The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Council Defers Action on Neighborhood Business District

with 4 comments

I’m going to keep this brief because it is 12:20 a.m. After more than two hours of discussion and amendments, council voted by a 4-3 margin to defer action on the proposed revision to the Neighborhood Business District. Council Members Lance Jack, Lee Fronabarger, Jane Adams, and Don Monty voted to postpone action until a future meeting. Council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel joined Mayor Joel Fritzler in voting to move the amendment forward.

This delay will allow citizens an extra opportunity to learn more about the proposed change and to suggest changes to improve the amendment. That’s a good thing. With any luck, the tone of the discussion will improve and we will discuss these issues in a calm and rational manner. I think we’ll find that the proposed amendment is basically an improvement over our existing code, although the last text I saw did need to be tightened up.

Since the ordinance under discussion tonight was subject to major amendments proposed by Council Member Don Monty, this will also give the city the opportunity to make those amendments public. That will allow citizens to make their own judgments about the wisdom of this zoning change. I am eager to see what Monty proposed.

This delay should not be seen as an opportunity to dither. Council has a responsibility to do the people’s business. Council and staff should gather comments and suggestions from the public. The changes necessary to tighten up this amendment should be incorporated into the text, and then council should act.

Incidentally, this was BY FAR the most acrimonious city council meeting I have ever witnessed. I strongly encourage interested parties to view the video archived on the city’s website. To do so, click here. I’m not sure how long it takes for the archived videos to be posted, but I don’t think it takes very long.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 20, 2013 at 12:35 am

My Thoughts on the Proposed Changes to the Neighborhood Business District

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A furor has erupted during the last few weeks over proposed changes to the Neighborhood Business (NB) District in our zoning code. I have received several requests for comment in my email, so I’ll add my voice to the discussion. I’ll start with a brief summary of what is being proposed, followed by a lengthy explanation and discussion of the disputes as I understand them. At the end, I’ll explain my own position on this amendment.

First the explanation. Our zoning code as currently written contains a Neighborhood Business (NB) District. Click here to see the code as currently written. Currently, there are no properties zoned NB. There is a proposal working its way through the process that would change the NB district in a few ways. Click here (pdf) to view the proposed text as amended (additions to the current code are underlined, while text being removed has a line drawn through it).

First, the rewrite would remove all permitted uses. No use would be permitted by right in an NB district. This is important to note. Instead of permitted uses, the rewritten NB district would allow certain businesses as special uses. The perceived benefit of this system is that it allows more oversight. The process for getting a special use permit allows council and the planning commission to impose certain conditions on the operation of a business. Second, performance standards would be imposed for the special uses permitted in the NB district. Third, some of the requirements in the district (related to size and distance between districts) would change.

So far, so good, right? Unless you’re strictly opposed to any business in a neighborhood, then more oversight and additional performance standards would seem at first glance to be an improvement. Now we’ll turn to the concerns raised over this amendment. The dispute, as I understand it, lies in three areas, each of which I will explain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 19, 2013 at 6:05 am

Guest Post: Scott McClurg on the Neighborhood Business Zone and Jane Adams’ Mailer on that Issue

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Over the past couple of weeks, there has been increasing concern about the proposed change to the Neighborhood Business (NB) district in our zoning code. I have received numerous inquiries on this issue and I received one request for a guest post slot from Carbondale Planning Commission member and SIUC professor Scott D. McClurg. His post, which originally appeared as a note on his Facebook page, is below. The original note attracted several comments, including some from Council candidates. To view that note, click here. I will share my thoughts on the Neighborhood Business District in another post, which you can view at this link

If you live in Carbondale, you probably received an alarming flier about a “backroom deal” to “change the city’s code” on behalf of some “powerful business interest.”  As a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, I encourage you to read this flier carefully.  And, I’d ask that you take into consideration the following response.  From my point of view, Councilwoman Adams — the author of the flier — simply gets some things wrong, fails to contextualize the proposal adequately, and is engaging in the most cynical of political acts by trying to scare voters.

