Since the 2030 Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2009, 38 percent of rezoning applications approved were inconsistent with its guidelines.
The Planning Commission conducts the initial review of rezoning applications before making a recommendation to City Council for a decision.
As of Dec. 19, 45 rezoning applications were submitted to the city in 2010 and 2011.Twenty-six were approved. Of those, 10 were considered inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map. Two inconsistent cases were denied during the same period and there are two inconsistent cases pending.
Some might wonder why any cases inconsistent with the plan are approved at all. But Planning Commission Chair Marvin Butler said there is nothing black and white about rezoning.
While the Comprehensive Plan gives residents some predictability as to what the future holds for their neighborhoods, there still needs to be some flexibility. The Planning Commission will decide if an inconsistent case is in the public interest. If it complements the surrounding properties and if the community would benefit from a particular project, then it could be approved.
Neighborhoods and plans change over time, which is why there may be exceptions, he said.
But in a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, one might also expect these inconsistent approvals to slowly impact the look of a neighborhood.
Deputy Planning Director Ken Bowers said all rezonings potentially impact the look and feel of an area.
“It is the role of staff, the planning commission, and the council ensure that those impacts are not adverse,” he said.
Sometimes approvals of inconsistent re-zoning lead to a change in the future land use map.
Last year, there were two changes made as a result of inconsistent cases.
The first was Z-21-10, which was the master plan for a large-scale development at Interstate 540 and US 401. The area was rezoned to Residential – 6 (six units per acre) and some Residential – 10 (10 units per acre). Prior to that, much of the area was zoned Industrial.
The amendment was also partially due to a city-initiated rezoning of the neighborhood.
Bowers said it is in the applicant’s best interest to find an area that is consistent with the proposed use, but that isn’t always the possible.
If a proposal doesn’t adhere to the Comprehensive Plan, a property owner can obtain approval by making some changes, he said.
That’s called conditional use rezoning, which is when the applicant agrees to various restrictions in order to make the rezoning as compliant as possible.
For example, if a business owner wants to open a candy store on a corner lot of a residential district, and the community is in favor of it, the owner would apply for a Neighborhood Business Conditional Use rezoning. The same person could apply for Neighborhood Business Conditional Use to build a gas station.
“If your case is consistent there’s a lower bar for approval,” Bowers said. “So, we find that when a case is inconsistent the applicant has to work a lot harder and put forth a lot more conditions to overcome the negative aspect of the plan.”
An application for a multifamily residential project at the corner of Clark Avenue and Oberlin roads is an example of this. Z-8-11 was given the go-ahead despite being inconsistent with the comp plan because of its density. Bowers said that the developer worked very closely with the neighborhood and provided a series of conditions that would allow it to be a good fit for the neighborhood and a quality project.
On the other hand, application Z-2-11 would have expanded a rock quarry on Duraleigh Road, which was strongly opposed by the community. Despite concessions made by the property owner, the inconsistent application was denied.
City Councilor Russ Stephenson said the city doesn’t have the time, money or foresight to be able to implement a perfect Comprehensive Plan that would correctly predict development trends for the next 30 years. Instead, the city must do the best they can do when making these decisions, he said.
Stephenson favors implementing a weighting system to make certain requirements higher priority than others so developers know where to focus their efforts.
The UDO’s Effect On Rezoning
Once the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is adopted, it will take effect in phases. Some districts in both the current code and in the UDO, such as Residential-6, will immediately follow the new guidelines.
But there are districts in the current code that are not in the UDO, such as Shopping Center. These districts will be considered legacy districts and will continue to function as they have been until they can be remapped. During that time, property owners can petition the city for a rezoning or they can wait for the city to do it.
“We’re having people coming in for rezoning now and sometimes what they’re trying to do would be easier to do under the UDO,” Bowers said.
Since the mapping process is about a year and a half out, it’s possible that there could be an increase in rezoning applications once the UDO is approved.