Group tackles tough topic of BG zoning regulations

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The task assigned to the small group is even more cumbersome than its name – the Bowling Green Community Action Plan Implementation Subcommittee of the Planning Commission. The group held its first meeting last week to begin tackling a review of the city’s zoning ordinance – a process as sensitive as it is complicated. “It’s clear this is really intense and is going to take a lot of work,” said Jeff Betts, chairman of the subcommittee. The last thing the group wants is for residents 20 years from now to say, “Oh my God, what were they thinking,” subcommittee member Mark Hollenbaugh said. With a stack of reviews and recommendations in front of them, Bowling Green Planning Director Heather Sayler agreed that the job is immense. “It’s a lot to digest, that’s for sure,” she said. Council member Bill Herald thanked the subcommittee for its willingness to take on the job. “It’s easy to get paralyzed because there’s so much to do,” he said. “I really appreciate you tackling this.” Zoning is so complex for many reasons. First every rule is interwoven with other rules. So if one regulation is tweaked, it could create the need for changes in many other regulations. “Anything you do with one part is going to affect other parts,” Hollenbaugh said. And second, zoning is touchy because it tells landowners what they can and cannot do with their property. “It’s super important to explain the ‘why’ behind it,” so it doesn’t appear like a conspiracy to keep property owners from doing what they want with their land, Betts said. “Everything needs to be transparent. Everybody needs to know every step of the process,” Hollenbaugh agreed. A report by a consulting firm, Development Strategies from St. Louis, will be presented to City Council in December. After that, the subcommittee will have more to discuss. Members of the subcommittee last week talked about the need to not piecemeal the zoning code. Instead of dealing in haste with an issue when it arises, the group wants to plan ahead. The zoning rules must come first, Betts said, rather than trying to pigeonhole a project into a set of rules. The goal will be to look ahead. “We need to envision the community we want in making these decisions,” Herald said. The Community Action Plan completed last year cited inconsistencies in the city’s current zoning ordinance. For example, when a gas station is constructed, the zoning requires certain setbacks and buffers for neighbors. However, for other development that may be as objectionable to neighbors, there are no such requirements, Sayler said. Ideally, zoning regulations will consider what development will work and won’t work in Bowling Green. The rules will then be tweaked accordingly to encourage investment, Sayler said. People investing in developing area want to be assured that other property owners in the area will make similar investments, she said. “What are the reassurances that the neighbors will do the same,” Sayler said. Zoning rules can be as specific as requiring certain kinds of building materials or plantings. Two big issues that will be examined are building heights and housing. It is difficult for developers to get a desired return on their investment when they have strict building height rules, Sayler…

Nearly 800 acres set to be shovel-ready for business

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County took another step this week to get nearly 800 acres shovel-ready for prospective developers. The Wood County Planning Commission voted to recommend rezoning of 793 acres in Troy Township, from A-1 agricultural to B-PUD planned business district. The acreage is located off the west side of Pemberville Road, just south of U.S. 20, near the Home Depot distribution center and the East Ohio Gas Co. site. The zoning change was requested by the gas company, also called Dominion Energy. The recommendation will go to the Troy Township Trustees for a final decision. With the economy picking up, East Ohio Gas has gotten some interest in the property, according to Dave Saneholtz, of Poggemeyer Design Group. “They are getting a lot of calls from perspective users,” Saneholtz told the county planning commission. And the companies calling are interested in large acreage areas, he said. “We don’t know exactly who’s coming,” Saneholtz said. But that specific information is not needed for the zoning change, which is intended to consider the best overall use of the property. Once a company makes a proposal for the site, then it will be required to present detailed plans to the township. Most of the surrounding zoning in that area is for industrial uses, with some agricultural land. Wood County’s land use plan calls for the area to be the site of growth. “We assumed it’s going to be growing,” said Dave Steiner, head of the county planning commission. “It’s an area we’d like to see economic development.” The acreage already has utilities to the site, and it has been declared by the state to be a “Job Ready Site.” “That’s a pretty important distinction there,” Steiner said. The zoning change now would be one less hoop for developers to jump through if they select the property. “This would get the property ready for development,” Steiner said. “So it will be shovel-ready. They won’t have to wait for the property to be rezoned.” The planned business district zoning classification allows some flexibility, but it will require the owners to meet buffer and setback regulations set by Troy Township.

Landlords sue city for limiting renters per house

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student renters against the city of Bowling Green and its code enforcement officer. The landlords and the students object to a city ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people who can live in a rental property. The landlords reportedly own more than 161 homes that cannot be rented out to more than three unrelated people – even though the homes have four or more bedrooms and ample parking. The three students who signed onto the lawsuit were reportedly threatened with eviction. Leading the lawsuit is Maurice Thompson, of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus. Thompson recently represented rural Wood County residents who did not want Utopia pipeline running through their land. He won against the pipeline company. In this lawsuit, Thompson said the city’s ordinance violates the Ohio Constitution by suppressing private property rights and equal protection and imposing vague standards and excessive fines of $500 per day. Thompson is one of the landlords affected by the city ordinance. And the three students are his tenants at his rental property on East Merry Street. Bowling Green City Attorney Mike Marsh said the renter limit has been in place as long as the city zoning – and was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1974. “He’s claiming the limit is arbitrary,” that it doesn’t take into account the size of the home and the parking space available, Marsh said. That’s true, he agreed. The purpose of the law is to help maintain the density of single-family neighborhoods. “These are traditional single-family homes converted into rental housing,” Marsh said. A handful of other college towns in Ohio have similar ordinances, Thompson said. “Bowling Green is by no means the only city that has this,” he said from his Columbus office on Monday. “But one thing that makes Bowling Green’s unique is that the city claims it is to control population density, yet there are all kinds of exemptions.” Many properties are “grandfathered in,” but which properties qualify is unclear, Thompson said. Marsh disagreed. “I think we have a pretty good handle on those grandfathered in,” which include rentals predating zoning. According to Thompson, Bowling Green is more aggressive than other communities – ordering that extra renters be “thrown out” within 10 days of the violation notice. He questioned the legality of that action. “Bowling Green’s standards are so egregious,” Thompson said. “Bowling Green has been pretty aggressive in enforcing this.” Marsh disagreed again. No one has been ousted in 10 days since Marsh has been working with the city the last 30 years. “We try to work with people when they are over-occupied,” he said. Students are often allowed to finish a semester or complete a lease, he said. “I’m not aware that we’ve ever tried to kick people out in a short period of time.” Only landlords who own homes with four or more bedrooms, plus parking for four or more cars, were included in the lawsuit, Thompson said. “In that scenario, there’s no reason for them to be limited to three.” Though many of the landlords were aware of the city ordinance when they purchased the homes, the law was unevenly enforced, he said….