What is she wrong about?  The most important is the characterization that everything is being done in secret.  As a planning a Commissioner on the Planning and Zoning Board, I received the same notification about this text amendment as I always do — roughly two weeks prior to meeting .  We dealt with it during a public and broadcast meeting, just as we always do.  As I understand Carbondale law, this is a process we always use — this was not unusual.  Another thing that is incorrect is that this is “the mayor’s” proposal.  The proposal came from city staff and, to the best of my knowledge, not from the Mayor’s office.  He might have known about the proposal, but that would be news to me and, I suspect, other members of the Board.  From my position, I see nothing here to suggest that there is a “backdoor deal”.  The Board followed the same procedure we always use and also held a public hearing, in which we could hear public comment.  If Councilwoman Adams isn’t in touch with City staff on things that concern her, that is her failure as a representative.  And it doesn’t excuse her suggestion that this business is being conducted in private.

How does she fail to contextualize the proposal?  Her flier mentions, “The Mayor’s proposed ‘Neighborhood Business District’…”  Leaving aside that this isn’t “the Mayor’s” proposal, we did not to the best of my understanding create a new zoning district.  We did take the old Neighborhood Business District and recommend that it be turned into a special use.  The logic behind that change is because the current code in NB Districts has basically meant there are no neighborhood businesses, including the “quiet neighborhood cafe” mentioned in the Councilwoman’s flier.  Instead of creating a specific zone for NB, this change will allow businesses in other districts as a “Special Use.”

It is also important to note that the vast majority of the text in the filer is the old zoning language.  There is some new language and it more flexible.  I encourage both the Council and citizens to consider that new (and old language ; its important to debate it.  However, its irresponsible for the Councilwoman to not acknowledge the following — Special Uses both 1) require greater justification to be used and 2) allow the city to place more conditions on the character of the proposed property.  In other words, if the Council wants to support a neighborhood business but only under specific circumstances (size of building, parking, etc.), then it gets to dictate those terms.  And then only after notifying neighboring properties, holding a Planning Commission Meeting, and finally getting approved by the Council itself.

By the way, let’s talk about this process.  There is nothing in the current zoning rules that allow the Mayor and City Manager to push this through without the input of citizens and, most importantly, the Council.  This is the very essence of representative politics in a democracy — some people like an idea, others don’t.  We resolve these differences through prescribed laws and practices, with representatives being held accountable for their decisions by the voters if the decisions are disliked.  Given that the process is being followed, why should the Councilwoman make negative claims?  Is the Councilwomen implying that the rest of the Council is bought off or derelict in their duty?  If so, she should show us the evidence rather than imply that somehow the process isn’t being followed.  And if she thinks there are flaws in how we made public decisions here in town, why hasn’t she offered proposals to the Council to change the flaws?  Again, her implication that this is a “backroom deal” implies that the process isn’t working or that the game is fixed.  Well, implications are not evidence evidence of wrongdoing and I see no evidence to suggest she thinks we need to change our rules of government.

Finally, why is this cynical?  Clearly the Councilwoman has objections to the proposal.  Why not lay them bare to the public as they are?  Why dress those objections up scary language like “backroom deal” and suggesting the Mayor and City Manager are “benefiting” (without any actual evidence to back up such a claim)?  Why sully the reputation of the City Staff, Planning and Zoning Board, and the rest of the Council by implying they are either covering up corruption or to stupid to notice?  Quite frankly, I cannot speak to her motives.  But I suspect that when politicians — which Councilwoman Adam’s no doubt is — think their point of view is going to lose, they attack their opponents rather than their ideas.  And since I’m on the Planning and Zoning Commission, I will not sit by idly when someone makes such claims involving my volunteer work as a citizen. I will speak up, object, and ask the Councilwoman for the apology she owes many of us who work to make Carbondale a great place to live.  She doesn’t need to agree with any of us, but giving us enough respect to not impugn our character without evidence is not too much to ask.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone should speak for or against the change in the code.  And, I have no qualms about postponing the final decision if citizens want more time to be informed. A healthy debate is a great thing for the city and for its residents.  But don’t just take Councilwoman Adam’s word for what is going on.  Heck, don’t just take my word for it.  Please make your own judgement based on your values and the facts, and please don’t let some alarming flier trick you into not making your own choice.

Please share widely.

Ed. note: The preceding was written by Scott D. McClurg of Carbondale, Illinois. 

