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May
29
2024
Village Council

Present at Village Council's April 15 regular meeting were Council members Trish Gustafson, Brian Housh, Carmen Brown, Vice President Gavin DeVore Leonard, President Kevin Stokes and Village Manager Johnnie Burns. (Video still)

Village Council weighs future changes to zoning code

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At the most recent Village Council meeting, Monday, April 15, Council members wrestled with a familiar issue: Should the Village zoning code be modified to encourage more high-density and affordable developments?

The answer from most Council members was “yes, but in due time.”

Leading the discussion was Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman, who at the behest of Council and Planning Commission, gave a presentation on inclusionary zoning and housing. In it, Leatherman provided an overview of the Village’s existing zoning code, its shortcomings and recommended some changes that would pave the way for more diverse housing options in Yellow Springs.

“The goal is to make the zoning code more inclusive overall,” Leatherman said. “It should support a mix of residential types, and right now, it heavily encourages just single-family development.”

To craft a zoning code that does support a variety of residential types — such as townhomes, triplexes, bungalows and accessory dwelling units, to name a few — Leatherman posed several recommendations.

One: If a builder seeks to create a high-density housing development through a planned unit development, or PUD, zoning designation, then that builder must commit a certain percentage of the total units within the PUD as permanently affordable units. This would be in addition to other PUD criteria, such as setting aside open space, abiding by specific design principles and more.

“PUDs are the only way a developer can have high-density [housing] in the village beyond 14 dwelling units per acre — which is the maximum of what R-C [high-density residential zoning] allows,” Leatherman explained. “A PUD is the only way to go above that. So, by modifying the language [in the code], a developer would have to provide affordable units when they want higher density.”

Leatherman added that the approval process for PUDs could be simplified; currently, three public hearings are required for approval, and Leatherman suggested that could deter some high-density homebuilders. They add “a layer of risk, cost and time that many people avoid,” Leatherman wrote in a memo.

Another recommendation Leatherman suggested was changing the stipulations of all three residential zones — R-A, or low density; R-B, or medium density; and R-C — to allow multi-family housing as a permitted, outright use. Currently, the code only allows multifamily dwelling units on land zoned R-C. For R-A and R-B residential zones, multifamily homes are conditional and must go through a lengthy approval process.

“It’s already quite difficult to develop in Yellow Springs. Land is in short supply here,” Leatherman said. “So, my recommendation is to allow for more flexibility overall in our code.”

The last time the Village amended its zoning code was in April 2023, when Council approved several ordinances to automatically zone any newly annexed land into the village as R-C, as well as to allow multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwelling units as conditional use in R-A zones. Previously, no such developments were allowed at all on R-A land.

Council members met Leatherman’s recommendations on Monday with appreciation and gratitude, but some trepidation as well.

Council Vice President Gavin DeVore Leonard said that while he recognized the importance of changing the zoning code in ways that facilitate the future development of more affordable housing in Yellow Springs, Village staffers don’t currently have the time or resources to devote to studying long-term effects of code changes.

“Flexing the zoning code to make sure that what we get in developments gives the community what I think it wants: more density and ultimately more housing options that lead to greater affordability,” DeVore Leonard said. “But we’re bumping up against capacity challenges that relate to questions around our priorities and goals.”

One of those priorities to which DeVore Leonard, Village Manager Johnnie Burns and other Council members alluded is the ongoing municipal pursuit of funding and siting a future 50-unit affordable rental complex.

No one at the Council dais provided many details on this project — other than that local affordable housing nonprofit YS Home, Inc. is exploring options with the Village, and that federal-based low-income housing tax credits are available for such a complex — but there was some agreement that the Village should focus on this over modifying the zoning code.

“I would not be in favor of anything that takes away momentum from a [low-income housing tax credit] project,” Council President Kevin Stokes said, suggesting that that project is more time-sensitive than changing the zoning code.

Village Manager Burns echoed that sentiment, and reminded Council that considering changes to the code may take significant time from Village staff.

“I don’t know what the rush is right now,” he said. “We need to back up, look at the goals we’ve committed to, do some strategic planning and make sure we have the proper staff in place — then we can do what we need to do.”

Council member Brian Housh was dismayed that his colleagues didn’t see the urgency in revising the zoning code.

Housh indicated that the code’s current language and limitations led to recent “missed opportunities” for additional housing in Yellow Springs — referring to Council’s 2022 rejection of rezoning 52 acres that would have allowed 64 single-family and 76 multifamily homes, as well as Miamisburg-based development company DDC Management opting to keep their 90-home Spring Meadows subdivision zoned R-B, or moderate-density.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” Housh said of amending the code.

Ultimately, Council voted to table the discussion for six months, after which Planning Commission will revisit the topic of the zoning code. Council’s vote to do so was 4-0, with Housh abstaining.

Additional coverage of the April 15 regular Village Council meeting will appear in next week’s issue of the News.

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