The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Council Approves Neighborhood Business District and New Zoning Code

with 2 comments

I don’t have time to go into this in great detail, but I did watch tonight’s city council meeting. The big surprise is that council approved an amendment to the proposed zoning ordinance adding the Neighborhood Business (NB) district that was the subject of bitter controversy and debate last month. Council then approved the entire zoning ordinance. This means that Carbondale now has a new zoning ordinance and Neighborhood Business (NB) districts are permitted, as they were in the old zoning ordinance.

There were a number of other zoning related issues discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s meeting, and they deserve a longer treatment than I can give them tonight. In fact, my schedule will not permit me to cover this at any length until next week. I’ll just try to enumerate the facts and limit commentary until I can give it the attention these matters deserve. I’m going to restrict my comments to Item 5.6 (pdf) – which dealt with the reformed zoning ordinance –  on this week’s city council agenda (pdf). I’m also only going to talk about the items council discussed, with one exception — I’m going to briefly talk about accessory dwelling units, which did not receive a hearing at the meeting.

Council spent a lot of time discussing the proposed change allowing sharply limited commercial use within the Planned Unit Development (PUD) district. Ultimately I think council increased the complexity of the ordinance and reduced its utility. The proposed change would have allowed 1250 feet of commercial space in a PUD containing at least 25 dwelling units, with the amount of commercial space increasing by 50 square feet per dwelling unit over 25. Occupation of the commercial space would not have been allowed until at least 50% of the dwelling units had been completed, and commercial use would have had to cease if the remaining 50% of dwelling units were not completed within 12 months.

Here are the amendments to the proposed change to the PUD ordinance:

  1. Council member Don Monty Amendment 1: (a) change the minimum residential dwelling threshold after which commercial use is permitted to 50 units (from 25) and change the permitted commercial square feet to 2500 (from 1250 sq. ft.), (b) place a cap of 5000 square feet on any single commercial building in a PUD, and (c) remove the clauses requiring commercial use to cease if 50% of the dwelling units are not completed within 12 months.
  2. Council member Jane Adams moved to split Monty Amendment 1 into its three constituent parts as listed above. This motion was accepted. The votes follow.
  3. Monty Amendment 1(a) – Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Monty, Fronabarger, Fritzler. No: Wissmann, Adams, Jack.
  4. Monty Amendment 1(b) – Approved unanimously.
  5. Monty Amendment 1(c) – Approved unanimously.
  6. Wissmann Amendment 1 – No commercial space for a particular phase of a PUD development may be used until the dwelling units for that phase of the PUD development are 100% complete.  This carried unanimously.

Council next heard some miscellaneous amendments. Their substance and the vote counts are below.

  1. Monty Amendment 2: removed the right of anchor stores in shopping centers (think Macy’s at the University Mall) to have their own freestanding signs. Approved unanimously. 
  2. Wissmann Amendment 2: empower staff to define or illustrate exactly what counts as corrugated metal siding for the purposes of the design standards in the BPR (Primary Business) district. Approved unanimously.
  3. Wissmann Amendment 3: reduce minimum side yard setbacks in residential districts to 10% of the lot width, not less than 5 feet and not needing to exceed 15 feet. Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Wissmann, Adams, Jack, Fronabarger. No: Monty, Fritzler.

Next came the night’s big surprise, Lance Jack’s amendment reinserting the Neighborhood Business (NB) district into the new zoning code (it is already part of the current zoning code). Jack used the alternative language Don Monty proposed at last month’s council meeting, with the exception that Jack’s Amendment would permit NB districts within one quarter mile of one another, rather than the one half mile Monty had proposed.

Council member Jane Adams made a motion to defer the question. It was this motion that ended discussion of the NB district at the last city council meeting. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to defer and Jack, Wissman, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to continue the discussion.

Council member Jane Adams then made a motion to amend Jack’s amendment by deleting auto repair shops from the list of special uses allowed in an NB district. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to delete auto repair shops as a special use in an NB district, and Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting not to delete auto repair shops as a special use in NB districts.

