Mayor wants zoning ordinance review | News

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Mayor Tom Watson said Wednesday he wanted to appoint a committee that would include developers to review Section 21 of the local zoning ordinance to see if any changes need to be made.

He said he started thinking about it earlier this month when Western Academy at The Neblett had to go before the Owensboro Historic Preservation Board to get a waiver to build a new campus at 721 W. Fifth St. , across Elm Street from the Neblett Center. .

This location is one block from the downtown transition area.

Some have questioned why the downtown guidelines apply to properties so far from downtown.

“I think it would be good to re-examine it (Section 21) to see if it’s holding back inner-city development,” Watson said. “We are so land poor there. I would like to set up a group to review it and see if any changes need to be made. And I would like to involve the developers in the process. We have to make sure it doesn’t bother us.

Pro-tem Mayor Larry Maglinger said, “We definitely need to look into it. I got really interested in that when I was first elected. The document is so long that it would take a lawyer to understand it. It would be a nightmare for someone coming to Owensboro to try to figure it out. You really have to dig. »

Larry Conder, a former city commissioner who is running for a seat on the Daviess Tax Court, served on the Historic Preservation Board for several years before being elected.

“Do we still need Article 21? He asked. “Almost every time it (a project) comes before the board they get an exemption with some changes. I agree with the mayor. We need to re-examine it. »

Conder said large developers have staff to deal with such issues.

But, he said, “it hurts small businesses. I would suggest nine or 10 people, including small businesses, in the group the mayor is talking about.

Conder said he was really disturbed by the Western Academy situation, even though it was eventually resolved so the campus could be built.

“You have someone like Olga McKissic (head of Western Academy) trying to do something to help the young people there, and she hits a roadblock,” he said. “We have to see him again. It got stuck in my throat for a long time.

In 2009, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Gateway Planning Group was hired to design the master plan for downtown Owensboro.

The company, which is unrelated to Gateway Commons of Owensboro, created Section 21 of the local zoning ordinance to regulate downtown development.

It covered construction in the “Overlapping District”, which includes the historic downtown core, and was designed to encourage the preservation of buildings in a two-block by seven-block corridor between Frederica and Crittenden streets along second and third streets.

It eventually, through a downtown transition zone, stretched from Bolivar to Poplar and from the river to Fifth Street.

And a narrower central section of the overlay district extended south about 11 blocks to the CSX railroad tracks.

Since then, downtown has seen nearly half a billion dollars of private and public development, with more on the way.

But much of that development failed to strictly adhere to Article 21, requiring it to obtain waivers from its restrictions.

In 2009, it took Larry and Rosemary Conder more than five months of applications and reviews to get a sign hung at Crème Coffee House, 109 E. Second St.

“There were a lot of hoops to jump through,” Rosemary Conder said at the time. “But we don’t mind being the guinea pig for new processes.”

The Owensboro Historic Preservation Board, established in 2000 to recommend the creation of historic districts in the city, was responsible for handling developer appeals and making variance recommendations to the Owensboro Metropolitan Board of Adjustment.

Lots of exceptionsThere have been many.

Ed Allen, chairman of the preservation board, said: ‘I think the idea (behind section 21) was that whatever we build today will probably be here 50 years from now, and you want the community to feel good about it. It is a value judgment. You want everything built to contribute to a thriving downtown.

“Our committee tries to accommodate builders and owners. We try to be flexible and we make a lot of exceptions.

In 2012, the committee approved the design and landscaping plans for the Boardwalk Pipeline Partners building on West Second Street, granting them Section 21 exceptions.

The two-story office building wanted its entrance to be in the parking lot at the rear of the building, rather than on Second Street, for security reasons.

Article 21 stipulated that entrances should be on the main street.

And Boardwalk wanted fewer trees and more shrubbery in its parking lots than Section 21 requires, to provide better lighting at night, and also for safety reasons.

Also that year, the board approved two more signs than Section 21 allowed for the First Security Bank—now the German-American Bank Building—at 313 Frederica St.

Section 21 only allowed one sign per entrance, but First Security wanted four signs on the building, which has only two entrances.

And before Malcolm Bryant could build his downtown Hampton Inn & Suites, he had to get a waiver from the board in 2012.

The regulations required that each floor of the hotel be at least 10 feet “floor to floor”.

Bryant’s proposal showed five stories that would each be four inches shorter than that.

The board granted the waiver.

Some board members then suggested that it might be time to make changes to Article 21, which sets things like the minimum and maximum heights of downtown buildings and their floors. .

At the time, Ted Lolley, who was chairman of the preservation board, said: ‘We need more realistic guidelines. We need to be more developer friendly. We need to be more flexible. »

Changes in 2012Keith Free, then the town’s community development manager, said: “We’re going to have to change some things to make it more business-friendly.”

These changes in 2012 were apparently the last to be made to Section 21.

Brian Howard, executive director of the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission, said: “It has been reviewed periodically. Significant changes were made prior to Keith Free’s departure. But any change goes through the community development office and then through the city commission. »

Abby Shelton, the town’s community development director since October 2015, said: “We haven’t been asked to review it since I’ve been here.”

In 2019, City Commissioner Jeff Sanford suggested revising Section 21 to allow residential living on the first floor of downtown buildings.

The other commissioners at the time – Larry Conder, Pam Smith-Wright and Larry Maglinger – all expressed interest in making changes to Section 21.

Maglinger said Section 21 is “long and confusing” and has likely “impeded” residential growth downtown.

Conder said, “If your inventory is retail heavy, but you still want to be able to do residential, and the rules don’t allow you to, that seems a bit counterintuitive to me.

“I really think (Section 21) needs to be looked at and dealt with in today’s marketplace. I don’t think that market is going to change for at least 10 years, where you really need more first floor retail. »

But nothing has been changed.

Watson said developers prefer to have the first floor of apartments and condominiums as retail.

“You don’t want people looking in your windows passing by, seeing what you’re watching on TV,” he said.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301 [email protected]

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