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At the group's regular meeting on Monday, April 17, Village Council members weighed two pieces of proposed legislation to amend the Village zoning code.

Village Council to amend zoning code

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At Village Council’s regular meeting Monday, April 17, Council members heard two proposed ordinances to amend the Village zoning code.

The first piece of legislation aimed to change the status of all future land annexed into Village limits from Residential-A, or low-density residential, to Residential-B, or moderate density residential. This ordinance would allow developers and others annexing land into the Village to build single-family attached, two-family and multifamily units and duplexes without the need to rezone.

“Previously, when we’ve annexed land into the Village, it’s come in at the lowest density [R-A],” Village Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger explained. “The thought behind that has been that the Village doesn’t know what it’s going to get. But we want to have all kinds of housing.”

Swinger noted that upon passage of the ordinance, future land developers of areas still within the Village’s urban service boundary — in particular land northwest and south of Yellow Springs — may stand to benefit from having more options.

Council President Brian Housh, noting the zoning discussion that took place at the Planning Commission’s March 14 meeting, said he wanted to reflect the will of the commission members who advocated for changing the default zoning status of annexed land to Residential-C, which would allow multifamily dwellings as a permitted use rather than conditional.

“Our goal is higher density, and I think this is a better starting point,” Housh said. “It seems in line with what we want to do as a Council.”

While Swinger expressed some reservations at the Planning Commission meeting, stating that Residential-C would remove the ability of community members to comment publicly at a hearing on any proposed development, she said at the Council meeting she wasn’t opposed to that designation on the grounds of offering higher density.

“R-C would allow up to 14 units per acre,” she said. “But [the annexed land under R-C] would have to be engineered to meet the density requirements so the stormwater is managed.”

By altering the text of the proposed ordinance — that is, to have future land annexed into the Village automatically be designated R-C, rather than R-B — Council will have to give the new ordinance a first and second reading with a public hearing at the group’s next two meetings.

The second ordinance pertaining to the zoning code that Council weighed on April 17 proved to be more divisive.

This amendment to the code aimed to allow multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwellings as a conditional use in Residential-A zones. As a part of the conditional use evaluation process, any proposed project — such as the construction of a duplex on R-A land — would have to go before Planning Commission and Village staff for evaluation. Additionally, a public hearing would be held on the project. 

According to the text of the proposed ordinance, its passage would “allow developers and others greater latitude in increasing density and housing types in areas zoned ‘low density’” and “would encourage more variation in housing types,” thus leading to “an overall positive effect upon the village housing market.”

Housh and Council member Marianne MacQueen advocated for altering the ordinance to make that allowance for liberalized development in R-A areas permitted, rather than conditional.

“Residential A and B — or restrictive zoning — ensures people with big yards will get neighbors with big yards,” MacQueen said. “In my mind that has nothing to do with health, safety or community welfare, and is therefore an illegitimate use of zoning. I support this being by right instead of conditional.”

Citing the recommendations of staff and Planning Commission, Swinger urged Council to keep the residential uses of the land conditional rather than permitted. Her concerns echoed those she had with the previous ordinance.

“What I don’t want to see happen is the taking away of the voice of the neighbors,” Swinger said. “Conditional use just means that applicants have to go through the Planning Commission, and time and time again, we’ve seen neighbors having an opinion about matters in the conditional use process.”

Swinger also said that utility reviews often take place during the conditional process.

“Staff needs to look at the infrastructure,” she said. “And it’s better for [Public Works Director] Johnnie [Burns] to be able to state the utility charges in front of a body of people.”

“I’m all for keeping it conditional,” Burns said. “It gives us more time to plan. Staff makes sure that people have the right things in place to make their plans happen. We, as staff, have the duty to make sure [developers or homeowners] don’t create problems for themselves and us.”

Both Swinger and Burns added that in their respective tenures on Village staff, neither had seen a conditional use permit be denied by Planning Commission.

MacQueen replied: “What makes sense to me is that, yes, we want to have our infrastructure serve whatever gets developed. But what doesn’t make sense to me is neighbors having the right to weigh in on something on the other end of town. Frankly, we’ve found that’s what allows for NIMBYism [‘not-in-my-backyard’].”

“So my concern is when people in a higher income area are able to keep out smaller lots and smaller houses just because they don’t want them,” MacQueen said, adding that the conditional process may pose a “perceived” barrier for some homeowners or land developers. 

“I understand the perception issue, but in reality, conditional use is not an impassable hurdle,” Council Vice President Kevin Stokes said. “I would submit that making it conditional is the middle ground here.”

Ultimately, at the end of the discussion and owing to the differences in will among some Council members and the recommendations of Village staff, Housh moved to table the discussion until the next Council meeting Monday, May 1. At that time, Council members will give a second reading  to the ordinance to allow multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwellings as a conditional use in Residential-A zones. As Housh said, the verbiage of the ordinance could change then.

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