BG Council continues dissecting Pedestrian Residential district

During a working session last week, Bowling Green Council’s discussion centered on the controversial Pedestrian Residential district proposed in the city’s zoning code update.

“This is really complex stuff, and there’s a fair amount of misunderstanding out there, which I totally get,” said Councilwoman Rachel Phipps, who chaired the committee of the whole working session.

She said she feels council has a duty to the community to explain what the goals for the district are.

The meeting was council’s fourth work session since early October aimed at moving through suggestions and recommendations about the proposed code made by the planning commission. No legislative action is taken during these work sessions; the goal of council’s work in these meetings, Phipps said, is to arrive at a clean, final draft of the zoning code that can be added to their formal agenda.

Work on revising the city’s zoning code, which was adopted in the mid-1970s, has been ongoing for more than a year. The city held a series of public presentations by the Cincinnati-based firm ZoneCo, which was contracted to revamp the code, in October of 2021, and February and June of this year, to explain the contents of the draft. The planning commission additionally held four meetings focused on reviewing the draft code and making recommendations to council.

The proposed Pedestrian Residential zoning in the zoning update has proven to be a major focus of public comment and discussion.

The district, referred to as the PR, is a neighborhood area located in a rough, elongated donut around the downtown. The proposed area is bordered by Poe Road to the north, Napoleon Road to the south, and on the east largely by Enterprise Street. To the west, it is substantially bordered by Maple Street, but it also extends to include portions along Eberly and Gorrell avenues. Among the PR’s major features is that it would allow some businesses to operate within that neighborhood district, and that minimum lot dimensions would be smaller.

During the work session, Phipps said there was a significant amount of public comment about the PR during that evening’s regular council meeting.

“I really think it might make some sense to hold some sort of community forum where we go through just the PR” in detail, she said.

Councilman Greg Robinette said that, at some point, council needs to make a statement as to whether a proposal to eliminate the PR from the code is even on the table. He said he sensed that council is largely in favor of modifying the original proposal about the PR. Though he couldn’t recall anyone on council suggesting it be eliminated, Robinette said he felt they owed it to those to spoke to council that evening to state whether they would even consider the possibility.

He moved for the committee to remove the PR from discussion in the zoning draft.

Councilman Bill Herald said he didn’t want to jump the gun if there was going to be a community forum.

“I would rather we go through the motion,” he said. “If the decision tonight was to say am I open to not having a PR, oh my goodness, yes,” or to having the PR in a different location. “I don’t know if this is perhaps premature.”

Phipps echoed Herald’s concerns about the removal being premature.

“We heard some misunderstanding this evening,” she said. “We need to make sure the community is clear on the goals of the district. I do not think we have accomplished that yet.”

Councilman Nick Rubando said he had concerns about some of the standards for lots set out in the PR.

“I guess as it stands right now, I probably would vote against it because I think there needs to be some pretty substantial changes,” he said.

Councilman Joel O’Dorisio said that he wanted to finish the discussion on the PR. As it stood, he didn’t support it either.

“I would like to see where we land with our discussion,” he said. “I would fully support meeting with the community about the Pedestrian Residential District.”

After a finished document and feedback from the community, O’Dorisio said a decision could be made.

Council President Mark Hollenbaugh said he agreed, saying a vote to scrap the PR altogether was premature.

“There is a lot of people who have some things they would like to see changed about it. I think until we have this public meeting,” he said, “to just chuck it right now seems a little early for me.”

Robinette noted that his motion was “already having the intended effect I wanted it to, moving the discussion in a slightly different direction. … I wanted the option of eliminating if this is want the council wanted.”

“I don’t like it, I don’t like that it’s here,” Herald said of the PR. “But I don’t want to eliminate the possibility that we have a PR zone in our code. But not have it where it’s at. I don’t think it should be where it’s at.”

Robinette’s motion was defeated 2-5, with Robinette and Rubando voting in favor.

Later in the session, the committee of the whole discussed the lot setbacks and standards in the PR. The current minimum lot width in the district, currently zoned R-2 residential, is 60 feet, though it was noted that many lots are under that size.

Under the new zoning, that would be changed to 30 feet. Additionally, the current minimum front-yard setback is 25 feet – taking into consideration average setbacks – and the PR district would alter that to five feet.

As discussion continued, Herald made a series of motions, including that the minimum lot width in the PR be made 40 feet, and the minimum front yard setback be 20 feet subject to the average front yard setback measurements.

The motion on lot widths passed 5-2, with O’Dorisio and Councilman Jeff Dennis voting no. The motion on front yard setbacks passed unanimously.

Dennis also noted a concern that proposals to reduce lot coverage in the PR could also have issues limiting parking space for cars, which would increase reliance on on-street parking on streets that are already narrow.

“I don’t know that I would like to start moving our community in a direction that relies more on on-street parking than it already does,” he said.

In other business, during Monday’s council meeting, council:

• Introduced the 2023 annual budget ordinance. The proposed non-utility budget totals nearly $95 million, and, combined with the utility budget, 2023 appropriations total approximately $204 million. When interdepartmental transfers are taken into account, the “bottom-line” budget amounts to about $159 million.

• Introduced a resolution authorizing Mayor Mike Aspacher to sign and submit a Fiscal Year 2023 Community Development Block Grant Annual Action Plan. According to the legislative package document prepared for council, the plan “aligns with the community priorities and objectives identified in the CDBG FY 2020-2024 five-year Consolidated Plan and the 2021 amendments. Although the FY 2023 allocation amount is unknown at this time, the city anticipates receiving at least $290,789 which is the amount awarded in 2022. Two required public hearings are expected to be held on Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. and May 18 at 10 a.m., both in council chamber.

• Introduced an ordinance related to entering into an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation, and contracting for services, related to the resurfacing of West Newton Road and a portion of North Main Street. According to the legislative package document, the city received funding from “the ODOT Urban Paving program and from the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program to resurface West Newton Road from Brim Road to North Main Street and approximately 880 linear feet of North Main Street from approximately the Woodland Mall to Thayer Chrysler. Funding for this project was originally allocated for the 2024 construction season; however, ODOT recently notified the city that project funding could be made available in 2023. The condition of the pavement of both areas supports moving the project up a year and, as such, the city agreed to do so.”

• Introduced an ordinance related to entering into an agreement with ODOT, and contracting for services, related to the resurfacing of West Gypsy Lane Road from Sand Ridge Road to South Main street, and East Gypsy Lane Road from Interstate 75 to Dunbridge Road. Funding for this project has been allocated for the 2024 construction season.