By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green’s zoning code update aims to make the community more livable for residents and businesses. The plan was presented to city officials on Wednesday evening and is now open for public comment.
Among the objectives of the zoning update are:
- Simplify and modernize code.
- Remove barriers to new businesses.
- Create a pedestrian urban center.
- Increase housing options.
- Establish a bridge between BGSU and the city center.
- Create a local identity.
- Maintain neighborhoods.
- Increase health and fitness opportunities.
But to achieve these goals, the city will have to address some controversial issues. For example, the new zoning code includes “commercial district” and “pedestrian residential” zoning, both of which allow certain businesses to coexist with dwellings.
For example, a microbrewery would be allowed in the neighborhood commercial zoning. The definition of microbrewery is an establishment where alcoholic beverages are made, possibly including a bar or restaurant.
Nolan Nicaise, urban and environmental planner at ZoneCo, the company hired by the city to work on updating the zoning code, used this example because of “a lot of press attention” recently given to the microbrewery. Arlyn’s Good Beer on Hankey Street in a residential area.
The proposed zoning code update would allow outdoor entertainment as a prop at the brewery, as long as it’s not amplified by speakers, amplifiers or microphones, Nicaise said.
Another controversial change is the inclusion of zoning for secondary suites on residential lots with another principal dwelling.
Planning Commission Chairman Bob McOmber asked if the zoning code update should include these potentially contentious categories. Nicaise said neither category is mandatory — but officials could consider how else the city can meet zoning goals for the community.
Nicaise suggested that rather than not allowing a zoning classification such as neighborhood commerce, that the city try to minimize negative impacts. He also mentioned that some residents may find a bagel shop as boring as a bar.
Here are some other proposed changes for the update:
- The number of parking spaces would not be regulated in most cases. This would reduce government regulation and allow property owners to choose the appropriate parking spaces for customers and tenants.
- Bicycle parking would be required wherever there are 20 or more vehicle parking spaces.
- Fence height would be limited to 4 feet in front yards and 6 feet in side and rear yards in most cases. Fences would be required for swimming pools, spas and retention ponds.
- Vegetated buffers would be required to isolate incompatible property uses.
- Outdoor lighting regulations would aim to reduce the nuisance of glare at night.
- Panels would be regulated by number, types, area per panel and total panel area.
As for properties that do not conform to the proposed zoning code, they will be allowed to continue as long as they are legal. A zoning certificate must be requested for all non-conforming uses within three years of the adoption of the new code.
Nicaise stressed that updating the zoning code must be flexible – because it is impossible to know the needs of future zoning.
“There are robots roaming the sidewalks of Bowling Green. Ten years ago that would have been absurd,” he said.
Nicaise also noted that many community zoning codes still relate to businesses such as tanneries. “I don’t see many tanners anymore,” he says.
McOmber emphasized the importance of the 122-page zoning update to fellow planning commission members.
“That’s probably going to be the most important thing any of us do on the planning commission,” he said.
McOmber said he would like to provide ample opportunities for the public to submit comments online or in person at planning commission meetings.
“I’m very interested in giving the public every opportunity to comment,” he said.
Here is the timeline for the update process:
- Until July 1, public comments can be submitted to the online portal at https://bgohio.org/636/Zoning-Code-Update.
- On July 6, the planning commission will allow public comments, hold a working session to respond to public comments online, and suggest changes to the update.
- On August 3, the planning commission will review the changes and schedule a public hearing.
- On September 7, the planning commission will hold a public hearing on the zoning code and map, and make a recommendation to city council.
- During the month of October, council will hold the first reading of the proposed zoning code and map and schedule a public hearing.
- During the month of November, the council will hold a public hearing and vote on the adoption of the code and the zoning map.