In a Monday work session, Bowling Green Council members indicated they are open to making changes to the controversial proposed Pedestrian Residential District.
Councilman Nick Rubando said he understands the need to expand affordable housing and have some expanded businesses in neighborhoods, as proposed in the district. However, he said, those things are already addressed in other areas of the city in the draft code update.
“The current PR district, it just doesn’t make too much sense to me as it’s currently written,” Rubando said.
Council President Mark Hollenbaugh said that it had been some time since council’s last work session, and since then there had been a great deal of public comment.
About 20 people attended meeting, but this was a work session and no public comment and no action was taken.
Discussion centered on the controversial proposed Pedestrian Residential District.
Referred to frequently as the “PR,” the district 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 district’s major features is that it would allow some businesses to operate within that neighborhood district, and alter minimum lot dimensions.
The first item on Monday’s list was to consider adopting the citizen-proposed Central Residential District as a replacement for the PR.
This was presented by resident Rose Drain during the Feb. 21 council meeting. The intent is to promote walkable neighborhoods with residential uses, she said. Residents should be able to walk throughout the district and to businesses located nearby in the Central Business District and in Neighborhood Commercial Zones.
The standards for properties in the Central Residential District will be consistent with what exists for many of the homes now in these neighborhoods.
This is in contrast to the proposed Pedestrian Residential standards which would increase lot coverage and shrink setbacks. Among other provisions, two-unit dwellings and all business uses would be disallowed in the CR District.
Councilman Bill Herald expressed his gratitude to the citizens who have been engaged with council. He said he was impressed that citizens not only expressed concern on the issue and organized, but also “advanced a solution.”
Herald said that council may decide to keep some sort of mixed use in the city, including something that allows for the equivalent of the PR, although not where it is currently proposed.
Councilman Greg Robinette said he feels the biggest responsibility of the city’s new zoning code is to set the stage for what they want Bowling Green to look like decades from now.
With the PR, he said, council should first agree on a vision for the neighborhoods in the district. Without a clear strategic vision, he said, “it’s going to be pretty difficult to create relevant zoning regulations.”
Robinette also said he felt it was important that the Central Residential District receive a fair hearing.
Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Rachel Phipps discussed a two-part proposal she developed with Councilman Jeff Dennis, with input from Mayor Aspacher, Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter, Planning Director Heather Sayler and ZoneCo, the firm contracted by the city to write the zoning code update.
The first part was a series of changes to allowable uses in the PR, which Phipps said represented a more incremental approach and acknowledged concerns from residents by removing nearly all of the commercial uses from the PR, and allowing others only conditionally.
Under this proposal, corner stores would be removed as a permitted use, and bar/tavern, microbrewery/distillery, rooming/boarding house, and retail sales would be removed as conditional uses.
“I believe these commercial uses represent the most intense commercial uses” in the district, Phipps said, and that they were found to be the most objectionable by concerned citizens.
Others, such as barber shop/beauty shop/spa, campus ministry, day care center and mortuary or funeral home, would be made conditional uses, subject to review by the planning director.
Phipps noted that these measures don’t go as far as the Central Residential District proposal, but they were made in response to community concerns.
Two-unit dwellings would still be allowed, a provision which drew some discussion.
Dennis said that the tighter the regulations are, the larger the number of legal non-conforming properties will be — which could also create a lot of work for the planning department.
The second part of the proposal would create a new, as-yet-unnamed zone which, according to a document distributed at the meeting – which also outlined the lot standards and permitted, conditional and accessory uses – would promote “a mix of residential and commercial uses to provide residents convenient access to shops, services and employment opportunities within their neighborhood.”
That zoning would include areas within or bordering the proposed PR already currently zoned general commercial or light industrial under the city’s current zoning. One, two and three-unit dwellings would also be permitted.
“I think that this new zone might be a better fit for these existing spots that are smack in the middle of our neighborhoods,” Phipps said, opining later that these uses could be a good transitional space between primarily commercial blocks and primarily residential blocks.
Councilman Joel O’Dorisio said he supported looking at the proposal.
“We are limiting what are effectively unlimited commercial uses and making sure that these remain beneficial neighbors, I guess would be the best way to put it,” he said.
“It’s going to take awhile for us to digest this, but thanks for bringing this forward and putting it on our radar,” Hollenbaugh said.
Also discussed were:
• Adding language to the code to address bed and breakfasts, as well as short-term rentals like Airbnbs.
“I think that it’s important that we address it sooner rather than later” before it becomes a problem for the city to fix, Hollenbaugh said.
Discussion continued from O’Dorisio and Dennis as to whether the zoning code was the place for the discussion, or if it should take place separately, since it was pointed out that the city’s rental registration policy essentially already covers short-term rentals.
“It may or may not be that this is something that can be taken care of prior to implementing the new zoning code,” Hollenbaugh said. “I don’t know what this would consist of. I do know I don’t want to slow things down for any one purpose if it’s something we can address at a later date. … It’s definitely something we need to look into.”
• Adding dog parks as a conditional use in several zones.
• Amending the factors used by the planning director when considering to grant a conditional use, to omit language that the proposed use promoted quality of life of the users and its neighbors. Dennis, who discussed this issue, said that language seemed subjective.
• A recommendation to review and possibly amend the city’s proposed/future land use map. Robinette noted that council has an opportunity to “deconflict” the land use map and the current zoning map. He noted that the two maps conflict as to recommended uses for a property at Brim and Newton roads, for which a zoning change is currently being sought. The matter is before the planning commission.
Herald said that he didn’t disagree with having the two maps in sync, but he noted that a public hearing is scheduled on the matter for the commission’s April meeting and that he doesn’t want to do anything affecting that property prior to the public being able to weigh in.
Monday’s meeting was the first of three focused on the draft zoning code – a public forum is scheduled for March 23 at the Veterans Building at City Park at 6 p.m., and another work session is set for March 27 at the same time and location, during which council plans to vote on items they would like to include or exclude from the code.