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Representatives of a recently formed zoning reformation advocacy group, Neighbors for More Neighbors YS, asked the Yellow Springs Planning Commission to consider amending some text of the Village Zoning Code. 

Planning Commission | Residential zoning changes proposed

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At their most recent meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14, the members of YS Planning Commission voted to initiate the process of amending some text of the Village Zoning Code.

The amendments in question, if they are approved, will augment the kinds of dwellings that can be built on village land that is currently zoned only for single-family residences, and will permit residences in some areas that are zoned for business or industrial buildings.

The votes followed a presentation by Alex Melamed, John Hempfling and Matt Raska, who appeared before the commission as representatives of Neighbors for More Neighbors YS. The advocacy group aims to effect zoning reform in the village and has, since 2021, written and distributed three brief publications about that intended reform.

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Neighbors for More Neighbors YS asked Planning Commission to consider the following zoning changes:

• To permit without exception the construction of apartments, duplexes and townhouses in all residential districts — such homes are currently permitted by conditional use only in areas zoned Residential-B, and not at all in areas zoned Residential-A.

• To permit without exception the construction of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — detached dwellings separate from, but on the same property as, another residence — where they are currently only permitted by conditional use;

• To permit without exception residences above businesses in nonresidential areas and to permit on a conditional-use basis residences in industrial areas.

Neighbors for More Neighbors YS made a similar presentation before Village Council in September 2022 and at a Community Colloquy last month.

Though the advocacy group has laid out in its publications more extensive zoning reforms it would like to see in the village, members of the group said they have constrained their initial recommendations to Council and Planning Commission to what they consider to be the most basic needs at hand.

“We were advised, and I think quite wisely, to bring a relatively modest set of reforms as our first proposal,” Hempfling told the members of Planning Commission.

The presentation cited the 2020 Comprehensive Land Use Plan as directing the Village to “amend zoning regulations to actively support ‘missing middle’ housing types to encourage housing diversity.” It also cited a 2018 housing needs study completed by Bowen National Research, which pointed to a need for both affordable housing and multifamily dwellings. including apartment buildings, to accommodate a wider range of housing needs in the village.

“Current zoning code unnecessarily restricts affordable options such as ADUs and apartments,” Raska said during the presentation. “Single-family, detached housing is the most expensive form of housing, because it requires the most land and construction materials per unit and does not benefit from economies of scale that other housing does.”

He added: “You can’t have diversity without class diversity.”

Raska went on to say that a “major apartment building” has not been constructed in the village since the 1980s.

Using data from larger cities in Oregon, Minnesota and California that have undertaken similar zoning changes and scaling that data to fit the village’s size, Raska projected that the proposed zoning changes, if adopted, would average about one additional new unit of housing in Yellow Springs per year.

“But we think it’ll be worth it, because it will eventually add up,” Raska said.

Following the presentation, Planning Commission member Gary Zaremsky pointed out that some of the changes for which Neighbors for More Neighbors YS advocated would only change conditional use allowances to permitted use.

“You can do most of what you want to do through existing code,” Zaremsky said. “Granted, it’s a little more work.”

Melamed responded that the group advocates for removing the necessity of conditional use applications for building ADUs and multi-family dwellings as it could create a barrier for local builders or developers who might be deterred from securing a conditional use permit, which requires a public hearing before Planning Commission and a variance fee. That fee is currently set at $100; earlier this month, Village Council heard a first reading of legislation that would raise a number of zoning fees, including doubling the conditional use variance fee to $200.

“I see these elements of [the current zoning] code as signaling to possible affordable housing developers … that the Village is not necessarily more friendly to an affordable housing development than any other place,” Hempfling said. “These reforms are a way to show … that that is simply not the case — that the Village does want more affordable housing.”

Board member Susan Stiles said she was favorable to the ideas presented by Neighbors for More Neighbors YS, but that she recommended allowing multifamily, two-family and attached single-family homes in Residential-A zones as conditional rather than permitted uses. She also recommended that the construction of ADUs remain permitted by conditional use.

“In my time on Planning Commission, we’ve never turned any [ADUs] down,” Stiles said. “I think if you’re adding a second dwelling where there already is one, and there are neighbors, you need to allow the neighbors to comment on it [in a conditional use hearing].”

Responding to the advocacy group’s concerns about the difficulty involved for builders and developers in securing a conditional use variance, she also suggested that Planning Commission write and publish a how-to guide on conditional use variances.

Stiles went on to say that she was favorable to the idea of granting a permitted use zoning change for dwellings above street-level businesses, which are currently only allowed by conditional use in some areas and not allowed in others.

“I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have that,” she said.

Following discussion, Planning Commission members did not move to change any text in the Zoning Code regarding ADUs, but approved initiating text amendments in the code to allow conditional use multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwellings in Residential-A zones; to allow dwellings in industrial zones by conditional use; and to allow dwellings above street-level businesses by permitted use.

Following the initiation of these text amendments, Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 14. Following that hearing, the commission will make recommendations to Village Council, which will consider the proposed amendments.

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