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

Harm Reduction a Better Approach to Liquor Issues

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I watched the Liquor Control Commission and City Council meetings from home last night on Mediacom channel 16. It’s been a little over two months since I watched one and I’m not going to do a complete summary. The LCC meeting was longer than the City Council meeting because there was a discussion of opening the remaining bars on Illinois Avenue still forced to close for Halloween. I want to weigh in briefly on that topic and on liquor issues generally.

First, I support allowing the remaining bars on Illinois Avenue to open on Halloween. In an ideal world, we’d start a well organized street party that reestablishes Carbondale’s reputation for Halloween festivities while avoiding the riots and property damage that sometimes accompanied past Halloween celebrations. I realize the memory of bad Halloweens past is still with us and I think it’s fine to take things slowly. First open the remaining bars on the strip. If everything goes well for a couple of years, maybe then we could think about an organized festival.

Second, I am still mystified by the cap on liquor licenses for bars. There was originally an item on the Council agenda to reduce the cap on class B (bar) liquor licenses as a result of the recent closing of Gatsby’s (Council pulled the item from the agenda). This is one of our silliest laws. Carbondale can support only so many bars. There are not an unlimited number of bar customers, so there will not be an unlimited number of bars. There is no need to cap the number of class B licenses unless the intent is to artificially hold the number of bars below the number the market can support. Since council has routinely raised the limit, I assume that is not the intent.

We should ask why we would want to artificially limit the number of bars. Does Union County limit the number of wineries? Does Marion limit the number of gas stations or hotel rooms? I realize there is a puritanical element in Carbondale. As hard as it is to believe, the fact that some people drink alcohol offends some other people’s morals. That puritanical element, certainly a minority, should not be allowed to use legislation to force their morals on the rest of us.

That brings me to my larger point. It is time to get past our obsession with liquor issues. Instead using scarce police resources to strictly control drinking, we should adopt a harm reduction approach. I do not care a bit if an 18 or 19 year old – an adult old enough to join the military and vote in elections – drinks alcohol, even if he or she drinks to the point of intoxication. On the other hand, I do care if the person drinks a dangerous amount of alcohol. I care about property damage and violence. I care about fireworks going off at 3:00 in the morning. I care about beer cans and bottles littering the streets and sidewalks. I care about drunk driving.

A harm reduction approach recognizes that police have to prioritize their resources. There simply aren’t enough police officers to strictly enforce every law and ordinance. That means we have to decide which laws and ordinances deserve the most attention. Offenses like underage consumption or possession of an open container in public should be the absolute lowest priority for police.

Instead, police should focus on the harms associated with drinking. Make it clear that if you damage property, commit a violent act, disturb your neighbors, litter, drive drunk, or create harm in other ways, you will be arrested. Also make it clear that if you don’t do those things, police aren’t likely to take the time to stop you and check your I.D. or see if that beverage in your red plastic cup is beer or lemonade.

I understand that critics might say that a harm reduction approach amounts to selective enforcement of the law. I admit it. It isn’t possible to devote equal resources to the enforcement of each and every law. We should use our best judgement to select the most important laws, those that protect us from harm, and devote most of our attention to those. The rest should be an afterthought. Council should take action to set some priorities for the police department.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 30, 2013 at 7:30 am

Guest Post: D. Gorton on Zoning and the Future of Carbondale

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I attended the public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday. I was impressed by the large turnout and by the helpful comments made by the people in attendance. One comment — by neighborhood activist D. Gorton — stood out, and I spoke with him after the meeting to ask if he would be willing to have it published as a guest post. He graciously agreed. I thank him for the opportunity to print his remarks, which appear in their entirety below. 

Madame Chairman, members of the Commission, I am grateful for the opportunity to address the issue of the proposed zoning changes.

This is part of a broader effort to revitalize our town, so I would like to offer a brief context for our discussion.

When I first came to Carbondale, I was honored to meet and become friends with Helen Westburg and Randy Nelson. I’m sure there are many people in this audience who remember them. For those of you who do not, Helen Westburg and Randy Nelson lived on Cherry St. Helen was a faculty wife. Randy Nelson was her next door neighbor. Randy had lost his sight in aerial combat in the Pacific Theatre in WW2. Randy went back to college on the GI Bill and attained a PhD in political science. He became a professor at SIU. Most important for me was that Helen, who later became the first and only Woman Mayor of Carbondale, and Randy who became a member of City Council, spurred the enactment of the first zoning code in 1974.

