02/05/04 — Endless zoning

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Endless zoning

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 5, 2004 2:02 PM

It doesn't just seem like the Goldsboro City Council has been discussing zoning issues for years: It has.

And if the pace the council has set for reviewing the proposed ordinance is any indication, it may continue to discuss zoning for years to come.

Each Monday the council gathers in the small anteroom next to the city manager's office, with review of the ordinance the only topic for at least one, sometimes two, hours.

And every week council members all say, "We'll move a little faster and get ahead in the document."

Within a few minutes though, the board usually ends up bogged down in some issue that takes too much time to resolve in one meeting.

Before you know it, time is up, and the council has progressed through two-- maybe three -- more pages of the ordinance.

Strangely enough, the council hired a consultant four years ago, and spent over $100,000 to avoid this kind of situation.

The council hired a Richmond firm, Parsons Inc., to rework and streamline the city's zoning ordinance and recommend ways to implement the land use plan.

John Marling, a senior planner with Parsons, compared Goldsboro to five other cities of similar size and looked at things that were working in other areas. He also interviewed representatives of various local agencies and city officials.

The firm then put together a unified development ordinance, eliminating the city's previous piecemeal approach to zoning and making it easy for council review.

But it doesn't seem to be working that way.

Besides taking longer than expected to finish the document, the council often questions why certain sections have been added or modified.

Like why did the consultant want to increase or eliminate parking spaces for various new businesses or only allow churches in the Central Business District if the original building was intended to be a church?

On some items, the council had directed Planning Director Don Chatman, before he retired in December, to find out the answer from the consultants.

Chatman's gone, and the board hasn't had time to return to previous sections, because it's too busy plowing through the current section at hand, sentence by sentence.

Earlier this week the council spent almost two hours discussing whether any existing business should have to tear up its parking lot to provide landscaping.

"You'll catch a lot of slack when you tell people to chop up concrete," City Councilman Chuck Allen said. "But if you're going to make one do it, then you have to make all do it."

After a long, rambling discussion, the council decided not to change the current practice, which requires additional landscaping for an existing building only if the use is changing.

Allen felt that there should be some flexibility in the ordinance regarding landscape requirements and suggested that Assistant Planning Director Jimmy Rowe have the authority to make decisions about whether it was needed in certain circumstances.

City Manager Richard Slozak said the rules should be outlined in the ordinance and should be consistent.

Slozak said that if exceptions were to be made, the request would go before the Board of Adjustment.

"We will work within our authority," Slozak said. "There will come a place where staff is not comfortable making decisions, and it will then go to the Board of Adjustment."

City Attorney Harrell Everett said there had to be a standard, not "unfettered discretion."

The council then moved on to discuss whether to require new businesses that stored items outside to screen those items from view.

Before much could be said about outside storage, Allen said he thought commercial dumpsters should have a fence on three sides, plus a gate.

"Dumpsters should have something built around them with a door so that trash can't get out and around the dumpster," Allen said.

Slozak said that from a service point of view, it would be more time-consuming to get to the dumpsters when emptying them.

But the council agreed with Allen and said that fencing around commercial dumpsters would now be required.

The council will meet at 11 a.m. Monday for another zoning ordinance review meeting.