MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 10, 2013

Zoning questions hinder code review

Sticking point deals with exemptions in commercial districts

— Planning commissioners plowed through three articles of proposed regulations that would bring sweeping changes to the city’s zoning code, but questions about redistricting slowed the review process.

Commissioners were scheduled to take up six articles that deal with zoning districts, which would be reduced from 23 to 14. They got through three — an overview of the proposed consolidation and proposed changes to agricultural and residential districts — and part of a fourth.

Questions about the various uses that would be permitted as a right or by special use within the three proposed commercial districts brought the recent meeting to a halt. The commissioners’ primary concern centered on how to distinguish authorized uses when it comes time to rezone commercial districts.

Planning Director Gary Garvin said current zoning codes are stacked in a way that authorize uses that are less restrictive within more restrictive districts. The proposed regulations would dispense with that approach by severing that connection. For example, residential uses within a commercial district would be prohibited.

Shawn Raper, the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, questioned how that would affect owners who use property in a way that would be restricted within the proposed new districts. Garvin said the use would be allowed to continue as nonconforming until the property is no longer being used for the existing purpose.

“Before, the districts were built upon one another,” he said. “We are trying to cut that connection.”

How to accomplish that, however, prompted questions about how to designate new districts in conformance with the future land use map. Garvin recommended establishing written guidelines. But without clear guidance, Raper terminated the review until the next meeting March 18.

Planning commissioners did discuss and sign off on some of the recommendations presented. The most significant proposal included increasing the lot size for the agricultural district from one to 10 acres and provisions for keeping animals in agricultural residential districts.

Another significant proposal would provide some flexibility in the setback provisions — the distance between a house and the street — for new construction within established residential neighborhoods. Raper said that although setback dimensions would be defined, that could vary where the observed average setback is smaller or greater than the code allows.

Other recommended proposals accepted by the planning commissioners included increased restrictions for the placement of mobile and manufactured homes and larger daycare centers that serve eight or more children.

The overhaul of the city’s zoning code is the final step in what has been a three-year process to develop a map toward Muskogee’s future. Garvin said the comprehensive plan and future land use map establish goals and objectives, and zoning regulations provide the means to meet the established criteria.

Garvin planned to complete the initial review and revision process by mid-April before opening it for public comment, but the schedule could be delayed because of the substantive nature of the discussions. Once the final details are hammered out after the public comment period, commissioners will send their recommendations to the City Council for further consideration and approval.

Planning commissioners will continue the review process when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday in the City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Municipal Building.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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