So, my remarks are derived from conversations that I had with Randy and Helen. Any mistakes that I make are mine alone.

The great economic wave that washed over Carbondale after WW2 was in part the returning veterans on the GI Bill. The university exploded with energy and students. The Barrow family of Carbondale and the Brown family, along with many other leaders in the town, were visionaries. They sought out and hired Delyte Morris to take charge of the university. They also established Memorial Hospital and Carbondale Clinic. Think about that for a moment – the great institutions that remain in Carbondale were both molded by these visionaries.

The growth at the university was explosive. As a result it became very lucrative to convert single-family homes to rooming houses and rentals.

By the late 60s and early 70s, the areas near the university were referred to as “student neighborhoods” by the city – dismissing the remaining residents. There was little or no code enforcement and no zoning. The result was practically a war zone with students and remaining residents in deep conflict. In addition, slumlords rose up to consolidate the rental houses. They assembled hundreds of buildings.

In the elections of 1974, Randy Nelson and Helen Westburg, along with the League of Women Voters, pushed for a reform ticket. The reforms, importantly for our discussion tonight, included residential and business zoning.

The zoning changes that they made were recommendations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as I understand it. It was a “model” plan that largely reflected American’s concerns of the early 1970s: suburbs, tract development, auto congestion.

Helen and Randy both said that over time they became deeply disappointed in the codes they had helped put into place. For example: the housing plats on Cherry St were aligned with the Illinois Central Railroad (N/S), but Cherry St was not perpendicular. As a result, the buildings were too close to the property lines, especially on the sides. If a building was damaged by a fire or tornado, it could not be rebuilt…. It could not be adequately insured…. And it could not be used in an appraisal of the property. In other words, the new zoning actually decreased the accumulated capital of the city in the older neighborhoods.

Moreover, the zoning, as a result of a compromise, went right down the middle of Cherry St. On one side were residents and on the other side were largely rooming houses.

Another issue was the enforcement of the codes. If the city issued tickets, the slumlords often managed to get them dismissed in Court. To this day, as I understand it, there has seldom been a successful prosecution for over-occupancy of a rental in a R-1 residential district.

Eventually the city appeared to have consigned those neighborhoods to the slumlords and consciously moved their efforts to the East side of Carbondale with the development of the Mall, the transfer of all of the schools including Carbondale Community High School, and housing developments.

The strip was treated in a similar manner of “benign neglect.”

Make no mistake, however, the University was still growing and the strip was still vital. That continuing growth masked the underlying problems in the city.

That is the context of 1974: continued growth of the university, continued growth of business, and tremendous pressure on housing to accommodate students.

Tonight, we meet almost 40 years later. What is our context today? How do we proceed in a manner that will not lead to disappointment? I say that because I know everyone in this room, and the Commission, wants the very best for our town.

First of all, growth has stopped. It has stopped at the university. It has stopped in the town. Sales are flat at the mall. In fact, I understand that the company Henry Fisher founded back in the 70s, Home Rentals, did not pay any of their property taxes this year and are now delinquent. A Carbondale institution, Mississippi Flyway, announced last week it was going out of business.

In my opinion the decline will continue. The university will get smaller, perhaps dramatically so. As a result there is little pressure on housing. I understand that hundreds of houses in Carbondale are either marginally occupied by occasional rentals or completely unoccupied.

I want to be clear: I do not think that a downsizing of the university is necessarily a bad thing. If managed properly, with an eye on quality, SIUC will get better students, an enlivened faculty and a robust institution for the future.

While some of the big box stores are doing well, the Mall appears to be struggling. And remember, that sales taxes are the main source of city funds.

What happened? Partly, our town is susceptible to the national trends. A huge economic bubble, caused in part by sub prime mortgages, destroyed the housing market. Manufacturing, which used to be important in the region, along with coal mining, is nearly non-existent. What some people call the “higher education” bubble threatens to permanently affect the university.

