The Stevens Point Common Council will consider creating an advisory subcommittee of its Plan Commission Monday, Nov. 19, to focus on the task of rewriting its zoning code, much of which is more than 30 years old.
The Plan Commission began the process of rewriting the zoning code many months ago, but it has been having trouble getting quorum for zoning rewrite session recently. It also tried integrating the rewrite sessions into its regular meetings, most recently at its Monday, Nov. 5, meeting.
That meeting featured controversy and public outcry over plans for three new affordable housing developments in Stevens Point, which were ultimately shot down by the Commission and have since been withdrawn by the applicant, CAP Services. The length of public comment prompted the Commission to postpone the zoning rewrite discussion.
“What I really do want to stress to the Plan Commission is if we don’t start to tackle these (rewrite sessions) regularly, we will never get through it,” said Mayor Andrew Halverson, Plan Commission chair, who said it will take more than a year to get through all of the code. “We have to really deal with ensuring that that can happen. I might add, to clear up any of these issues we’re experiencing tonight, quite frankly, which is another reason we’re doing it.”
In rewriting the code, the city may change the way it handles multi-family housing, including apartment buildings. “There will be a variety of areas in the city that ultimately get zoned for multi-family that (the Plan Commission) will never see again, which is very needed,” said Halverson. “If (applicants) meet the requirements then it simply happens, as does industrial and manufacturing based on those growth parallels that we’ll be ultimately developing.”
Two of the three projects proposed by CAP Services Nov. 5 were for parcels already zoned for multi-family residential use. However, under the current zoning code, multi-family dwellings are a conditional use in all zoning categories. Michael Ostrowski, community development director, said that it is a quirk of the zoning code from when the city needed more direct control over site plans for apartment buildings. He said other municipalities tend to use standards within the zoning code itself to help control things, like the density of multi-family housing and materials used for its construction, without having to issue case-by-case conditional-use permits.
That type of change would also mean that residents living near land zoned for multi-family use will likely have less opportunity to get involved in the process, or at least not in the same ways they have in the past. Halverson said he’s OK with that. “Doolittle should never have been rejected, never,” said Halverson, speaking about a 20-unit townhouse-style complex on Doolittle Drive that was denied a conditional-use permit by the Plan Commission Nov. 5. “It’s multi-family zoning; it’s literally right on top of the other apartments. That’s an area we zoned for apartments.”
Proposed to sit on the Plan Commission Zoning Code Rewrite Advisory Committee are Halverson; Tony Patton, District 8 alderperson and Plan Commissioner; Anna Haines, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor and Plan Commissioner; Brent Curless, city zoning administrator and building inspector; and Sarah Wallace, Portage County associate planner.
The Plan Commission and the Common Council would have to approve any changes proposed by the advisory committee.