Zoning ordinance rewrite could be rejected by Danville
Published 11:23 pm Thursday, October 3, 2019
By BOBBIE CURD and BEN KLEPPINGER
A proposed amendment to the Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning ordinance made it through three months of public hearings earlier this year with little to no opposition. But when P&Z Director Steve Hunter reviewed the proposed ordinance amendment as recommended by the P&Z Commission to the Danville City Commission Wednesday, he ran into some new opposition to the plan — in the form of a staff report that questioned the need for the amendment and whether the process of developing the amendment had been handled properly.
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Plans to revise and update the zoning ordinance have been in the works for over a year, and a less significant “phase one” revision has already been passed all governments easily. But Hunter was surprised to learn just before Wednesday’s meeting began that the city had concerns about phase two of the ordinance amendment, which were contained in the staff report. Hunter was not given the staff report during the meeting. He received it via email later in the day Wednesday.
The second phase of the ordinance rewrite was approved by the P&Z Commission on Aug. 28, and forwarded on to the city in early September as a recommendation to adopt. Danville’s special called meeting was held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, just before another special called meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Hunter did not get through all the changes in the 110-page proposed ordinance, and the city agreed to have a second workshop over the ordinance Oct. 14, prior to its regular meeting.
The staff report had not been reviewed yet by city commissioners, nor was it discussed Wednesday because officials ran out of time. But the report asks numerous questions that are critical of how P&Z developed the ordinance and amendment, as well as what impacts the amendment could have.
“Honestly, it’s premature to say what our concerns are because the city commission hasn’t reviewed the staff report yet,” City Manager Ron Scott said Thursday. He said the staff report posed policy questions and concerns that “city staff has articulated to the commission, and they have yet to discuss or really get into providing any sort of response to those.”
The report says city staff has concerns about earlier process changes that have already been adopted, and recent suggested changes to the rest of the ordinance.
One issue noted by the report is that the new ordinance would no longer require site development plans for commercial developments involving 10,000 square feet or less.
Scott claimed under those guidelines, “only the P&Z administrative staff/director” would have reviewed development plans for places like Five Star (gas station), Applebee’s, Farmers Bank, Cattleman’s “and many other sites along the bypass.”
Scott said Danville is “an involved community that participates and likes to be involved in those decisions. To remove many of these review processes from a public meeting to an administrative decision made behind closed doors seems less transparent.”
However, the city commission unanimously voted to enact those new policies during the phase I rollout of the rewritten ordinance.
Hunter said Thursday, “Every commercial project gets an administrative review — it’s called a zoning permit.” In accordance with the Comprehensive Plan, Hunter set out to streamline procedures — and fees — that were duplicated. “Before, they had to go through two processes, pay two fees and go through two views — one with the planning commission and one with the staff … We just eliminated one of those reviews.”
Reductions in setback requirements are also concerning, Scott said.
He said the proposed changes are consistent with “smart growth” principles, but the P&Z Board of Adjustments can meet and grant those variations as needed.
Scott also said P&Z should be following the local comprehensive plan.
“Our zoning ordinance should be consistent in philosophy and approach” and some of the proposals “seem to be not consistent with those concepts,” he said.
Protecting the community’s character
While the ordinance may need some streamlining and clarification, Scott said, it’s also important to protect the character of the community.
“The amendment is 100% in compliance with the comprehensive plan, especially land-use goals and objectives,” Hunter said. “We would’ve never proposed an amendment with the zoning ordinance without first reviewing the comprehensive plan and objectives … I would say that’s a judgment call; our attorney seems to think (it followed the plan) as well as the planning commission,” which approved the proposed ordinance by a 9-0 vote.
Scott said the rewrite seems to be “moving to one extreme at the cost of some of our standard goals and objectives.” Scott said while the complaint is often made that “it’s hard to develop in Danville, our standards are far less stringent on a developer than Lexington or other communities … Our current processes do work, so we need to ask why are we changing and maybe changing a bit radically.”
Hunter said he disagrees with that. “The staff’s proposal was to streamline the book … eliminate duplication and to make the development process in Danville and Boyle County fair for property owners.”
Scott added he was not trying to be negative with his comments.
“I think we have a lot of coordination yet to occur,” he said. “(P&Z has) been at work on these topics for a year or more, a year and a half. The city commission or I have not been engaged in these discussions in that period of time. This is the city’s zoning ordinance, and the commission can determine what’s important to the city.”
Hunter said a copy of the phase II changes was passed out during a meeting in April that city staff were present for.
Scott said the city has less than 60 days left to let the ordinance become effective, reject it or amend it.
“It should be rejected, and we should have further discussions,” he said.
Scott was asked what happens if Boyle Fiscal Court passes the ordinance and Danville doesn’t.
“The county can’t put in standards for the city, and the city can’t for the county. If we can’t agree on a common standard, we’ll have multiple standards,” he said.
Hunter told Boyle County Fiscal Court members Thursday that the P&Z Commission had held three months’ worth of public hearings and received “very little pushback” on the proposal. “But the city yesterday threw me a curveball to some degree,” Hunter told Boyle County magistrates.
“It turns out they didn’t identify really one issue in the 110 pages,” Hunter said. “… it was more a philosophical discussion of the role of planning and zoning.”
Hunter said the concerns he gathered from the document related to the proper role for the P&Z Commission and who should be responsible for spearheading changes to the zoning ordinance.
“At the end of the day, it kind of read like, ‘We kind of like the old way planning and zoning operated; why do we need to change anything?'” Hunter said. “When I was all done reading it, I just thought, ‘Well, you know what? It’s their ordinance.’ And that was my reply to the city manager — ‘Mr. Scott, this is your ordinance. You guys can reject it, approve it or change it.'”
But Hunter told magistrates it could create problems for the community if Boyle County passes a new ordinance and Danville doesn’t, or opts for a substantially different ordinance.
“Where does that leave us as a community? … I’m not even sure our online map would work,” he said, explaining different areas of the county would wind up with different names for zones and different definitions. “It would make it more confusing. I really need to gauge what’s happening with the city … My goal is that somehow we can figure out how to keep this thing meshed and moving forward, but it may not be possible.”