Consider this for a moment: for years, you've been planning a new business in Fredericksburg, such as a tattoo parlor or a daycare center, but your plans are a few years away.
By the time you're ready to move forward, that idea may no longer be allowed in the area you were hoping to put it or the regulations could be much different than when you recently checked them for the project.
That's part of what the city's overhaul of the zoning an development regulations is doing. The goal is to make the rules easier to understand, the process more efficient, and the language more consistent. But public participation in the process has been very low, and City Council is scheduled to complete the public hearing process sometime this summer.
This past Thursday, Clarion Associates, a consultant firm the city hired to help create the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and city officials held community meetings at James Monroe High School, but very few people showed up. Chad Meadows, senior associate with Clarion Associates, said that anyone who owns vacant property in Fredericksburg and plans any future development should familiarize themselves with this project.
Right now, a lot of uses in the city require the applicant to file for a special-use permit, which costs money and provides a review process with the Planning Commission and City Council, including public hearings so that local residents can chime in. Some uses might be removed entirely. For example, city staff is expected to remove "poultry housing" as a use in any district in the city.
Part of the proposal would increase the number of byright uses which wouldn't require any public hearing or reviews by City Council. Clarion Associates is proposing that the city use "specific-use standards" instead of special-use permits, which puts the decision-making process in the hands of city administrators. The process would be quicker and more predictable by removing the meetings with City Council and the Planning Commission that special-use permits now require. With "specific-use standards" the rules of compliance are spelled out and there aren't any interpretations needed, which removes the uncertainty that exists when elected leaders are involved in such decisions. These specific-use standards would apply to the use regardless of the zoning district. The proposed UDO has charts that show the use and the districts in which it is allowed, and notations to the pages where the specific use standards are located so the applicant can match up the regulations to the use.
Meadows said the there are recommendations to still notify the public through notices posted at the property and through registered mail. Meadows said the standards and regulations would be written in the UDO so that they can be clearly understood, removing the quess work.
"So, people will still know what's happening," he said. "They're not sacrificing public knowledge for efficiency."
The new UDO raises the bar for development standards with street widths, landscaping, fences, refuse and other aesthetic standards, Meadows said. The new ordinance proposal reduces the amount of parking that is required for projects and has stricter rules on landscaping.
Another big change is to integrate the subdivision ordinance with the zoning ordinance provisions. For example, today the city's stormwater regulations are in the subdivision provisions when someone subdivides a piece of property. The stormwater requirements don't trigger until the application for subdivision is recorded. But this misses 85 percent of the development in the city such as for changing zoning uses, making an addition, renovation or remodeling, which all should trigger the stormwater regulations, Meadows said.
Another problem with the city's development regulations is that definitions are not consistent. There are more than 35 pages of definitions in the proposed UDO, which removes the inconsistency and makes it much easier to understand.
There are sections for enforcement, standards for non-conforming uses, subdivision standards, development standards, zoning districts, use standards, administration and general provisions.