Next came the vote on Jack’s Neighborhood Business amendment. It was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to include Neighborhood Business (NB) districts in the proposed zoning ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting against including NB districts. At this point, council member Don Monty announced that he would now vote against the entire zoning ordinance — an ordinance he had planned to vote in favor of — because of his opposition to the NB districts.

Next, council voted on the entire proposed zoning ordinance, as amended. The ordinance was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to approve the ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting to oppose the ordinance.

Normally, this is where I’d weigh in with a couple thousand words of commentary. Unfortunately, as I said above, I don’t have time for that tonight, and I won’t until next week at the earliest. I’ll just give you a few quick bullet points that I can possibly expand on later.

  • I think council messed up the PUD ordinance by limiting the size of commercial buildings instead of limiting the size of individual commercial establishments.
  • I think the reduction in minimum side yard setbacks is a great improvement and council was right to approve it. This bears some explanation, so I may get into this in a future post,
  • I think the hysteria over the Neighborhood Business districts is not justified by the facts. I also think that the ordinance as approved isn’t perfect, but it can be improved in the future. Specifically, it might be worthwhile to restrict NB districts to parcels on major intersections or fronting a major thoroughfare. We could use some other method to deal with former institutional properties like old churches and schools or the old National Guard Armory.
  • In general, I think the anxiety over mixing business and residential uses, which we saw in the discussions of the PUD amendment and the NB amendment, is misplaced. The important thing is to have design and performance standards that produce good outcomes. This can be achieved.

Finally, I want to briefly highlight one item that did not receive a hearing at tonight’s meeting: accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These are sometimes called “granny flats,” which led some council members to erroneously conclude that they were meant only for people to house relatives. ADUs had been under consideration for several months and were pulled out of the ordinance largely due to the influence of one council member and a handful of vocal citizens. I think and hope that this is an issue that people simply don’t understand, and that with better information, people will not be fearful of a well-designed ADU ordinance. I plan to write more about this topic in the future.

If I get the time, I may write another post about the issues at stake in the April 2, 2013 council meeting. That will not happen until next week at the earliest.

Comments are welcome.

UPDATE: If you’re interested in everything else that happened at the city council meeting, check the liveblog at The Carbondaze Gazette. 

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2 Responses

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  1. As a member of the Planning Commission, I didn’t see the need to have language in the NB section in order to pass the code. On the other hand, I don’t see Councilman Monty’s amendment as bad. In truth, its very similar to the current code and that hasn’t done any good or hard. So, its really just status quo at this point, in my opinion. I do hope that we will return to the issue though and get some code that is more useful than the current language that still accommodates the neighborhoods.

    Scott McClurg

    April 3, 2013 at 6:32 am

    • Scott McClurg – Thanks for the comment. I basically agree with you. My preferred outcome would have been to move a little more slowly, but clearly a majority of council believed that it was important to press ahead. Like you, I don’t think the text Council Member Monty provided is bad. Something that got lost in this discussion is that economic viability is going to provide a limit on what gets built where.

      That said, I’d like to see some additional performance and design standards worked into the NB district. The design standards could apply only to new construction or to renovations in which the original character of an existing structure will be changed. The performance standards could apply to both new construction and to existing buildings.

      I’d also like to see sharply limited parking. Ideally a business zoned NB should be of a neighborhood character and appeal mostly to neighborhood residents who would walk to it. One quick way to damage or destroy a neighborhood is to start razing buildings to build a sea of parking. If someone wants to build, say, a restaurant like Applebees or Chili’s – something that draws a lot of people and requires a lot of parking – then they should build that in the auto-oriented commercial areas of town (and there is no shortage of those). A neighborhood business should mostly rely on pedestrians and street parking, possibly with a very small amount of off street parking.

      I think there is a lot of room to improve on the ordinance as adopted, but I don’t think the sky is going to fall during the time it takes to make some common sense amendments.

      The Carbondale Observer

      April 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm


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