Phipps explains her vote on city’s occupancy ordinance


On Monday night (Sept. 19), I voted against an ordinance that aimed to end “legal nonconforming” over-occupancy in 28 years because it would have made substantial and, I believe, unintended changes to our new zoning code, which was enacted just a couple months ago.

The problem the legislation was designed to address is a relatively minor aspect of a larger issue; by the city’s count, there are around 22 legal nonconforming over-occupancy uses in BG right now. It’s important to note, the city can address any illegal over-occupancy today; it need not – and should not – wait until 2051.

The changes proposed by this legislation would have been a step backward for our city, and the specific problems with the legislation were too many to be fixed Monday night. I’ll point out just a few.

The legislation would have created a new standard for the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) where the property owner asks for a variance from the occupancy provisions. The legislation would have required the BZA to evaluate a new list of criteria, including many that would prove tough to apply; criteria like “maintain[ing] aesthetic harmony,” protect[ing] the appearance of the City as a whole,” and “inject[ing] vitality.” I see no reason to create a new standard for occupancy variance requests.

The legislation seemed to allow structural alterations to be made to any legal nonconforming property without BZA involvement; instead, only a city permit would be necessary. BZA involvement is required by our current code and one of the most meaningful ways for citizens to provide feedback on issues directly affecting their neighborhoods.

The legislation would have thrown out the current language at 150.87. Importantly, we just changed this section to insist that any legal nonconforming use end if the owner discontinues the nonconforming use for six months. The proposed legislation would have required the city to wait much longer – for two years – before the city could disallow the nonconforming use. And the proposed language would have applied to any legal nonconforming use, not just over-occupancy. This would have been a step backward as we work to improve our neighborhoods.

I regret that there was so much confusion about what the ordinance was attempting to accomplish. Council must do better at communicating the need for and goals of legislation to the community in the future.

Rachel Phipps

Third Ward City Council

Bowling Green

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