Planners, council review La Plata zoning code updates
Restructuring the zoning code has been a very long process for the Town of La Plata’s Planning Commission members, saying they have made efforts to make the code easy to read and well-structured.
After recently finishing several sessions of legal review for the zoning code, the planning staff provided the proposed Comprehensive Zoning Code draft to the Planning Commission and La Plata Town Council at the first of many joint work sessions, which began on April 4. The joint work sessions allow the commission members and council members to review the draft as a whole and identify changes or concerns.
Senior Planner Jeanine Harrington said the planning department wants to provide a code that is clear, approachable and easy to use.
“We also want things to look better and look more cohesive in the town,” Harrington said.
“We decided that maybe we were boxing ourselves in too much and we are trying to progress in a way that I think everyone wants to see,” said Debra Posey, planning commission chair woman. “A lot of the [Zoning Code] was old and there was a lot of cross referencing that we found was in error because changes hadn’t been made over time and the cross references hadn’t been checked. We came across inconsistencies as well. We did an overwrite to remove and replace rather than try to piece together different sections.”
Councilman Keith Back said definitions such as “urban” and “town homes” were changed in the zoning code in previous years but the references for designated zones didn’t always match up. He also said the additional charts make the code easier to understand, very comprehensive and are located in one central place for others to see.
Planning Director Jeremy Hurlbutt said there have been incremental changes and updates to the zoning code in recent decades but the majority of it has not been comprehensively updated since its adoption.
“This will be the first of a number of work sessions to go over the comprehensive zoning code update that started in 2010 shortly after the comprehensive plan was adopted in 2009. When we took over the process, we laid out a timeline and essentially this was taking planning commission’s direction in trying to implement the changes,” Hurlbutt said.
Hurlbutt said that staff also plans to send notices to developers and property owners that are affected by the zoning code changes to keep them informed and then receive their feedback as well.
The staff updated the zoning code’s purpose and intent, deleted outdated definitions, added new definitions, and removed unnecessary or inefficient procedures and standards. Major updates also include improvements made to the zoning code’s structure, referencing, illustration of key concepts, outline submittal requirements, clarification of procedures and roles, while also consolidating may also need to wait a little bit as the town transitions into using the new zoning code,” said Councilman Lynn Gilroy.
Councilman Joseph Norris said this might not be the right time to have these joint meetings since there will be a new town council soon.
“We know there will be a different council in May and I was under the impression that the candidates would be invited to this joint work session,” Norris said. “We know some of them are going to be sitting on this council, at least one new council member, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do this at this time, before the election.”
Councilman Wayne Winkler agreed.
“We probably dropped the ball in terms of making a formal request to all of the candidates,” Hurlbutt said. “We were ready for this discussion months ago and we held off thinking that if we did an overview to get the process started, then the candidates could be a part of it.”
Posey said the commission members wanted to keep the zoning code’s update process flowing and not stagnate.
“If we have to readdress it with a new council, then we will, but in the interim we would still like to keep it moving forward,” Posey said. “Input from the council is much appreciated and will be taken seriously. It’s an election and you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, so my theory is we still need to be in business. A new council may bring in another perspective but it will keep on moving.”
“We have been on the council for a long time so we can provide input that the new council members may not be able to provide because they are new and may not have the background or experience or a desire to speak up about it,” Hale said. “I think we can do it. I think it’s right for us to be here even if we’re not going to be around next month. We can at least give the benefit of our experience.”
Joint work sessions with the planning commission and town council to further discuss the zoning code updates will continue until August.