November 09, 2012The Kirkwood City Council has undertaken rewriting the city's 200-plus-page zoning ordinance.
So far the process has been notably amicable. A walk-through of the new document by Public Works Director Todd Rehg during a Nov. 1 public hearing elicited only a "Well done; this is long overdue" from Council Member Paul Ward.
There seemed to be a consensus among the council members that the zoning code needs an overhaul after being amended 135 times since being adopted in 1967. Accordingly, the planning and zoning commission appointed a subcommittee Nov. 2, 2011, with the goals of "modernizing, simplifying and clarifying" the 45-year-old ordinance, Rehg said.
"Quite honestly the zoning code was written eons ago, and it's been amended a number of times. It's never been modernized," said Council Member Gerry Biedenstein. "That's the real credit you need to give the (subcommittee that took this on."
The subcommittee members were former Commission Chairman David Osborn, current Chairman Joe Roeser and Vice Chairman Greg Frick.
A previous rewrite of the zoning code in 1996 was not submitted as an ordinance to the council, according to planning commission records. This time the commission decided to simplify the task by eliminating consideration of changing setbacks for single-family residences, lot coverage or floor area ratios, or any rezoning, according to commission minutes.
The sharper, more practical focus worked well, and kept the discussion centered on the most pressing need - updating the language, Biedenstein said.
"The (1967) ordinance talks about typewriter repair shops, and about confectionaries and things that were great maybe 20 or 25 years ago, but now you're talking about dinosaurs," he said.
The subcommittee "went over it page by page and they didn't really change much of anything, they just modernized it," Biedenstein said. He said the rewrite made the ordinance easier to read and use, revising and rationalizing the numbering system in the document.
The subcommittee's work sessions, which stretched into the summer, were frank and open, said Biedenstein.
"I was very impressed by their ability to talk about all sides of the issue and come to a consensus," he added.
Former Zoning Administrator Jeremy Knapp played a key role, according to both Biedenstein and McDonnell.
The subcommittee took pains to keep the full commission, city department personnel and the council well informed of its progress, thereby smoothing the path to ultimate approval. The process was completed Aug. 28, when the planning commission made its final edits, according to Rehg.
Mayor Art McDonnell did suggest amendments. He recommended constraints on the use of a "community unit plan" be relaxed for residential developers, and that large grocery retailers be allowed to offer wine by the glass in their restaurant operations.
Community unit plans permit flexibility in lot sizes where there are "adverse natural physical conditions on the site" to be developed, according to the ordinance.
By allowing unit plans only in cases involving terrain issues "I think we're really restricting the ability of a developer to come and offer something that is different and exciting," McDonnell said. "We don't have to vote for it if we don't like it."
As for wine by the glass, McDonnell pointed out that the larger grocery retailers in near-by communities are allowed to sell alcohol by the drink in their dining areas. Forbidding that in Kirkwood would put the city's grocers at a disadvantage, he said.
The council approved the new zoning bill on its initial reading and postponed discussion of the amendments until its Nov. 15 meeting.
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