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Planning Commission hears of zoning laws text amendment

Last Tuesday, the Decatur County Planning Commission met to discuss several topics, one of which was a proposed text amendment to zoning laws for the central business district. The proposed amendment would allow for ground floor residences in detached buildings in the central business district, a change to what was standard policy for years.

“The whole drive right now behind central business development,” City Manager Chris Hobby said, “It is this idea of place-making, and creating a community. In order to do that, and we’re already seeing it, because we’ve got over 40 apartments in the central business district now, they’re all just on the upper floors. We’re about built out.”

This has led to considering vacant buildings with limited parking for residential development.

“You look at the old Coca-Cola building… you look at the Board of Education building… there’s very limited parking at those buildings, so are they going to be attractive for retail development, or, are they better as residential?” Hobby explained.

Ultimately, the motion to approve the proposed amendment died in the meeting, and the Commission passed a motion for further research into the issue.

“I will say, I very much appreciate what the Planning Commission is doing,” he said, “because it is a sea of change from what we have preached for the last 20 years or more, that the central business district is supposed to be primarily for small businesses… If ultimately, in their view, the Planning Commission says ‘No, this is a bad idea,’ then we’ll take that.”

“I think now is the time for that idea,” Community Development Director Steve O’Neil said. “Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have been the right time back then, because we still had vacancies downtown and all over. We didn’t have that retail core.”

According to Hobby, this would only apply to very few detached buildings in the district. O’Neil planned to have the results of the research into eligible buildings prepared by this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Let’s have the conversation, let’s see where it goes,” Hobby said. “And it may go nowhere, which is fine too… Downtown is just a hot item right now. “ “We’re trying to keep it a hot item,” O’Neil concluded.