Battle Creek to rewrite zoning ordinance for first time in 35 years

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Battle Creek to rewrite zoning ordinance for first time in 35 years. (WWMT/Sam Knef)

The Battle Creek Planning and Zoning Division are rewriting the rules for what developers can build, and where, in the city for the first time in decades.

The city's current 250-page zoning ordinance doesn't contain many graphics, charts or diagrams to make it easier to understand. It does contain some inconsistencies, according to Battle Creek Planning Manager Christine Zuzga.

Zuzga, a history buff, has all of Battle Creek's zoning maps dating back to 1924. Even for her, understanding the zoning ordinance can be confusing.

"There's even times staff will sit around at the table and like, kind of hash out what the ordinance says versus what the intent might be," Zuzga said.

Zoning ordinances are used to regulate land use and development for parcels in a city. While Battle Creek's Planning and Zoning Division has made changes to the ordinance over the last decade related to parking, landscaping and signage, Zuzga said the ordinance hasn't had a major update for 35 years.

In that time, the addition of new types of zoning districts has created inconsistencies.

"There's land uses that we don't really anticipate are used anymore, or we call them something different," Zuzga said.

Zuzga said her staff has been taking notes over the last five years, and is now beginning the process of rewriting the ordinance. The rewrite correlates to the city's overhaul of its master plan, which went into effect in 2018.

The primary goals of rewriting the ordinance are to make it easier to understand, and easier for businesses to open in Battle Creek.

Currently, many land uses in the city require special approval. Zuzga said the city wants to change that.

"In some places zoning can really be a hindrance to development," she said. "We want to try to get out of the way, try to eliminate some of those hurdles for people that want to invest in our community."

The zoning map Zuzga spends most of her time on now is digital, allowing for continuous change. She said it's not available to the public online yet.

She said the city will reduce its 18 zoning districts considerably to update with the times.

"We don't want industrial surrounding our core downtown," Zuzga said.

A key change the city wants to make, Zuzga said, is allowing for mixed-use development, commercial and residential, in areas outside downtown, the only area it's currently allowed.

“Main corridors leading into downtown that are right now, kind of a mix of commercial and residential, but it’s not allowed to be that way, it just evolved over time, and we want to kind of, we want to fix that, so that way, they’re legal," Zuzga said.

She said giving developers more freedom can go a long way in unlocking the city's potential.

The plan is for the new ordinance to go into full effect in spring 2020. Before then, Zuzga said there will be community engagement to see what developers and residents think about the plan. She said she doesn't expect the rewrite to come with a lot of regulatory change.

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