CIRCLEVILLE — Circleville City Council heard from members of the public and the consultant on the newest proposed draft-zoning ordinance as the city works to update and revamp the code.

David Crawford, city council president, outlined the purpose of this most recent meeting was to hear from the public on the code, which he called “woefully old,” since they did not have time at their previous meeting two weeks prior.

The meeting started with Holly Mattei, the consultant who is writing the document, reading the executive summary, which is available on the city’s website. The document is currently on its second draft.

“I have not created a draft three yet because I want to hear all the input and comments from both council and from the public before I put together draft three,” Mattei said.

Mattei outlined some of the changes between the current code and the most recent draft, which include changing and combining some zoning designations, different development standards like signage, landscaping and food trucks. Most of those topics were discussed at the previous meeting two weeks prior.

Crawford asked Mattei about what changes she thought would bring the most quality of life improvements.

“I think the updated landscaping requirements will improve the community and increasing the signage code will help reduce the [burden] on the Board of Zoning Appeals and it has an aesthetic to it that will increase quality of life,” she said.

“There are requirements in there for multi-use paths to help with connectivity and all of those things contribute to the quality of life, which are big in attracting economic development.”

Following Mattei’s outline, Tom Spring made some comments, including suggesting that they take out advertising and host events to get more interest from the public.

“Re-writing the zoning code is a huge, huge thing and it’s got to benefit the city,” he said.

Spring said he hopes that as people move forward, they understand the big picture and why they have the regulations.

“If we don’t understand that, it will be hard to explain it to people and I would suggest that council have a retreat and have a zoning inspection and a planner to explain how zoning and planning works,” he said.

“The more you folks are educated, the greater and more benefit that will have and a more-informed decision that you’ll be making.”

Spring asked about planning since the duties of planning were taken away from the planning and zoning commission.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail and that’s especially true when it comes to building environment and land use,” he said.

Spring shared some of the things he liked about the plan, including a ban on off-street parking in front of buildings, the inclusion of offices inside historic family residential homes, which is allowed under the current zoning code, and landscaping ideas.

John Ankrom, a former service director for the city who is currently working as an architect, offered a few suggestions, including adding square footage designators for houses over 400 square feet, modifying the increased acreage requirement on planned unit development to allow for it to be waved where it makes sense, increasing expansion limits of non-conforming use properties from 125 percent back to 150 percent, and requirements to pave lots instead of gravel lots.

Mattei took some of Ankrom’s suggestions, including the suggestion to allow the option to waive the acreage requirement for planned development as needed.

Jeff Carruthers spoke and said he compared the proposed zoning code to other cities and looked at their best practices. He provided some ideas on how to handle food trucks and said he found some conflicts in duties and responsibilities in the code and submitted them to the consultant for updating.

“I’m not advocating doing one or the other; these are just the facts because this is an a la carte menu and this is what you’re elected to do,” he said.

Carruthers said he spoke with a representative from Englefield Oil who was in town and asked what that representative thought about the process of going through the approval process.

One such thing he learned was that in Granville, they have a difference between a public hearing and an open hearing and there is a difference between the two.

“In a public hearing, it’s people who have facts or standing,” he said. “The BZA only deals in facts and makes decisions based on facts. I thought the conversation with [the representative] was great. We need to keep all that in mind in the future, how we have to operate if we go that route again.”

Carruthers also said there was one thing that solved a number of the issues with the zoning code “all at once.”

“Do they have a zoning permit and if they have no permit, they’re operating that property unlawfully and action can be taken against them,” he said.

“You don’t have to deal with food trucks, concession stands, unlawful parking lots or car sales places. All you have to do is ask the zoning inspector to look at all the vacant lots and see if they have a permit and if they don’t warn them, cite them or do what you have to do, but don’t ignore them.”

On the topic of enforcement, Carruthers said the progressive fine system went against what he found in every other city he looked at.

“That is one thing that I will offer an opinion on,” he said. “I think that’s too lenient and it’s too many challenges and for enforcement; that’s too much tracking.”

Following the committee of the whole meeting, Circleville Mayor Don McIlroy asked those who spoke during the committee of the whole meeting to come by his office to discuss the matter further.

“I heard a lot of things addressing our code and I heard a lot of things from our citizens,” he said. “I agree with almost everything I heard and I’d love to have more communication with you coming into my office to meet with my staff about it. I think it’s very, very important. I think we’re in closer agreement than a lot of you think.”

Crawford also made a statement during the council meeting about the number of people who came to the meeting.

“I think we’d have liked to have seen even more people here this evening to talk about these changes to the zoning code,” he said.

“This isn’t something that just affects the two or three people that spoke, but our entire community. I can just about guarantee next year with Mr. Keller sitting here, he’s going to have people complain about it because they didn’t know about the efforts to change the zoning code.”

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