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City considers zoning code overhaul again
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MONROE - After a delay due to four pieces of legislation passed at the state level, planners aiming to overhaul city zoning code have once again begun evaluating a draft of the ordinance meant to reorganize the city layout.

The biggest hindrance was Act 67, Vandewalle & Associates Inc. Assistant Planner Jackie Mich said Wednesday during a presentation to the city Plan Commission at the City Hall Annex.

"It did affect a lot," Mich said, adding that Act 59 was also a recently enacted law which impacted ongoing work meant to take effect in October.

Act 67 prompted planners to create the entirely new "Intensive Outdoor Activity Zoning District" as part of the overhaul of city zoning code. The district would be used for large, outdoor venues, like stadiums or concert areas. The use would likely be determined with its impact on neighboring properties in mind, like traffic, noise and parking.

The act also removed discretion at the local level in regard to the approval or denial of conditional use permit applications. About a year ago, the commission met with Mich and Vandewalle Principal Planner Mike Slavney to review the draft. During that meeting, members discussed specific examples of uses allowed by right - meaning they are to be placed in a pre-designated area - and which should be conditional use, which requires approval by the commission.

Mich said the law even effectively defines the procedure for a conditional use permit application, which had not been previously outlined. Applicants would still have a public hearing before the Plan Commission, and the matter would need to be made public.

However, Slavney said outside of code requirements, members of the commission cannot use their personal understanding of an area to make a decision.

"You can't just say, 'we don't think this is a good idea,'" Slavney said.

Any denial must be specific in its criteria per the state statute 62.23(7)(de), which outlines the substantial evidence criteria needed in the case of an approval or denial. Mich and Slavney recommended the removal of 82 conditional use designations on a variety of land uses in the drafted code, from suburban to light industrial areas.

Plan Commission members remained mostly silent throughout the hour-long meeting, taking in the new information and reviewing the proposed changes.

Mich explained Act 59, which addresses short-term rental of residences commonly practiced through websites like Airbnb and VRBO. The law dictates that no municipality can prohibit the rental of such a dwelling if it exceeds seven days. However, it can limit the use to 180 days per year and can prohibit a rental of fewer than seven days.

"We think it's a good idea to limit those short-term rentals," Slavney said, indicating that weekend getaways tend to draw raucous groups looking to celebrate with a bachelor party or big party of some kind. "That's where 95 percent of the complaints tend to arise."

Two other acts, also passed in 2017, had an effect on the plans, though less substantially. Act 317 dictates cities have to allow substitute building materials for historic districts that are less expensive, which only required added language to the draft. Act 243 outlines that cities are required to allow banners that cover fencing. It also reduces the threshold for Monroe Common Council approval to a simple majority from a previous three-fourths requirement for protested zoning amendments.

Assistant City Administrator Sam Liebert said the city plans to adopt a final version of the draft in the fall, but its schedule with Vandewalle allows for work through Dec. 31. He and Mich told members of the commission that an open house is scheduled for June 14 to gain feedback from the public.