FAIRBORN — Paul Culter, senior committee planner at Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., was on hand at the Sept. 11 Fairborn City Council work session to discuss the progress that has been made on the City of Fairborn Zoning Code rewrite.
City officials contracted the engineering consultants in November 2016 to work closely with a steering committee comprised of city staff from the planning, engineering and economic development department and representatives from the Fairborn Planning Division, the Fairborn Board of Zoning Appeals, and the public and private sectors. The committee held one open house at the beginning of the project to introduce the process and review proposed uses and districts and conducted eight meetings to gather information and provide feedback on modules of the zoning code.
According to Culter, the primary goal of the zoning code update is to provide a user-friendly document by streamlining the existing regulations. This involved wading through 300 pages of text in order to discard a lot of redundancy and inconsistencies in the zoning code.
There were ongoing issues that needed to be corrected with respect to standards, regulations, processes and procedures. A number of cross-references were also eliminated to lessen the need for users to flip back and forth between codes or chapters when developing, redeveloping or making improvements to their properties.
The zoning code was brought up to date to comply with state and federal laws and align with the 2016 Fairborn Comprehensive Plan. A technical review memorandum that identified the strengths and weaknesses of the existing zoning code was developed and presented to the steering committee and city officials.
“What we found through our technical review was that the existing code hinders the policies and procedures of what was recommended in the comprehensive plan,” Cutler said. “In order to further that comprehensive plan, we had to update the zoning regulations to bring them into compliance.”
The committee also discovered that the terminology throughout the code was inconsistent at times. For example, the zoning administrator was also referred to as the zoning enforcement officer, zoning official and zoning inspector. Regulations, which were previously scattered throughout the code, were consolidated into logical chapters and sections, which reduced cross-referencing and conflicts in requirements. Specific regulations were changed which brought more properties into compliance and eliminated certain variances where it made sense.
City districts were reformatted to meet the intent and policies of the comprehensive plan. Tables and graphics were also implemented to make the document easier to interpret. The committee established simple design guidelines for the downtown commercial district by applying the best design standards currently being used that would build a sense of place and common character.
Culter said use lists were simplified which will allow the zoning code to remain relevant longer and to be more flexible in its application. This included eliminating more than 35 different types of retail and incorporating a “retail sales and service” term.
“We consolidated a lot of those retail uses and service uses into some very generic terms,” Culter said. “For example, you would have retail sales and service less than 5,000 square feet, retail sales and service between 5,000 and 49,000 square feet and retail sales and services larger than that. That pretty much covers the types of sales and services expected in the city.”
The steering committee also consolidated the planned unit development chapter by eliminating specific types of planned unit developments such as residential, commercial, industrial and mixed used, and using one process and procedure. Culter pointed out that any planned unit development goes through a multi-stage process which eliminates the need to mirror four times the type of planned unit development that is in place.
New supplemental and accessory regulations were incorporated into the zoning code, which will provide better standards and control of specific uses, including standards for solar panels, food trucks, community gardens and outdoor storage.
Parking and loading standards were also revised to reflect better, required space minimums. Culter stated that the existing zoning code follows the same examples of many codes that were written in the 60s and 70s which required too much parking and left city parking lots half-full.
The committee modified current sign regulations and standards, regulating the size, placement and structural type rather than the content of the message or who posted it. Culter said this content-neutral approach was done in light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Reed vs. the Town of Gilbert.
The administration, process and procedure chapter was updated to ensure that the appropriate boards and commissions are hearing the correct items in the zoning code. The steering committee also consolidated definitions throughout the code into one chapter and restructured them to reflect current federal law.
“It is a very clean document now and should be easy to follow,” Culter said
Fairborn City Manager Rob Anderson said he thought the drafted zoning code rewrite was very well done.
“We are making it as easy as possible to do business with the City of Fairborn so when we have our online tools, it will be a seamless process,” Anderson said.
The steering committee will be gathering feedback on the completed draft at a second open house. It will be held from 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26 at the Fairborn Senior Center, 325 N. Third Street. The completed draft will then be presented to the Fairborn Planning Board at a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 10 before presented to city council for approval.
Linda Collins is a freelance writer for Greene County News.