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Council reviewing zoning ordinance

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Springfield’s zoning ordinance isn’t changing as quickly as the business world. That has the city’s Department of Planning and Development suggesting some tweaks.

During a July 12 meeting, City Council will consider approving a new section to the ordinance, Section 1-2000. Council’s discussion, which is open to the public, will touch on the addition of use groups to business zoning districts.

Essentially, the changes would make zoning more simple and give city staff more flexibility when determining whether a business is a good fit for a certain area, said Principal City Planner Mike MacPherson.

Ten use groups, including retail sales, general and medical offices and commercial outdoor recreation, will list characteristics of businesses that fall within those groups. The current ordinance designates specific types of businesses that are permissible in each district.

Geoffrey Butler, CEO of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc., saw a presentation on the amendment during a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Development Issues Input Group meeting. Butler said he spends about 10 percent of his work activities dealing with zoning issues, and he served on the committee that helped frame the current ordinance, which was rewritten in 1995.

One of the problems with that ordinance, he said, is that it limits the types of activities that could take place within a district.

“They listed uses with prescriptive wording, like skating rink, bowling alley, restaurant with drive-through, restaurant without drive-through,” he said. “There are uses now that didn’t exist then – Internet car sales, for example.”

If a type of business isn’t specifically listed under a district’s allowances, a zoning change must be requested. Unavoidably, there are business uses consistent with the purpose and intent of the district that are left off the list of permissible uses, MacPherson said.

“It’s like when you’re giving a speech and you decide to introduce everyone at the table, you inevitably forget someone’s name,” MacPherson said.

Under the amendment, a business can request a zoning approval from the city’s Building Development Services director. If the use fits with the intent of the district, the director would take the issue to the Administrative Review Committee, which is made up of the directors of Planning, Public Works and Building Development Services, MacPherson said.

The group would have to unanimously approve the request, but it would save a business owner from going through the rezoning process.

“The way we do business now, it puts the Building Development Services director in a spot where he has to say no,” said MacPherson. “Now, he can say, ‘Does it work and is it an appropriate fit?’ And that can allow someone to move forward without having to rezone or be turned down.”

Dave Murray, executive vice president of R.B. Murray Co., who also heard the DIIG presentation at the chamber, said he’s been a part of more rezoning requests than he can estimate, though he isn’t actually the person filing the paperwork.

“Where I’ve been involved, usually the buyer of the property has some interest in seeing the property rezoned,” he said, noting that purchases sometimes fall through because of zoning problems.

Butler said a zoning change can cost between $3,000 and $5,000, and the timeframe is between 90 and 120 days.

“If you have a neighborhood opposed to the change, it’s even worse,” he said.

The amendment will be limited to business districts, MacPherson said.[[In-content Ad]]

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