New standards could help create Commercial Place building boom

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Known as The Avenues or Commercial Place since at least the 1950s, city officials are pondering a new designation for the Greater East Side area — Traditional Neighborhood District.

The proposed new Commercial Place zoning district was one of three items for discussion — with no official action taken — by the Greencastle City Plan Commission at its recent September meeting.

Besides considering development standards revisions for Commercial Place, the Plan Commission looked at RV parking issues and sign ordinance concerns.

Motivation for the Commercial Place discussion comes from three separate developers looking to build in The Avenues. City officials met with them and got some feedback on some issues that might change development standards in the area, City Planner Scott Zimmerman said.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that part of town,” Mayor Bill Dory said, noting that more than 50 buildable lots exist in the area. “But all the standards we pile on makes it difficult. Maybe we can figure something out to take away some of the stumbling blocks.”

Dory explained that one developer looked into a 40-foot-wide lot. He wanted to build a standard house but couldn’t fit the building on the lot with a driveway and conform to parking standards, setbacks and other requirements.

The idea being considered is creating a zoning district for Commercial Place with less-restrictive development standards than in other residential districts.

The boundaries of the new district are suggested as the centerline of Avenue B on the north; the north line of the Zinc Mill Park planned unit development on the south; the centerline of Warren Drive on the east; and the centerline of Percy Julian Drive on the west.

Among the development standards being considered are:

-- Reducing the minimum living area of a dwelling from 1,000 to 850 square feet for a two-bedroom home.

-- Reducing the driveway width from the current minimum of 11 feet to nine feet on a 40-foot lot, possibly reverting to 11 feet for wider lots.

-- Replace the garage setback of 10 feet behind the living area with 25 feet and allowing a garage at the front of the house. Garage may still be set back from the front of the house.

-- Clarifying that the measuring point of the minimum five-yard setback be the face of the eave or the face of the gutter at the front of the house.

-- Replacing the average rule of front-yard setback with 25 feet (slightly greater due to narrow street right-of-way of 40 feet).

-- Allowing parking in the front yard only in front of a garage door.

Developers have asked about allowing for two parking spaces in front of a house if no garage is provided. That option could include two spaces in the front yard on an 18- to 20-foot pad.

It was also noted that if buffer yard requirements were kept in place, that would basically render the lots unbuildable.

Zimmerman noted that with the need for starter or entry-level housing in Greencastle, Commercial Place could be a solution as it is “situated right between the schools and industrial area.”

It can’t happen, however, without new development standards, he said.

“It could create a good opportunity if we do it right away,” Plan Commission member and local realtor Eric Wolfe said. “Our condo development is basically built out, so basically it could fill that market need.”

Wolfe said his office sees a lot of young couples looking for a $100,000 house in Greencastle that will be safe for their children.

“We just don’t have that,” he said. “This could fill the need.”

Mayor Dory noted that the concept is still at the idea stage.

“We haven’t run these ideas up the flagpole yet,” he said, to see if they fit state statutes and all.

Commission member Tim Trigg asked how many of the buildable lots are close enough together that the site could see multiple homes built.

“Not very many,” Dory said, noting that some lots are vacant and other sites are owned by those who have more than one lot and could sell off a site if they wanted.

Meanwhile, the issue of RV parking in Greencastle came to the Plan Commission from the Zoning Board after a recent case.

Plan Commission Chairman Doug Wokoun, who also sits on the BZA, said it was felt that the commission could discuss the topic “and alleviate some of the issues.”

City Planner Zimmerman said when residents park an RV in front of the house, it can result in a “visual problem that creates calls to my office.”

“What is the proper placement?” he asked, noting that the city has had issues in the past with people living in RVs. “Clearly we can’t solve everybody’s problem.”

Just like a car, an RV, if licensed, can be parked on the street for 72 hours, but then must be moved or it will be ticketed or towed.

He questioned whether parking RVs in side yards on improved surfaces would be an acceptable community standard. Zimmerman said he really hasn’t had complaints about RVs parked in side yards even with the preponderance of RV purchases during the pandemic.

“We’re trying to avoid inconsistent enforcement,” the city planner added.

“As for parking on the street,” commission member Wayne Lewis said, “no, not even for one night, that’s dangerous.”

City Attorney Laurie Hardwick said she isn’t sure what the answer is. The only complaint she has heard is not letting them park on the lot line.

“There comes responsibility with owning something like that,” Wolfe suggested. “If you don’t have a piece of property that conforms, you can’t just say ‘tough.’”

If restrictions are too lax, Wolfe added, the city can end up with RVs parked in driveways and front yards all over and create neighborhoods that “just don’t look very nice.”

Fellow commission member Donnie Watson noted that “people aren’t looking to see if they’re violating an ordinance when they’re buying an RV.”