The rise of the digital revolution promises to upend whole sectors of our economy, including higher education, while developing whole new industries and new ways of  learning.

Unfortunately, I think we have made a series of poor decisions. The university, instead of driving for quality as envisioned by Delyte Morris, instead conceived itself as the “economic engine” of the region. That meant that their goal was to keep up the enrollment by any means necessary including lower admission standards. Moreover, there was a focus on capital improvements – bricks and mortar – that would create jobs. Incredibly the City of Carbondale voted to give away $1 million dollars a year for 20 years in support of this effort. If we had been following the idea of quality, we would have sponsored a $1 million dollar a year scholarship program for gifted students. But that wasn’t discussed.

We abandoned our older neighborhoods and people left our town to settle elsewhere. Our schools, once the pride of Carbondale, have sagged. The elementary school in particular is not attractive to young families who choose instead to live in other school districts such as Carterville, Giant City or Unity Point.

But, lets look at a nearby town: Marion. Why do they appear to be doing well? Marion capitalized on its assets. It is a freeway/gas station town. Its location on I-57 has been exploited by the City of Marion to build motels, distribution centers, repair shops and manufacturing. They have lax zoning and a go-go attitude to development. They have succeeded brilliantly in their strategy.

But Carbondale is not like Marion. Nor is it like Paducah or Cape Girardeau. All of those cities have built on their unique assets, as must Carbondale.

What do we have that is unique? Carbondale is in the top 3% in Illinois and the top 4% nationally in education levels. Carbondale has a research university. Carbondale has a well-managed medical community and hospitals. We are developing a robust high-speed internet structure connecting our major institutions. We have a major railroad. We are surrounded by beautiful countryside. We have youth and youthful energy. We have a deep and abiding commitment to fairness and racial justice. We are welcoming to gays and gay families. Carbondale is a deeply comfortable place to just be yourself. In fact, the other day I saw a bumper sticker: “Keep Carbondale Weird”. That’s not what I have in mind, but it certainly is part of the uniqueness of the city.

Several years ago, my wife and I decided to rehabilitate houses. It was largely a defensive measure since we were surrounded by slumlords who cared not a bit for the appearance of their properties. What we discovered was beautifully built bungalows from the 1920s with dimensional lumber, strong foundations and graceful lines. Make no mistake about it, many of them are in very rough condition, but they can be restored. They are spread in a wide arc through the neighborhoods near the university across Walnut and Main and on to the neighborhoods of the Northwest.

We learned that there is a wonderful market for these houses. They are near the university and hospital. We also learned that zoning makes a difference to our properties. As I mentioned before, we can not rebuild structures that were  built too close to the property lines in the 1920s. This is a strong disincentive for someone to buy our houses.

We learned that the old neighborhoods, which once boasted small grocery stores and other small businesses, were no longer able to do that under the code adopted in 1974. We learned that auxiliary buildings for rental were not allowed as well: the so called mother-in-law flats. These “mixed uses” are important to understand and discuss. While they are appropriate in some places, clearly they are not in others.

However, it’s in the creation of wise zoning and its fair enforcement that will help cities as unique as Carbondale thrive.

This zoning code and the changes that I have seen do not address the concerns that I have outlined. Nor are they responsive to the times.

Find a way to make office space, housing and amenities available to this highly educated population and let them create the businesses of the future. Allow them to create families and partnerships that will sustain our town. Enable young people and elderly to live comfortably together. Follow our Comprehensive Plan and develop amenities such as bike lanes, walking paths, parks and green spaces. Imagine a more sustainable city.

Bear down on quality and responsive transparent government. Have encouragement for hard driving businesses. Bring out the uniqueness of Carbondale and watch it prosper. It’s within our grasp.

In closing, I again want to thank the Commission for this opportunity. I trust that you are as wise and as committed to the uniqueness of Carbondale as the Barrows, Browns, Nelsons, Westburgs, and the other visionaries who help build this town.

Ed. Note: The preceding was written by D. Gorton of Carbondale, Illinois. 

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

Preliminary Thoughts on the Proposed Zoning Code Revision

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I’m still on hiatus, but since I’ve been talking about the need to reform our zoning code for the last couple of years, I thought I’d weigh in briefly. The city is holding a public hearing at 6:00 p.m. today at City Hall in room 108. I’ve had limited time to look at the proposed changes. I have read the summary of changes, which I understand to be incomplete, but I have not made a side  by side comparison of existing code and the proposed rewrite.

