Revised ‘PR’ passed in BG zoning code update


By Peter Kuebeck

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Amid a flurry of amendments and lengthy discussion, Bowling Green Council on Monday unanimously approved the much-anticipated revamp of the city’s zoning code.

Over the process, the controversial Pedestrian Residential district in the new code drew perhaps the most comment and concern from residents. Referred to frequently as the “PR,” the district is a neighborhood area located in a rough, elongated donut around the downtown.

The 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. As originally written, the PR’s major features were that it would allow some businesses to operate within that neighborhood district, alter minimum lot dimensions, and permit certain housing uses including duplexes.

After proposals by council members Rachel Phipps and Jeff Dennis, much of the business uses were either made conditional or removed outright. Also, a new mixed-use zone was created.

However, worries about the potential expansion of rentals in the PR drew concerns from residents.

Eric Peck said that he is one of those residents drawn to town by the university.

“I advise and advocate strongly that turning single-family homes into multiple duplexes with have grave consequences on the community. It will be affecting a lot of people,” he said.

“I see this PR move as a part of larger patterns of the weakening of democracy in Ohio,” said Joe DeMare. “We brought in a consultant from out of town who told us what our city is supposed to look like, and now we’re going to do what he told us to do rather than what the people of Bowling Green are telling you to do.”

David Pfleger asked council to consider amendments to exclude duplexes and accessory dwelling units from the PR.

“Much of the proposed PR is already overcrowded,” he said.

“We acknowledge that you have heard our protest against more commercial enterprises” in some parts of the PR, Suzanne Midden said, but noted that rental properties would still be allowed.

“Not only will they remain, but they will increase under this proposal,” she said.

Rose Drain noted that the Bowling Green Save Our Neighborhoods Group is taking steps to become a Community Development Corporation.

“Our focus will be to increase the number of affordable single-family owned homes in the city and work with the city and rental property owners to improve the conditions of rental properties here,” she said.

“We hope city council and city administrators will support these efforts and will work collaboratively with us when council meetings resume in August as we advocate for short term rental regulation, design standards for the PR district, an amortization process to eliminate non-conforming dwellings over the shortest legal period of time, rigorous exterior maintenance code,” Drain said.

“Proactive enforcement, rather than waiting for complaints to be filed, the city’s code enforcement staff should be monitoring neighborhoods for code violations rather than depending on citizens reports” are needed, she said.

In all, prior to voting on the code, council considered approximately 20 amendments to the legislation. Many included alterations to language, or changes suggested by Planning Director Heather Sayler.

One significant amendment — passed unanimously and to applause from the audience – was a proposal by Councilman Bill Herald to remove two-unit dwellings, or duplexes, from the permitted uses in the PR, essentially prohibiting them.

Phipps said that she was happy to support their removal from the PR, but “we, the council and the administration, are not done.

“The frustrations we have heard during the zoning update process are real and they are not new,” she said. “Protecting and preserving neighborhoods is about much more than our zoning code standards and permitted uses.”

Phipps said that they need to beef up enforcement, have partnerships between neighborhood non-profits and the city, add properties to the local historic register, and utilize the city’s rental registration and inspection process.

“I believe things are changing,” Phipps said, “but I bet this process has made clear to all of us how much we could and should be doing.”

Council, however, did not pass a proposed amendment by Herald to remove accessory dwelling units as a conditional use from the PR, which would have effectively prohibited them. Greg Robinette and Herald voted in favor of it.

In withdrawing another amendment after some discussion later in the meeting, Robinette requested that the issue of design standards in the PR and in the multi-use neighborhood be added to the work of one of council’s standing committees.

“This update to the zoning code is long overdue,” Robinette said. “We do agree on a significant majority of the code and overall it’s good, its necessary.”

He noted the document is better organized, clearer and easier to read and, importantly, it “supports economic development.”

Monday’s vote was the culmination of a process nearly five years long.

“It is heartwarming to see what has transpired over the past so many months, where the community has become energized,” Herald said. “And I think that everyone that has participated … has had the interest of Bowling Green at heart, including each of us council members.”

He said he echoed the words of Phipps and others, that “basically this is a necessary first step. And in the process of going through this, we have built organizations and energized individuals to do the work that must proceed after this… I see a renewed sense of energy and I am looking forward to what we will be doing in the future.”

Earlier in the evening, Mayor Mike Aspacher expressed appreciation for all those involved in the process. He noted that work started on the revamped zoning code in 2018, when council identified that as a major strategic effort. Funds were set aside in the 2019 budget and the consulting firm which worked on the code, ZoneCo, was hired in 2020. A series of meetings and presentations have taken place over the intervening years focusing on the code.

“It’s been a very long, lengthy process, and a good number of people worked very hard to get us to this point,” Aspacher said. “This may be the most important thing some of us will ever do in our time associated with local government.”

BG’s citizens, he said, “have really demonstrated how the democratic process can and should work.”

He said that the goals included to have a zoning code that implemented modern practices, was easier to understand, and would serve as an economic development tool, and that he believed they had done it.

In a statement released Monday night, Dennis wrote, in part, “It’s been a long process with a lot of back and forth and compromise, but the result is a zoning code we can all be proud of. We’ve eliminated mandatory minimum parking requirements, introduced new housing options in every residential area of the city, and created a new mixed-use zone that will help strengthen many of our oldest neighborhoods. These individual policies, along with many others that were approved tonight, will help increase our housing supply, promote affordability, and manage the growth our community will hopefully experience in the coming decades.”

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