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City takes zoning input from public
MONROE - On Thursday, 17 Monroe residents, including Mayor Louis Armstrong, council members Michael Boyce and Charles Koch and Assistant City Administrator Martin Shanks, sat down to provide public feedback as a part of the effort to overhaul outdated zoning code.

City zoning code originated with its creation by New York City in 1916. Since those practices, Monroe has had two rewrites of code but still has remnants of the outdated system, such as the alphanumerical signifiers which divide areas of Monroe. The city hired Vandewalle & Associates Inc. of Madison to guide the process along. Principal Planner Mike Slavney is one of the two who led the workshop at the First National Bank and Trust community room alongside Assistant Planner Jackie Mich.

"A key goal of this zoning code rewrite is to ensure predictability and simplify development procedures," Mich said. "Make it easier for people to understand the zoning code and how to use it in their everyday lives."

For two hours, the Vandewalle experts walked attendees through a number of zoning code issues; some common to any Wisconsin city and others prevalent to a community like Monroe. Slavney pointed to nonconforming homes as an example of the benefits new zoning code would provide. Structures built before the addition of certain pieces of code have been unable to update and difficult to sell because they do not currently conform to city zoning code. With the updates, all nonconforming structures would align, making repairs possible and eliminating limits on a sub-standard lot, Slavney said.

"People are able to significantly reinvest in their roofs, in their walls," he said. "It even helps taxes in some cases."

Another factor would be land uses such as community gardens, beekeeping sites or rain gardens, and whether they should be held for approval by a conditional use permit issued by the city. Things like temporary shelters, solar farms or in-family suites were also part of that discussion. Slavney and Mich provided a worksheet for residents to check whether, in their opinion, permits should be necessary, if practices should be prohibited or they should be allowed by right. If any item were allowed with a permit, it would only need to adhere to city ordinances. In the case of a permit, Plan Commission would have to review an application and a public hearing would need to be set, giving the issue roughly six weeks before possible approval. People were also asked to highlight points on a zoning map of the city that they either felt could be improved or had recent changes they wished to see more of in Monroe.

The new zoning code would appear much different than the current set of rules. Slavney said the change would be necessary to differentiate between new and old with potential developers but that some updates have a distinct advantage. The rewrite will include a table with each designation outlined as a guide for the uses of each area. The form-based code will accommodate modern development, such as business and residential mixes or separate areas by type, such as duplex and multifamily homes. Mich emphasized the changes would not disadvantage anyone.

"We want people to know that though we're changing a rule, we're not making a new nonconforming structure," Mich said.

Other changes could help regulate different types of development. City enforcement of landscaping goals and what items can be stored outside of businesses or used in displays in specific ways will be clearly identified in the zoning code after changes take effect.

Currently, the plan is to identify the city's zoning issues and prepare an outline for zoning ordinances over the winter months. In spring, Vandewalle will draft a zoning code and review the proposal with the Plan Commission. Through summer of next year, the zoning map will be drafted and shared with the commission as well before the adoption of both in late fall.