Thoughts on Zoning Hierarchy

So, in the past few months, the Culver Plan Commission has rezoned several properties in what they would have considered spot zoning in the past. Two of these were on the main commercial corridors of Main Street and Lake Shore Drive. The first was at 303 North Main Street. This as the former Easterday Dental Office. The Plan Commission rezoned the property from C-2 to R-1 allowing the former residence turned dental office addition returned to residence to receive a permit for remodeling. The second was at 114 Lake Shore Drive. This was a older house used as a triplex. The Plan Commission rezoned the property from R-1 to R-2 allowing the current use to be legal. (They also rezoned 217 South Ohio Street and 810 South Main Street from R-1 to R-2.) I don’t particularly have an issue with any of these uses, but I think they could have been handled better.

303 North Main Street highlighted in the lower left

The property on North Main Street is probably the most problematic to me. The Main Street corridor from the current Main Street business district north to Lake Shore Drive has been designated “Commercial” in the last two Comprehensive Plans. This has been followed up with a zoning district designation of C-2 in the Culver Zoning Ordinance. This has allowed the existing homes to remain, “grandfathered” in their current use; thus allowing the house at 303 North Main Street to be used as a dentist office, the house at 307 North Main Street to be used as a residence & art gallery, the house at 313 North Main Street to be used as a beauty parlor with second floor apartments, and the house at 212 North Main Street to be used as a law office with second floor apartment. This also allowed the expansion of Good-To-Go into the adjacent lot to the north without issue a few years ago.

Culver Comprehensive Plan – Future Land Use & Development Plan, Page 45

In the case of 307 North Main Street, there was no issue when the owners of the art gallery sold the property and the new owners returned the use to residential only. The problem occurred with 303 North Main Street when the new owners wanted to use the property as a home (allowed), but also wanted to remodel. Remodeling required a building permit and residential use is not allowed in a C-2 district. The solution proposed by the then Building Commissioner and accepted by the Plan Commission was to rezone the property as R-1. When it was brought up that this violated the direction of the Comp Plan, the Comp Plan’s recommendations for this area were questioned. I felt the rezoning was a mistake and that considering rezoning that corridor would just compound that mistake. For one quick example, the Rezoning of 303 North Main Street to R-1 placed a buffer restriction that will be imposed if anything is done with 307 North Main Street: “Any property line abutting said residential district shall be required to be effectively screened in one of the following ways, or a combination thereof: buffering by a dense strip of natural plantings or by a solid of opaque fence.” – Culver Zoning Ordinance, Chapter 3, page 32. This buffer requirement doesn’t exist between commercial properties.

I have paraphrased something Jim Dicke II told me several times in this blog: “Communities are growing or dying. The Status quo cannot remain.” I think this is salient because I know of only two commercial properties that are currently for sale, i.e. 107 & 109 South Main Street and I would not say they are priced to sell. If we want Culver to grow and grow in a controlled manner, we need to provide areas for this to happen. It makes sense to expand our commercial corridor and move towards tying the two commercial districts together. The first step is the corridor from downtown Main Street to Lake Shore Drive.

Culver Comprehensive Plan – Commercial & Employment Areas Framework Plan Page 69

Within the Culver Zoning Ordinance there is some existing hierarchy of uses. While not a 100% applicable rule, for the most part The I-2 district acceptable uses are allowed in the more restrictive I-1 district. The C-2 district acceptable uses are allowed in the more restrictive C-1 district. The R-1 district uses are allowed in the R-2 district. I think this would be worth considering across zoning districts as well. If this were the case, it would not have been necessary to rezone 303 North Main Street since the residential, R-1, use would have been a lesser use than the C-2 District allows. My rational is that this would have allowed the existing house to continue to be used and remodeled without losing the Town’s long-term goal of expanding the commercial corridor. It would have also kept it abundantly obvious to the land owners that the goal is commercial and not leave them thinking that their future neighbors will automatically be residential. That said, when a cross use is made, it would be easy enough to require any of the more restrictive requirements to be followed, whether it’s the lower use or the higher use, i.e. if a property owner wants to put a house in a C-1 district, this would be allowed, but the R-1 setbacks, impervious surface requirements, etc. of the R-1 district would apply as the more restrictive land use. This idea would require further examination and consideration, but it might be a good first step into some of the more mixed uses being considered in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan.

Personally, I would not only keep this corridor commercial, but would expand the Main Street Commercial Corridor on down to Davis Street and expand the Lake Shore Drive Commercial Corridor west to Main Street. On the south end, there is already commercial property at the corner of Main & Davis. There is already commercial property on both sides of the street on all corners of the Main and Lake Shore Drive intersection. Linking these together makes planning sense. It opens the opportunity for more mixed use little shops and businesses such as the former art gallery at 307 North Main Street and the law office at 212 North Main Street. This would promote more foot traffic between the two commercial areas of town. I am not sure I would find fault in making this C-1 while we’re at it…

Sometimes the desire to be helpful overcomes the mission of long term planning and the vision that involves. It was helpful to the new owners of 303 North Main Street to rezone the property, but there were other options. Sending them to the BZA for a “Variance of Use” would have made more sense. Rezoning is the more radical choice.

This also applies to the other three rezonings that were completed, changing R-1 zoned properties to R-2. This is undoubtedly spot zoning creating a future problem where a problem didn’t exist. All of these properties were grandfathered in their current non-conforming use, but now they are allowed to remodel, upgrade or even tear down and build something that solidifies the use, that doesn’t fit the long range plan, for the foreseeable future. While these property owners believe this “fixed” their problem, in reality, all of these properties would require variance for any changes they want to make as they don’t meet the R-2 requirements either!

Before this escalates from commentary to rant, I’ll leave it at here. It will be interesting to bring these things up as the Comprehensive Plan proceeds.

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