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Planning Commission on zoning update— Gauging flexibility for work at home

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Tiny houses, home businesses and zoning for the now-closed Norah’s dominated the discussion of Planning Commission on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at a special meeting to continue to review the Village zoning code revision. The planners will hold a public hearing on the revision on Thursday, March 21. After that, the code revision will go to Council for further review and final approval.

To see the proposed zoning code revision, go online to

Tiny homes redux
The issue of how small Yellow Springs houses can be was brought back to the table by Planning Chair Matt Reed after the planners at their last meeting voted to dispense with minimum size requirements in the smallest and the most dense housing district, Residence C, but not to change the revision’s minimum requirement of 900 square feet in the village’s other two housing districts, which take up the bulk of the village. Reed stated he recognized that one purpose of the code update was to create the opportunity for more affordable housing, and while the update allowed smaller lot sizes than the original code, it didn’t allow smaller homes. He suggested that the planners consider allowing smaller home sizes ­— a minimum of 500 square feet— in Residence B but not Residence A, the least dense housing district.

Planning Commission Alternate Chris Till, who was filling in for Bill Bebko, proposed in a memo to the group that a minimum size of 400 square feet be allowed in all housing districts.

According to Village Council Representative to Planning Commission Lori Askeland, she heard from many villagers who expressed support for tiny homes.

“I haven’t heard a single person say it’s bad,” she said. “I heard a lot of people say, don’t put limits on size, let houses be small.”

Reed stated that while some villagers spoke to him in support of tiny homes, others spoke against.

“Some people on fixed incomes don’t want to lose the value of their homes,” he said.
According to a local realtor, property values would only be affected if whole neighborhoods were overrun by tiny homes, said Emily Siebel of Home, Inc., who said that scenario would not take place, since only a small number of building lots are available.

Ellen Dawson-Witt urged the planners to remove the minimum house size requirements to encourage more sustainable living in the village.

“Small houses are ecologically more responsible than big ones,” she said. “People here are motivated by ecological reasons, as well as financial ones.”

The planners had also received letters from several villagers who supported small homes, including Kat Christen, who described how her family of three lives “comfortably” in a 600-square-foot home.

“The benefits are obvious,” she wrote. “Affordability for a modest income family in an expensive town, lower heating bills and overall more simple living.”

At the end of the discussion, the group voted on Reed’s suggestion that minimum home size in Residence B be lowered to 500 square feet, but the vote ended in a tie, with Reed and John Streuwing voting for and Till and Askeland voting against, saying the proposal didn’t go far enough, and that small houses should be allowed in all parts of the village. Consequently, the issue of minimum house size will be revisited by Council when the update returns to that body.

Flexibility for home businesses?
The updated code specifies that a home business can employ only one person who is not a family member, but both Askeland and Till said they would like to see the maximum number of employees be increased to allow more flexibility.

“I just want to make it easier in general for people to have a home business,” Till said, stating that easing restrictions on home businesses is a goal of the Village Comprehensive Plan.
But one purpose of a zoning code is to maintain the integrity of a neighborhood, according to Consultant Paul LeBlanc, who oversaw the code update.

“The idea is to protect against incompatible uses,” he said. “I think those with a significant investment in their home would be concerned about property values.”

And more employees will mean more cars, according to Village Manager Laura Curliss.
“It starts to spiral and enforcement is always an issue,” she said. “You could turn a neighborhood into a heavily commercial neighborhood if everyone is doing it.”

But Yellow Springs neighborhoods already house a diversity of uses, according to Marianne MacQueen, who urged the planners to encourage such diversity by allowing more employees at home businesses.

“You continue to look at our neighborhoods as though this is ‘Leave It to Beaver,’” MacQueen said to the planners. “All sorts of things are happening in our homes, and that’s part of what makes Yellow Springs wonderful, lots of people working at home.”

However, the planners voted 3-1 to maintain the updated code’s restriction of only one employee (outside family members) in home businesses, with Till voting against.

The amount of space a home business is allowed to occupy in the home was also considered, with Askeland and Till urging the others to leave out of the code update a restriction that only 20 percent of a home may be used for a home business.

“I don’t want our city employees to be going into people’s homes with a measuring tape,” Askeland said.

Local sculptor Alice Robrish, who has a studio in her home, urged the planners to increase the amount of space allowed for a home business to 30 percent rather than 20.

“I would like to see home occupations encouraged,” she said.

But leaving out a specific percentage of space occupied by a home business will not work because people want specific rules, according to Curliss.

“People want to know what the guidelines are,” she said, stating that if there are no guidelines, the Village opens itself up to complaints that it is being “arbitrary and capricious” when allowing some home businesses and not others.

Greene County Zoning administrator Steve Anderson, with whom the Village is contracting to provide zoning services, also stated that a specific guideline is preferable.

LeBlanc also stated that a specific percentage is needed, and urged the group to stick with the 20 percent identified in the code update. The planners agreed that he and Curliss would meet to determine an appropriate number, and return with a recommendation.

Norah’s zoning
The planners also heard from Walnut Street neighbors of Norah’s, a popular eating establishment that was closed last fall due to problems with both local zoning restrictions and county health code rules. The revised zoning code map suggests that Norah’s, located in a neighborhood zoned residential but across the street from Tom’s Market and other commercial businesses, be re-zoned for commercial use.

However, neighbors Chris and Cindy Mucher spoke to the planners about their distress over the re-zoning. The families have been longtime neighbors and the Muchers have never complained about the increased traffic around Norah’s, Chris Mucher said. However, the increased traffic made parking, already difficult due to Tom’s Market, even more difficult on Walnut Street, according to Mucher. And the increased foot traffic also contributed to discomfort  by changing the nature of what had once been a quiet residential neighborhood.

“What will we have next, carry-out and a pizza store with noisy exhaust fans pouring out pizza smells?” Mucher asked.

LeBlanc urged the planners not to re-zone the Norah’s site, and they voted 3–1 against re-zoning Norah’s, with Till voting against.

In other zoning update business, the planners unanimously agreed to change the revision to allow a variety of service uses — such as commercial dance or art studios, hotels, bed and breakfasts, cleaning services and repair shops — as permitted uses rather than conditional uses in Business District 2, which is the commercial district on the south edge of the village. Permitted uses do not require approval by the Planning Commission, while conditional uses do require that approval, and are therefore more cumbersome to the business owner.

The planners also considered a definition of permanently affordable housing submitted by Home Inc. director Emily Siebel, which included the stipulation that the house be covered by deed restriction to be affordable for at least 99 years. LeBlanc encouraged the planners to remove the time stipulation from the definition.


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