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Monroe seeks zoning feedback
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MONROE - Zoning in Monroe is up for an overhaul and the city has already begun the process by asking residents to attend a public workshop to provide input.

The workshop is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in the community room of First National Bank and Trust.

Assistant City Administrator Martin Shanks said the goal of the public forum is to take information already outlined within the city's recently adopted comprehensive plan and establish specific needs and issues through feedback from Monroe residents. By hearing from people, city officials can better accommodate any potential problems with a more modern system of zoning code.

Updated zoning was brought up several times during meetings last year for the city's comprehensive plan.

"The biggest reasons were that it's just an older piece of code," Shanks said of revamping city zoning. "It's not flexible. The project overall is to modernize zoning regulations to assure best practices."

Zoning codes for the city have not had updates for about 40 years.

Currently, the city is divided into basic residential, industrial, business and planned development areas. There is also the historical district. Shanks said there are limits in those designations because of the specifications included in what can and cannot be placed in certain areas. Without consideration for variety, beneficial development can be turned down or find little footing in the current system.

Vandewalle and Associates Inc., a company focused on economic and urban development, was hired by city officials in October to replace the current system of code. According to a release by the city about the public input workshop, the new zoning ordinance and map will finish in roughly one year. Shanks confirmed the goal end point is in autumn of 2017.

Flexibility, or the availability for mixed-use regions throughout the city, could benefit the city in terms of development.

Aaron Holverson of Holverson Design in Monroe advocated for more of a form-based zoning code, which favors new uses for specific types of urban development based on potential use for buildings. Areas once used as warehouses in a downtown could be converted into commercial or housing properties if the areas weren't designated strictly industrial.

"I don't feel it is an absolute necessity, but I believe the city of Monroe has a lot of potential," Holverson said. "We have a housing shortage, but we're not really doing things to help developers build downtown. I believe a rewrite of the zoning code has the potential to help direct new development."

Shanks said a goal of the new code is to make zoning processes less rigid and easier for residents or developers to navigate. He added that changing code requires a number of steps and the way in which changes can be implemented is limited.

"Hopefully by doing that, it makes it easier for people to invest in their property," Shanks said.

Shanks added that he expects roughly two dozen attendees, from city officials and individuals who commonly work with zoning code. The public input workshop is the only one scheduled as an open forum on the topic, he said, and encouraged anyone who wanted to express needs or hear more about the process to attend.