Before I get into specifics, I’ll talk a little more generally. Our existing code is a total mess and we need a complete change in approach. I’m on the record supporting a change away from use-based zoning to form-based zoning. The proposed changes do not switch Carbondale to a form-based code, so, in my view, they are less than ideal. But there are at least some improvements over our existing code in the rewritten code that make it superior to the code as it exists today.

Here is my bottom line: If council considers this rewrite a starting point and further reforms are to follow, then I can live with this proposed rewrite. If, as I suspect, council considers this rewrite the final word on zoning reform for the foreseeable future, then we need to go back to the drawing board and make further changes before passing this proposed code. 

That said, here are a few of the good changes, the bad changes, what should have been in the new code, and a few nitpicks. If you want to follow along, then download the summary of proposed changes (pdf) and the full text of the proposed code (large pdf). The following should not be considered an exhaustive commentary, as there are certainly things I have missed and possibly things that I have misunderstood.

The Good

  1. Design standards for buildings in certain districts. This is the best change in the proposed ordinance. You can find the design standards in §4.6.1 of the proposed code. This would affect large buildings in R-3 (high density residential) and PUD (planned unit development), and all buildings in BPR (primary business) districts. These requirements will improve the quality and appearance of our public spaces and produce better environmental outcomes.
  2. Reduced side setbacks in R1 (low density) districts. These changes are in §2.11.11. Currently, the code requires side setbacks of 10% of the lot width, with a minimum of 8 feet. The minimum lot size permitted is 50 feet wide, but that still requires a minimum setback of 8 feet, leaving only 34 feet in the center of a lot to hold a building. This change would reduce the setback to five feet, which would leave 40 feet for a building on a lot 50 feet wide.
  3. Reduced front setbacks in pre-1974 neighborhoods. These changes are in §2.11.9. Currently, city code requires a front setback of 20% of the lot depth or 25 feet in the R-1-5 district, which has a minimum depth of 100 feet (that’s not specified in the code, but the code specifies a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet and a 50 foot minimum width, so if you do the math that leaves you with a 100 foot minimum lot depth). The problem is in the old neighborhoods in the heart of town. The existing structures do not have such deep setbacks. This change allows a setback based on the average setback of existing buildings on the block in neighborhoods built before 1974.
  4. Decreased setbacks for BPL (planned business) districts. These changes are in §2.21.7 to §2.21.9. This drops the front, side, and rear yard requirements to ten feet. The old code required a 40 foot yard in the front and a 20 foot yard in the side and rear.
  5. Eliminated minimum lot size for BPL (planned business) districts. This change is in §2.21.5. The old code mandated a minimum of four acres. The revised code specifically declines to set a limit, though it says the minimum will “generally” be four acres or larger.
  6. Parking requirements for mixed use. These changes are in §4.7.4(J). This clarifies language in the existing code allowing parking requirements to be reduced in mixed use developments where the proposed users will not need the parking area at the same time. This shared parking provision reduces the space required for parking in a mixed use development.

The Bad

  1. Business Lawns. Not only does the new code retain the noxious and wasteful “business lawns” that I have criticized before, it actually increases their depth in the PA (Professional Administrative) districts from 8 feet to 10 feet. While the lawn requirements are reduced for a BPL districts, I’d like to see them eliminated entirely and replaced with an impact fee that would go into a fund controlled by the city and dedicated to the purchase of contiguous land for parks and usable green space development. Tasteful landscaping does not require wasteful use of land.
  2. Buffer Yards. This change is in §4.1.8, and begins with the following: “Buffers shall be required for all new development and redevelopment in Carbondale.” This is a step in precisely the wrong direction. Buffers are designed to separate hostile forces (0r, in this case, uses) from one other. We should be trying to integrate diverse uses into fully functioning neighborhoods. Buffers are an obstacle to that. I could burn through thousands of words heaping scorn on buffer yards, but instead I’ll link to a comment from a previous post explaining my thoughts on buffer yards. This is almost a deal breaker for me.
  3. Parking requirements for libraries and schools. These are in §4.7.4 (I). The required parking for libraries is doubled in the new code. The required parking for schools is also increased, which would make it nearly impossible to return to neighborhood schools should the school districts wish to do so.

