Report from the OLNC Zoning and Land Use Committee A popular phrase often heard today: "The rules have changed." Though typically used in reference to "how business gets done," this adage will soon apply to properties throughout the Old Louisville and Limerick Neighborhoods. The rules we are talking about are "land use rules." Typically, we think of these as "zoning regulations." Actually, many people who own property know very little about zoning and couldn't tell you if their property was zoned R1, R7, C3, OR-2, M-1, or some other arcane designation. Yet, the zoning on property determines what we can or cannot do with the property. Unfortunately, we tend to find out about these things when a city inspector shows up and cites us for a zoning code violation because we encroached too far into a side yard when building a garage, or perhaps we added an apartment without providing the 1.5 off-street parking spaces required, etc.
Fortunately, most of the time we get by without having to worry about zoning. We know if a house is residential, we know if a building is commercial, we know if a building is used for offices. And, as long as we don't change how the property is used, everything is fine. It's only when we, or the new owner, decide to do something different that we better know something about zoning. Preferably, before we get into trouble.
What is zoning? My simple definition is that zoning is a regulatory tool that allows the citizenry to determine what types of land uses are acceptable for a given area. For example, if the buildings in your block are all zoned medium-density residential, the person next to you can't open a McDonalds and the property owner on the other side can't build a ten-story high rise. But, what if the owner next to you wants to turn his single-family house into a six-bedroom apartment building? And, what if the neighbor on the other side wants to open a dentist's office? And, the neighbor across the street wants to start a family-care home? Well, maybe they can under current zoning. And though you may not be happy with the change, if it's a permitted use under the zoning regulations, there is nothing you can do about it.
So where are we today? Back in the late seventies and early eighties, residents asked themselves what kind of neighborhood they wanted and what types of land uses were appropriate for an historic urban neighborhood. Under the auspices of the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council and Steering Committee, an extensive study was conducted. From this study, the neighborhood produced a plan to bring some consistency to the hodgepodge of uses and zoning designations in the neighborhood. The Old Louisville/Limerick Neighborhood Plan was approved by the Board of Aldermen in 1982 and shortly thereafter resulted in a complete rezoning of the neighborhood. At the time, it was a giant leap forward that brought stability to the residential areas and clearly defined appropriate areas for commercial and retail development.
So now, twenty years later, where do we go from here? Just as Cornerstone 2020 has taken a complete new look at how land uses should be controlled in Jefferson County, so too, neighbors began to ask how land use regulations could be used to further improve our neighborhood over the next twenty years. In response, Mayor Armstrong in 1999 appointed a representative group of community people to a Task Force to propose amendments to the Old Louisville/Limerick neighborhood Plan. Early on, the Task Force recognized that most zoning regulations were written to accommodate new development in suburban neighborhoods. The Task Force decided that ultimately, the best way to preserve our unique character was to develop a land use plan that would apply to a historic urban neighborhood with a mixture of residential, institutional, commercial, retail, and office uses.
After months of research, discussion, debate, and consensus building, the Task Force issued a final draft for Amendments to the Old Louisville/Limerick Neighborhood Plans. Under this plan, a completely new set of guidelines and regulations will govern land use in the neighborhood. Briefly, the plan recognizes three distinct areas: residential areas, commercial areas (e.g. 4th and Oak), and the transition areas between residential and commercial. The plan also recognizes that within these distinct areas there will also be a mixture of uses (e.g. corner retail stores, churches, schools, etc.). The principle agreed upon by the Task Force for determining land use would be based upon the property's original design and usage. In other words, if a building was originally built and used as a "family residence," then that would be the proper use of the building today. If the building was originally designed for apartments, institutions, retail establishments, etc., then that is how they ultimately should be used.
The plan sets rules for new construction or replacement buildings, the types of retail or commercial uses for each particular area, the maximum density, and many other issues involving land use. Another innovation is that land use will be determined by mapping each property in the neighborhood. So how will this all affect you, if you are a property owner? Initially, not at all.
All legal current uses will continue under the so-called "grandfather" clause. For example, if you own a property that was originally single family but now has been converted to six apartments, you will have what is called a "non-conforming use." However, because of your grandfather rights, you can keep the six apartments as long as you like. Even if you sell the property, the new owner can continue with the six apartments. However, if the new owner decides to reduce the number of apartments to, say, three, then this becomes the new standard and the building cannot at some future date go back to six apartments.
As you can see, the new regulations will have no immediate affect on the neighborhood. However, over many years, the neighborhood will slowly be transformed back to uses that are in keeping with its original character.Zane Lockhart, Z&LU Chair
Editor's note: As we go to press, the Zoning & Land Use Committee has just completed an exhaustive 13 week review of the final (6/9/2000) draft of the Neighborhood Plan Amendments.this, to a large extent, amounted to a thorough editing job that eliminated internal inconsistencies, obvious errors, and a few omissions. This is merely the end of Phase I. In order to be implemented, the Plan Amendments will have to pass muster with the Board of Aldermen and the Planning Commission. With the Neighborhood Plan itself in the early 80's, this phase took nearly two years. Meanwhile, all are invited to attend Task Force and ZALU meetings.
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