclectic character of the village and allows greater flexibility for altering land uses, Donnell said.

“The TRC and Paul LeBlanc did an unbelievable job of hearing the village” and incorporating local values to make “it about equity and fairness, and keeping the code open,” Donnell said. “I personally am very pleased with the results of the first draft.”

Next steps for the rewrite include incorporating the changes the TRC has mostly agreed upon into the new code and then delivering it to Village Planning Commission for review. Village Council’s goal was to have the new plan completed by the end of 2012, and LeBlanc has so far kept the project on schedule to meet that aim. The Oct. 17 meeting will be the last review by TRC before the draft is submitted to Planning Commission. It will then return to Village Council for final approval.


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