Public invited to hear about zoning

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2007

City residents will be able find out how a proposed new city zoning code affects them at an open session from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the city council chambers.

The city planning department and planning consultant Corinne Fox have been working on a new zoning code for months. Now, the proposed code is ready for its public debut, Fox said Monday.

It’s important for residents to be able to find out how the new code affects them before the board of aldermen addresses it, she said.

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“No decisions will be made Wednesday or Thursday,” she said. “It will just give everyone an opportunity to come in and ask questions.”

Then, the planning staff will take questions and concerns to the board of aldermen, who will then set a date for a public hearing. After that, they’ll vote on whether or not to approve the new code.

“(The open session) is not required,” Fox said. “It’s something the city is doing voluntarily.”

The proposed code is designed to comply with the city’s development plan, which required an updated future land use plan, Fox said.

“The new zoning is designed to provide for districts that are more in keeping with the way the property is being used,” Fox said.

Zoning districts take into account the current uses, she said. For example, if an area of town were being used mostly for business, it would not make sense to have it categorized as a residential district, as it might be in the old code.

One of the biggest changes is getting rid of what was called “open land” zoning under the old zoning code, Fox said.

“Open land was kind of a catch-all” for anything that didn’t fit in other zones, Fox said.

Under the new plan, the open land zoning was discarded and replaced with two new zones — villa residential and special use districts.

“Villa residential creates districts for larger developments like plantation-type houses that have been there for a while but didn’t fit anywhere except open lands,” Fox said.

The special use designation allows for institutions and larger developments. Examples include schools, parks, large churches and other mostly-public facilities, she said.

Another change is the addition of another business zone, one that incorporates large, highway-oriented businesses, Fox said.

“This business district addresses heavier commercial uses — things like motels, hotels, restaurants and Wal-Marts,” Fox said.

The new business zoning is aimed at preventing smaller businesses and offices from being overwhelmed by larger ones.

But the biggest change is going to be condensing nearly all the city’s planning and development codes into one code.

“All the codes for development, subdivisions, signage, telecommunication and bed and breakfast are all going to be in this one code,” Fox said. “Instead of having to go three different places to find out what you need to file for a development plan, it’s all in one code.”

That accessibility will help both residents and potential business investors, she said.

“We tried to be careful when we were drawing the proposed new boundary districts to minimize the amount of nonconforming structures,” she said.

If a building doesn’t comply with the new code, it will be grandfathered in.

However, the owners won’t be allowed to expand the structure if it doesn’t conform to the new zoning restrictions.