“We need to try to come up with an ordinance that can satisfy the biggest number of people in the biggest number of situations,” Wokoun said.

There can be a big difference between a really nice RV and others that aren’t quite so nice, it was noted.

“You can’t legislate taste,” City Attorney Hardwick interjected.

Wokoun asked members to think about the issue and be ready for more discussion at the next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday Nov. 23 at City Hall.

“Building standards may reflect our decision,” Mayor Dory said. “The reality is that all the stuff you can put on a quarter-acre lot in the city is different than what you can put on five acres out in the county.”

The third issue involved amendments to the sign ordinance, including how many signs and what size signs are allowed in residential neighborhoods.

“At some times of the year, people have many, many signs. We have to decide. There won’t be special exceptions,” Hardwick said, adding that the biggest issue currently is people putting signs in the right of way.

“Occasionally we have to have the Street Department go out and do a sweep and take them down to the city garage,” she added.

Another issue, the mayor said, is dealing with the use of temporary signs, including the lighted arrow variety.

“This won’t be done overnight,” Hardwick assured the commission. “This is a big issue.”

Mayor Dory and Chairman Wokoun were joined for the nearly two-hour meeting by Trigg, Lewis, Watson, Wolfe, Mark Hammer, Emily Knuth, Jeff Mahan and via Zoom, J.D. Miller. Matt Welker was absent.

Joining City Planner Zimmerman in attendance were city councilors Jacob Widner and Cody Eckert.

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  • Concerning the ordinance covering the parking of RVs and Boats both on city streets and in yards. Greencastle has a ordinance in place but what we need is enforcement. It might be needed to publish the guidelines and give a 1 month grace period and then start enforcing. How far from the property line is required? It wouldn't take much as the police drive by to write down the violation and address and simply send a warning letter , then if not taken care of follow up with a fine.

    -- Posted by goingon80 on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 8:05 AM
  • *

    More government/regulation is not the solution to either of these problems.

    1)Re: The Avenues (Commercial Place). Why not just have the developers request variances like everyone else... submit their off-standard plans to the commission and the commission can decide whether to grant a variance with special consideration for the fact that its taking place on the Avenues and smaller lots call for smaller houses and other deviations.

    2)Re: RV Parking. If you have space to park your RV on your property, why shouldn't you be able to park your RV on your property? It's your property and you aren't reducing property values.

    Stop growing government.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 9:43 AM
  • This will be something interesting to keep an eye on. It is amazing what can get done when there is valuable motivation.

    -- Posted by beg on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 9:44 AM
  • dreadpirateroberts,

    If i had to guess drawing up plans and submitting for a variance on these low margin construction projects (without the guarantee of approval) probably makes this approach unpractical.

    As far as the RV parking issue i agree to a limited extent. Parking of RVs in front yards / driveways is really an eyesore, however, current zoning requirements that they must be behind the dwelling are not practical for most lots. I'd propose the following:

    1) RV parking permitted in side yards provided that front of RV is no further forward than the front of the dwelling and maintains some reasonable setback from property line (say 3 feet)

    2) Permit driveway parking consistent with street parking (IE: 72 hours then it has to move). Right now street parking is less restrictive than driveway parking which makes zero sense since you are encouraging parking which obscures streets and sight lines.

    -- Posted by hometownboy on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 12:44 PM
  • *

    Hometownboy -

    I don't think its impractical at all.

    "Low margin" is a subjective argument at best b/c what you consider "low margin" may not be "low margin" for me.

    And in case you didn't know, Walmart's entire business model is based on "low margin" and they seem pretty successful.

    A likely favorable recommendation would be assumed based on the premise presented in the article... development of property that would otherwise be unable to be developed due to current government regulations by way of variance from current standards.

    As for the RV parking, how is an eyesore (especially one that is not permanently attached) a matter for government?

    Again, its subjective... Maybe I find my neighbor's electric Prius plastered with liberal bumper stickers an eyesore. Maybe my neighbor finds another neighbor's large Trump banner an eyesore.

    None of these are matters for the government.

    I don't care if my neighbors park their RV perpendicular to the porch and have their slacker kid live in it so long as it is on their property... it doesn't affect my property values, and I will gladly extend to them the same freedoms that I wish for myself.

    Short of diminishing my property values, or endangering my property or my family's health & safety... I ain't much bothered by what my neighbors do.

    Parking RVs on the street is dangerous b/c it does obscure sight lines... so at least we agree on that. :)

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 1:46 PM
  • Follow the $ and you will know where this is headed and who is driving it.

    -- Posted by beg on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 3:46 PM
  • True beg

    -- Posted by Keepyaguessin on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 5:44 PM
  • No Happy campers in Greencastle.

    -- Posted by smartmom on Wed, Oct 7, 2020, at 7:32 PM
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