(New Buffalo, MI) - The zoning ordinance in the City of New Buffalo should be more specific and easier to understand when the dust settles from a significant overhaul of the zoning laws in the coming months.
Houseal Lavigne Associates out of Chicago has started undertaking a four-step process that should be completed when a final draft of the zoning ordinance is presented to the city council for consideration in eight months.
John Houseal is president and founder of the municipal planning organization, which has updated zoning ordinances in communities large and small throughout the country.
He told members of the New Buffalo City Council and New Buffalo Planning Commission during a joint workshop on November 18. One of the goals is to have a zoning ordinance that reflects what the community wants to accomplish with future development.
Another goal is making the zoning laws fair to developers and property owners close to where new construction is targeted or proposed.
“It has to work for all parties involved,” he said.
Houseal also vowed to greatly simply what’s now viewed by local officials as a confusing ordinance lacking many land-use specifics governing future construction.
He said a zoning ordinance should not require an attorney to understand and apply.
“We will make this as user-friendly as possible,” he said.
Parking was cited as one of the areas lacking specifics in the current ordinance.
New Buffalo Planning Commission Chairman Paul Billingslea wondered if the updated ordinance should recommend the number of vehicles allowed at a house based on square footage and whether a house should have a driveway that can accommodate all vehicles to avoid vehicles being parked in yards.
He said such lack of detail in the current zoning ordinance last updated more than 10-years ago has resulted in variances granted for construction “on almost every lot in the city” and developments not consistent in appearance with neighboring structures.
Mayor John Humphrey said the outcome has included the construction of new homes in violation of setback requirements on small lots and damage to the aesthetic appearance of the city.
He said tourism has a lot to do with the new construction over the past three decades, along with a “wild west attitude” toward putting up buildings where they shouldn’t go.
“We need to protect the character of this town from being swallowed up,” Humphrey said.
Houseal said imposing standards for new construction in an updated zoning ordinance could eliminate inconsistencies and be created in a way not to discourage future investment in the city.
Billingslea suggested the updated zoning ordinance requires an initial review of a project and filing of design standards from a developer before a hearing is held on any new proposed construction.
“That should help us get the right kind of developments,” he said.
Humphrey said he feels an updated zoning ordinance if done effectively, can protect restrictions soon from being imposed on the number of short-term rentals to promote more full-time residency. He said student enrollment is down enough that school officials are looking to Indiana to help fill up the classrooms.