Community members encouraged to provide feedback on zoning changes

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Should the construction of buildings that are four to seven stories high be allowable on portions of West Broad Street? Is the area around Great Western and Interstate-270 an ideal location for a seven to 10 story mixed-use building? Should members of area commissions continue to have a role in approving or denying zoning variances on properties in the community? These are just a few of the questions westside advocates want residents to consider as city officials mull changes to the zoning code.

The Columbus City Council voted earlier this month to declare its intention to amend the city’s current zoning code. It is part of a multi-phased plan to modernize the 70-year-old zoning code in order to meet the demand for anticipated population growth and to combat the rising housing crisis.

The council did not vote to amend the current zoning code at its meeting on April 8. Instead, the motion opened up a 60-day comment period for the public to provide feedback on the proposal. It also kick-started an engagement campaign with local area commissions to discuss how the zoning changes could impact their community.

Greater Hilltop Area Commissioner Dan Fagan served on the ‘Zone-In’ initiative’s advisory committee. He said during a discussion on the proposed zoning code at the commission meeting on April 9 that it was “vital” for residents to understand what was in the code and to give feedback on the potential changes.

“This proposed zoning code change could impact our area and region for generations to come,” he said. “It is vital that our residents have a voice – and use their voice – during this public comment period.”

Some of the most notable changes in the proposed phase one draft plan – phase one would focus on roughly 12,000 parcels of land along main streets that serve as transportation corridors – include replacing the more than 40 zoning districts in the current code with six mixed-use district types. The six district types in the proposed new code are:

•Community Activity Center – Suburban locations with medium-sized buildings and parking lots. The proposed zoning would focus on building more housing and making the area more walkable. Primary building height is five to seven stories. Latter building height would be permitted if developers agree to set aside space for affordable housing units.

•Regional Activity Center – Key locations in suburban areas with large buildings and parking lots. Proposed zoning would help these areas change into more walkable areas with housing, offices, and commercial buildings. Primary building height is between seven to 10 stories. Latter building height would be permitted if developers agree to set aside space for affordable housing units.

•Urban General 1 – Older areas of the city, on secondary corridors and between major intersections. Proposed zoning would enable construction of housing and retail on empty parcels and parking lots, and support reuse of older buildings. The primary building height is 4 stories.

•Urban General 2 – Older areas of the city, with houses and offices built back from the streets. Proposed zoning would support construction of small shops, housing and offices, and the reuse of older buildings. Primary building height is four stories.

•Urban Center – Areas of the city at key intersections and by major bus stops. Proposed zoning would enable the construction of taller buildings for housing, offices and retail on empty parcels and parking lots, as well as the reuse of older and taller buildings. Primary building height is between five to seven stories. Latter building height would be permitted if developers agreed to set aside space for affordable housing units.

•Urban Core – Older areas of the city near downtown and major activity centers with existing tall buildings. Proposed zoning would create opportunity for redevelopment at the highest densities, reuse of older buildings, and construction of taller buildings for housing, offices and retail on empty parcels and parking lots. Primary building height is between 12 and 16 stories. Latter building height would be permitted if developers agree to set aside space for affordable housing units.

Specific areas along Sullivant Avenue and West Broad Street have been identified as the best places for some of the new mixed-use districts in phase one of the proposed zoning code. Stephanie Kensler, principal planner with the city’s building and zoning services department, highlighted what mixed-use districts could go where if city council approves the zoning code later this summer.

According to Kensler, most of West Broad Street that is located in the Hilltop area is being proposed for Urban General 1. The allowable uses would be residential, office, retail, civic uses and non-auto-oriented commercial. However, several key intersections or transit stops – such as the intersection of West Broad and Hague Avenue – would be zoned as Urban Center with buildings that could be between five to seven stories.

The area around Great Western and I-270 would be zoned as a Regional Activity Center, said Kensler. The allowable uses would be residential, office, retail, civic and commercial and the building height could be between seven to 10 stories.

Most of Sullivant Avenue would be zoned as Urban General 1. However, Kensler noted, the intersection at Hague and Sullivant would be zoned as Urban Center and there would also be a “node” of Urban General 2 near Westgate Park on the north side of Sullivant.

“This zone is unique and is for special areas that have their own development patterns,” said Kensler about Urban General 2. “It would be for select areas that are either residential or office zoned and are restrictive about the types of commercial that can be in that space.”

Community Activity Center would be zoned for portions of Sullivant Avenue, near Demorest and Wilson and going westward, said Kensler.

In the proposed new code, developers would be able to choose how many parking spots they set aside. That means the property owner could scale the parking to anticipated demand but would not be forced by the code to create a specified number of parking spaces. City officials believe developers would build an appropriate number of parking spaces as it “would be in their best interest to create a product that people want.”

There would also be a greater focus on creating more walkable neighborhoods and bike-friendly corridors in the proposed zoning code.

Commissioner Keith Neal expressed mixed feelings about the proposed zoning changes. He said that while he understands what the city is trying to do to address anticipated population growth and to combat the rising housing crisis, he is concerned that city officials are focusing more on what the future may hold rather than the current state of the neighborhoods.

“I understand about the future and growth, but I’m worried about the here and the now,” he said, “They talk about creating walking areas and we can’t even have a decent walking area here now because we have these boarded up houses, we have houses needing to be repaired, but I keep hearing the city people talk about progress. We have needs on the Hilltop that haven’t been addressed so how do we improve what we already have now?”

Several commissioners said they were concerned that the proposed zoning code would reduce the ability of area commissioners to give input on development plans and zoning variances within their community. City officials have said that by lessening the need for developers to go before local advisory boards, it would speed up the development process of needed projects such as in-demand housing.

Commissioner Nick Bates said he feels that area commissions would be “better equipped” to know what residents want rather than the city officials and developers who do not live in the community.

Comments like these are what fellow commissioner Dan Fagan said he wants to be submitted to the council during this period. He said the city administration, council, and planners need to hear all thoughts – the good and the bad – to be able to consider all aspects of the proposed zoning code.

“I cannot overstate how important it is that the community give their feedback on the proposal,” he said. “It will be a give and take process but I believe they (the city officials) are willing to take the comments provided and give it a lot of consideration.”

Residents can give feedback on the proposed zoning changes in a variety of ways during the comment period that runs through June 10. A special website has been created at columbus.gov/zoningupdate. It includes an interactive map for residents to see the zoning changes in their area on a street by street basis and give feedback accordingly. Residents may also visit the Zone In Gallery, located at 141 N. Front Street, where they can learn about the code proposal and have their questions answered by city planners. Information on open hours and scheduling tours are available at columbus.gov/zoningupdate under ‘The Gallery’ tab. Residents can also email ZoningUpdate@Columbus.gov or call 614-645-5343 for more information or to provide feedback on the proposal.

 

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