CIRCLEVILLE — Circleville City Council met with a member from the planning organization who is drafting a new zoning code for the city.

David Crawford, president of Circleville City Council, kicked off the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, stating that the new zoning code is one of the main initiatives of council.

“It’s been talked about for a couple of years and city council finally used railroad money from its own account to move this project forward,” Crawford said.

“This is probably one of the highest levels of concern citizens have and one of the main reasons council members get calls, from people who are concerned for nuisances, buildings that are obstructed and other things of that nature. Hopefully, this will clean up some problems in the past.”

Crawford said they wouldn’t take any public comment but did invite council members who would appear on the ballot in November to ask questions since they would ultimately vote on the matter next year. The proposed code is available in its entirety on the city’s website at https://ci.circleville.oh.us/171/City-Council under the quick links’ section.

Public comment is to take place during a meeting on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. in council chambers. Anyone wishing to speak is going to be given five minutes and anyone can submit comments and concerns in written form above and beyond their time.

“We’ve scheduled that meeting to hear nothing but public comments,” Crawford said.

Holly Mattei, owner and president of Crossroads Community Planning, walked council through a couple of the big talking points, took in feedback and shared some next steps. The code was last overhauled in 2015 and was updated to include the board of zoning appeals in 2020. The current proposed document is about 114 pages.

“We’ve been working on this for the last several months and since that time, I’ve conducted stakeholder meetings with several stakeholders throughout the community and I’ve created a first draft, which was reviewed by a stakeholder committee of Jim Stanley, Terry Frazier, [Mayor Don McIlroy,] and [Council Member Katie Logan-Hedges,] and Dick [Liston] from the planning and zoning commission.”

Mattei said her goals for the meeting were to get in front of council to make sure that their concerns are met.

“I hope that you understand that this is a draft and we’re here to make revisions to it to get it to the point that you all are comfortable with it,” she said.

Mattei brought up two large issues for the city, signage and food trucks/trailers, fielding several questions on each topic. Mattei said she wrote the zoning code to meet the standards that are currently in place and to address the variances approved for businesses over the last several months.

“Currently, your code limits signs to 100 square feet per property and that’s one of the things we’re seeing almost during every BZA meeting,” she said.

“I’ve gone through and designed the different types of designs allowed in the different districts and increased those maximum square footages to reflect what the BZA has been approving in the variance cases.”

Mattei said one of the reasons for doing so was also to limit the number of requested variances and making the process for businesses easier — by allowing up to 500 square feet in commercial space.

“It’s in line with what the BZA has been approving and it’s going to limit the number of trips to the BZA, which has been a huge concern of developers and business owners,” she said.

Mattei said the 500 square feet of signage in general business is on the high side compared to other communities she has experience with, but if that’s what Circleville will accept, it’s fine to do so. The historic downtown district allows for less square footage of signage.

Mattei cited Del Taco and their recent request for 700 square feet as an example of this.

“We see a lot of people who are requesting a lot more than the 500,” she said. “They now know upfront that they’re only allowed 100 and if they know they can get 500, they’ll just stick to that so they don’t have to go to the BZA. The difference between 100 and 500 or 700 is such a huge difference that they want to go to the BZA to get it changed. Five hundred square feet is a medium, sweet point.”

The other section that was discussed for the bulk of the meeting was some of the wording on food trucks. Mattei gave the definition of food trucks and trailers

“The way that we’ve done food trucks is that we’ve separated into the category of food truck and food trailer,” she said. “

As part of the regulations the zoning code outlines, various regulations include time of operations, requirement them to be on a paved surface, prohibition of the sale of alcohol and requirement to not obstruct foot or vehicle traffic. They would be allowed for 180 days with an extension of up to another 180 days.

“This just addresses food trucks that are on private property and the city is also going to work on a right-of-way permit so that any food truck that wants to go within the right of way has to get a permit,” she said. “That will be something that is separate from the zoning code.”

Barry Keller, council member, said there were good and bad examples of food trucks and trailers and Mattei asked for those examples in order to look at them as a way to improve the code.

Under the enforcement section, Mattei said they were trying to create more incentive for people to follow the code.

“We’re trying to create more of a disincentive of violating the code with enforcement,” she said. “We’re going to have increasing fees as people continue to violate and that is a section that is under review by legal council to make sure we don’t violate anything.”

Mattei, taking a question about the fee structure, said that’s something they’d look at toward the end of the process.

“We want to make sure that it’s a fair price for both the applicant and the community,” she said.

There was also discussion about combining the planning commission and the historic district review board and keeping both separate from the Board of Zoning Appeals. That was left unchanged and was something council suggested other input on.

“The planning commission would take on its planning commission role and add the historic review board role and the BZA would still exist,” Mattei said. “BZA would exist for variances and appeals and the actual development would go through the planning commission.”

Keller said there has been a lot of activity going through the BZA and planning and zoning is not as active.

“I don’t think that’s what we wanted to have happen, but that’s what’s happened,” he said.

Mattei responded,”That’s why we’re trying to shift it back to the planning commission because they are typically a body that understands the land uses and how it develops. BZA focuses on the interpretation of the code, variances and appeals and those sorts of things.”

Mattei’s plan is to now go to the zoning commission and she will create another draft after to include some of their thoughts to those of city council before a final decision is made. There will be additional drafts after that. The measure would require support from a majority of city council to pass.

“I think we should continue to have these committee of the whole meetings; this has been very helpful to me,” Mattei said after being asked how council could stay involved and up to date on the process.

“I was just getting a snippet of what the community wanted and this has given me a broader perspective. If we can meet every time a draft is done and you guys give me feedback, I think that would be very helpful.”

Crawford suggested they have a combined meeting with planning and zoning as well to discuss the matter.

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