Planners weigh adding institutional building zone

¦ Would include schools, churches
by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Does the city need a separate zoning classification for schools, churches and other public buildings?

The Plan Commission began a discussion of that issue Thursday and directed Building Inspector Pete Scheuerman to investigate the issue further and make a recommendation.

Scheuerman raised the question, citing what he termed “some heartaches we’ve gone through” with building plans at schools and churches in the recent past.

As one example, he cited several recent projects at Plymouth High School, which is located in an area zoned R-2 residential.

That zoning places limitations on the number, location and size of accessory buildings on the property – limitations which several school projects have exceeded, with Plan Commission approval.

“If you applied what’s in our ordinance, the school wouldn’t have built the ag center. It’s just too big,” Scheuerman said, referencing the Food and Agriculture Science Center at the high school.

He also pointed out that garage/ shelter buildings approved at the high school would not have been allowed under the residential zoning limit on the number of accessory buildings allowed.

Scheuerman noted that, under the city’s current zoning code, churches are permissible uses in any zoning area, which means that size, setback, sign and other rules can vary from one church building to another.

The Christian Life Assembly of God Church on Krumrey Street recently won approval of a building expansion from the commission.

But now, Scheuerman said, the church is seeking permission to erect another sign on the Rustic Road entrance to their property, which would require a variance from the current sign code.

“Anytime one of our schools wants to put up another sign, do they have to come to the Plan Commission for permission?,” Scheuerman asked.

“Many communities have an institutional zoning (classification) for schools, churches, government buildings, hospitals, clinics and the like,” City Administrator Brian Yerges observed.

Commission member Jim Flanagan said he could see the need for a separate zoning classification for public buildings like churches and schools. “You want to be consistent, that’s the real issue,” he commented.

“You should see what other communities are doing and bring that forward to us,” Mayor Donald Pohlman told Scheuerman.

The commission recommended a rezoning for a home at 236 N. Milwaukee St.

Property owner Robert Dix explained that the home is currently zoned light industrial.

“My wife and I bought the property not knowing that it was zoned light industrial,” Dix told the commissioners. “We remodeled it and then tried to resell it. We had an accepted offer but the bank wouldn’t approve it because it was zoned industrial.”

The Dixes have been renting out the home, but the current renters are moving out and they would like to sell the home, he said.

“It’s interesting how it got zoned industrial,” Public Works Director Bill Immich commented. The house dates back many years and has always been a residential property, he noted.

“I don’t think it ever was an industrial building,” Immich continued. “If he wants to sell it, it seems unreasonable not to rezone.”

Yerges agreed, saying, “The likelihood of it ever being used for light industrial would be very small.”

Pohlman noted that, due to the size of the lot and the location of the house on it, the house would not conform with setback and other requirements for residential zoning.

“We don’t normally create a non-conforming (condition), but it already is non-conforming,” under the light industrial zoning, Pohlman noted.

“I think it’s common sense to zone it for what it’s being used for,” added commission member John Nelson.

The commission voted to recommend the rezoning by a vote of 4-1, with Flanagan abstaining and commission member Bill Barbieur voting no.

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