Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Zoning for City of Natchez

In today's Natchez Democrat is a Public Notice that the City of Natchez is considering the adoption of a development code and new zoning map for the city.

The public will be allowed exactly 9 hours to look at this new proposal: from 10 am - 7 pm on Wednesday, March 21 in the City Council Chambers. The notice goes on to say this is not a public hearing and there will be no presentation, although staff will be available to answer questions.

There is a regular meeting of the Planning Commission today (Thursday, 3/15) at 5:15 pm. After that meeting, I'll post an Update here with any new information.

First, here's some history of this project.

Last year, the City hired a consultant to work on updating our development code, which is desperately needed. A draft proposal was presented at a public hearing in June. However, shortly thereafter, the City Planner was fired, and this project was put on hold. I'm not sure what has transpired since then, but below is what I knew and thought at the time.

The main benefit of the new Development Code is that there will NO Use variances. If a Use is not listed in a particular Zoning District, it will not happen – no matter what. It takes the politics out of Use. No governmental agency can overturn it. The Development Code becomes part of the City Code – ie, the laws of the City. Of course, the Mayor and Board of Alderman can choose to change the law, but that’s the only way around the Development Code. So you can see how very important this Code is.

There are 17 different proposed Zoning Districts, which are defined in the
Summary of the Draft Code. For each District, there are Uses that are allowed by Right, which means no approval is necessary. There are also Uses that are allowed by Exception, which have to be approved by the Zoning Commission, with public input. (And I believe the Mayor and Board of Aldermen can overrule the Zoning Commission.) If a Use is not listed by Right or by Exception in a particular District, it is absolutely not allowed. The structure(s) proposed for the Use still has to pass Preservation Guidelines (if it’s in the Historic District), as well as all other required building guidelines and laws. It’s only the Use itself that is addressed in this Development Code – not the structure(s).

The Draft Code Summary included a table of all possible uses, with the zones where they were allowed by Right and by Exception. I didn’t find this very helpful – I wanted to know what Uses were allowed in each District. So I converted their table into a
spreadsheet, so I could see that information. The Planning Commission made some changes, but I’m not sure I got them all, so I just used the original table.

Here’s how to use the spreadsheet: The first column lists the 180 different uses. Across the first row are two columns for each of the 17 different Zoning Districts. The first column is blue and has a “r” after the District for Use by Right, and the second column is white and has a “e” after the District for Use by Exception. For example, go to Row 24, for Bed & Breakfast Use. By reading across, you can see, a Bed & Breakfast is a Use by Right in District R-VR, and a Use by Exception in Districts R-E, R-1, R-2, and R-3. To see all Uses allowed in a certain District, you have to sort. To do that, click on the Sort Tab.

If you think this is confusing, this is only the beginning. Because the real battle will be over the maps that will be drawn to go along with the 17 districts.

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