Planner: 'Overlay district' needed before zoning

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A proposal to give commercial developments along East Main Street a uniform appearance should move ahead of the effort to rezone the new area for commercial use, Jackson building and planning administrator Janet Sanders said Wednesday.

During a study session of the Jackson Planning and Zoning Commission, Sanders said the proposed "overlay district" needs to be written into the city's ordinances prior to the rezoning. That action will prevent a property owner from moving quickly to use their property in a way that would otherwise be banned.

Commissioners present for the meeting also concluded they need to study the landscape in the proposed commercial zone near the new Interstate 55 interchange to determine the best way to accommodate adjacent homeowners.

During a public hearing last month on the proposed zoning, more than three dozen people came to voice concerns about the abrupt change from commercial zoning to residential zoning that was included in the city's original proposal.

The overlay district proposal sets limits on sign height and style, imposes landscaping requirements and excludes nearly three dozen types of businesses from operating in the area. Among the businesses that would not be allowed in the district are nursing homes, riding stables, adult entertainment centers, amusement parks and tattoo parlors.

The proposed commercial zoning would extend from Oak Hill Road to I-55, spreading out in a large, triangular area that would extend for about a mile along the interstate. Commission chairman Bernard Proffer said members need to visit the area as a group to discuss exactly how to take homeowners' concerns into account.

The commission will put off action on the commercial zoning proposal until May at the earliest, Proffer said.

Actions by the commission must be approved by the Jackson Board of Aldermen. As each piece moves along, the board will hold a public hearing for final refinements to the plan.

With construction just starting on the Main Street extension and the I-55 interchange, there is time to make the proposals work, Proffer said.

One idea is to leave the width of a single home lot between the commercial area and homes already in place, Sanders said. Or, she said, a wider buffer zone set aside for denser residential development such as duplexes could be put in place.

Proffer seemed pleased with that idea. "I believe you could have duplexes as a buffer, use the rules of the overlay district, and make them pretty good-looking units," he said.

One change that is moving along with the zoning and overlay proposals is a change in the height limit on buildings in Jackson. Current ordinances limit buildings to 35 feet tall, a limitation that was enacted to reflect the limitations on city fire equipment.

The proposal would increase the height limit to 100 feet.

Fire equipment is better now, Sanders said, and Jackson doesn't want to block a hotel or other developer from being able to move quickly on a proposal if it otherwise fits the city's zoning codes.

335-6611, extension 126

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