City residents, engineers, developers, appraisers, builders and others met with the City’s Development Services team to discuss the need for updates to the existing Unified Development Code.
John Houseal and other staff fielded questions from the gathered Ardmoreites to start discussion about what areas are most in need of change and clarification.
Houseal said the bottom line when it comes to the unified development code is that it should not be arduous. “It should not be a way to penalize people, but to help supercharge development.” Houseal said older codes can become detrimental to a city’s development. The comprehensive plan developed by the City with the aid of Houseal Lavigne Associates lays the foundation for planning. The code should align with that, Houseal said, and updating it should make it work for the city rather than creating barriers to development.
Those gathered discussed both residential and commercial property issues related to the existing code and processes for exceptions. Some of those issues include the 501 use matrix, where undefined and unclassified uses create issues due to the room left for interpretation. Cleaning up the process of applying for zoning variances was also discussed.
One area appraiser, Jack Gentry, said the existing 30 percent rule for lot coverage seems restrictive and changing that could increase tax revenue.
Another issue brought up by property owners was the 6,000 square foot minimum lot size. Houseal explained that for some cities it is best to reexamine and zone according to the most common size, and for others it is best to make exceptions to special cases as needed. Houseal said there would be additional steps moving forward with the code update and plan, including a GIS analysis that would use geographic information to adjust the code to better fit the city’s needs.
The group discussed some issues related to residential zoning and how the update would affect them, like mobile homes and condemned structures in residential areas. Those in attendance expressed concern about blight in both commercial and residential areas. There was also concern regarding whether code could or should be implemented to direct where services such as Section 8 housing vouchers would be accepted. Houseal said while the development code can outline design issues, zoning is silent on ownership structure. Houseal said zoning can, however, be changed to make “undesirable structures” illegal or phase them out in certain areas, up to the entire city. To phase out or amortize those structures, which in some areas include things like billboards and junk yards, generally property owners have 5-8 years to make changes or remove those things deemed illegal.
The next step, said Jessica Scott with the City of Ardmore Development Services Department, is a diagnostic report of the current codes.