Things That Should Have Been Included

  1. Duplexes and “granny flats” in R-1 districts. There is no reason to have an R-1-5-D district. Duplexes and “granny flats” (secondary residential uses, generally in converted garages in backyards) should be allowed by right in all R1 districts. They could still be subject to R1 occupancy rules (one family and no more than one non-related person). If people are afraid that an irresponsible landlord would use this as a way to break blocks, duplexes and “granny flats” could be permitted only on an owner occupied lot. One way to do this would be to allow no more than one rental on a lot in an R1 district. That would allow a homeowner to rent one unit but would prohibit a landlord from renting two units. This is a common sense change.
  2. The changes permitting greater freedom in neighborhoods built before zoning in 1974 are nice, but they should go much farther. I’ve written about this before (see this link), but I will write about it again here. I suggest creating a new district. Call it a TND, for Traditional Neighborhood District, and apply it to the parts of town built before zoning. Allow the small or nonexistent front and side setbacks, rear access parking, secondary dwelling units, and neighborhood businesses that used to be a part of the fabric of American neighborhoods until misguided zoning outlawed them. Allow new developments to choose to be zoned according to the existing code or to be zoned as Traditional Neighborhood Districts. This would have the advantage of addressing some of the issues council member Jane Adams brings up in her blog post on proposed zoning rewrite.
  3. Sometimes people get upset about what they see as “spot zoning.” But if you want to get some of the benefits of a form based code without giving up your use based code, then small districts are the way to go. I’d like to see it specified that a district can be as small as one side of one block – say, for example, all the lots facing Willow Street, or Oakland, might be zoned one way, while neighboring lots are zoned another way. Small districts allow regulation of use while allowing varied uses in proximity to one another.
  4. Related to number 3, I’d like to see the zoning code zone building standing before 1974 in ways that allow them to be used for something approaching what they were designed for. A prime example is the sometimes controversial Oakland Auto Shop. The building, built before zoning as a Coca-Cola warehouse, is currently zoned R1. That is a joke. That building is not appropriate as a single family home. It, and every other commercial or institutional building standing before zoning, even those in primarily residential districts, should be rezoned to allow uses appropriate for the building. That may not be an auto shop, but in the case of the building at on the southeast corner of Oakland and Sycamore, and in several other cases, it is surely some commercial use.


  1. I approve of the design standards I mentioned in “The Good” item 1. But I do have one nitpick. The BPR district requires a minimum height of 2 stories. I’d prefer to base minimum and maximum heights on the width of the public right of way plus the required setback. A wider right of way with a deeper setback would require a higher height minimum. A narrower right of way with a shallow setback would require a lower height minimum.
  2. In “The Good,” item 2, I praise the reduction in side setbacks. Yes, five feet is better than eight, but I’d prefer to reduce them even more. A side setback of three feet, no matter how wide the lot, would be fine, provided that provisions are made to prevent fire hazards. If you are willing to use masonry construction instead of wood, then a three foot setback is plenty.
  3. The new code requires the longest dimension of a home to be parallel to the street (§2.11.6). Has anyone from the consultancy hired to write the code visited Carbondale? Our beloved bungalows almost never have the longest dimension facing the street. Fortunately, this change only requires the longest side to “generally” face the street. It is still a silly regulation that should be struck from the code.

It is worth remembering that the summary document is known to be incomplete. The other changes in the code may be good or bad. We should not accept this code as-is unless it is understood to be a work in progress that will be amended in the coming months. A better solution would be to make changes to the code before it is passed. Improve it now and it will require fewer amendments later.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

Carbondale Observer on Indefinite Hiatus

with one comment

I welcomed a new member to my family a few days ago and I’m taking time away from the blog to enjoy the new baby. I’m not sure how much time I’ll take off, but I imagine I”ll be back in a few weeks. Until then, start researching the candidates for next year’s council election. Their names are here

Written by The Carbondale Observer

November 28, 2012 at 7:45 am

Posted in Housekeeping Posts

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