A community gathering spot, stores they can walk to, maybe some well-designed condominiums – these are desires that emerged from Lauderdale’s long-range planning process completed last fall, according to City Council member Mary Gaasch.
Residents would like “a little downtown,” Gaasch said.
And a key to those benefits is an overhaul of the city’s outdated zoning code, say Gaasch and other officials. The city has hired Bonestroo, a planning and engineering firm, to help them get there.
“The biggest thing for Lauder-dale is getting updated,” said Bonestroo consultant Tina Goodroad, who has been analyzing what needs changing and will soon propose revisions to bring the zoning code into line with the comprehensive plan completed last year and with changes in state law.
Her experience includes working on the staffs of three city planning departments, and she has put together proposals for many other cities across Minnesota. At Bonestroo, she can also draw on the company’s collective experience.
“We have a database of model ordinances that have worked really well,” she said.
Goodroad said that she will likely advise the council to repeal the old zoning code and substitute a new one, rather than picking through revisions one at a time. She expects to present her draft in two parts to make it more manageable for reading and discussion.
“This ordinance is more of an overhaul than in many other cities,” she said, although the Met Council’s requirement for long-range plans has generated a wave of zoning changes across the region.
Goodroad said one thing Lauderdale needs to do is catch up with technology, specifying, for example, what forms of electronic signs might be allowed in commercial areas. The old code does not address that, nor does it guide businesses that might want temporary signage for a sale.
Landscaping is an area that might offer opportunities to enhance the city, Goodroad said, “so you can regulate when development occurs” without creating rules that are “super onerous.”
Changes could also include re-designating areas along Larpenteur that are now residential, so that the city would have the option to allow development of them as com-mercial space. That appeared to be the most controversial possibility at an Apr. 13 open house. Concerns raised by residents included the potential impact on property taxes and the fear of a “land grab” to create larger areas for development.
Goodroad said at the meeting that recent changes in state law mean that eminent domain can’t be used for private development. And the city wouldn’t be likely to act as a developer because it would be too expensive. Changing the designation on those properties might give homeowners more options when they’re ready to sell, she said.
Asked about residents’ concerns, Gaasch said that although development could certainly affect property taxes, changes to the zoning code would not. And residents might actually benefit from commercial development, she pointed out, because the city levies a total amount to meet its needs each year, then divides the bill among taxpayers based on property value. Adding value in the strip along Larpenteur could reduce taxes in other areas.
But no development is currently planned, so the zoning in itself won’t affect taxes. “I don’t see this as having any impact in the immediate future,” Gaasch said.
As for the worries about pressure to find larger lots, she said, “I understand people’s fears about losing their homes, but that’s not going to happen.” She said the city can lay the groundwork for development but would wait for a private firm to carry it out.
According to Goodroad, changes to the code might make it possible for some families to stay in their homes. She said her proposal will likely open up possibilities for adding porches and bumping out kitchens in Lauderdale’s small, closely built homes. Families outgrowing their space might choose to stay instead of looking for larger homes in other communities, she said, “and you want to maintain your families.”
Another benefit for some families is to follow the trend toward home-based work by simultaneously enabling it and controlling it.
“More and more folks are getting creative, and industries are allowing for it,” she said. But there are concerns about home-based occupations, too -including parking, deliveries and outdoor storage – that the zoning code should clarify, she said.
Council member Gaasch expressed confidence in the process that has led up to the zoning code revision.
“We really tried to get feedback (from the community), as we did with the comprehensive plan,” she said.
Gaasch asked Lauderdale residents to think about “what they want for Lauderdale long-term,” and to continue making their wishes known, via phone, e-mail and participation in hearings that will happen this summer and likely into the fall.
“This is a tool that will serve our community,” she said.
Falcon Heights is considering minor revisions to its zoning code, City Manager Justin Miller said.
St. Paul solicited revised comprehensive plans from neighborhoods in recent years, too.
St. Paul Planning Director Donna Drummond said the city’s recent comprehensive plan calls for various zoning studies; the largest currently under way is for the Central Corridor.
Lauderdale’s current zoning code can be found at ci.lauderdale.mn.us under Ordinances.