The Canal Winchester Downtown Zoning Commission is hoping its work over the past couple of months will help clear up some ambiguity in the approval process for projects in the village's downtown.

The Canal Winchester Downtown Zoning Commission is hoping its work over the past couple of months will help clear up some ambiguity in the approval process for projects in the village's downtown.

Zoning officer Andrew Dutton said the group has four goals: to rezone property into downtown residential or commercial designations; to redraw the map defining the historic and preservation areas; to update the approval process for the planning commission and landmarks commission; and to update guidelines for both of those groups.

Dutton said the group met for the first time in July. Members hope to have their work finished in time to present to city council's Nov. 29 committee of the whole meeting.

The work of the downtown zoning commission has to be approved by council because it would change the parameters of the historic and preservation districts as well as the guidelines for the planning and landmarks commissions, Dutton said.

"There have always been a lot of questions when we go through the approval process," he said.

He said applicants must go through the historic district or the preservation district and the planning commission in order to get a project approved. In addition, he said, there may be questions about whether preservation district or historic district guidelines should be applied to commercial and residential properties.

"No one really knows what the exact process is you have to go through," Dutton said.

Main Street Canal Winchester director Bruce Jarvis, a member of the downtown zoning commission, said its members want to make sure the zoning code is applied evenly throughout the village and that the code takes into account the unique characteristics of downtown, including parking and signage.

Right now, downtown projects usually have to get a variance because the standards aren't geared toward downtown.

"It has been problematic over the years," Jarvis said.

The group plans to recommend a separate downtown zoning category to council, Jarvis said something he said is already available in other central Ohio villages and cities.

"This area is a little different than anywhere else," he said. "You cannot apply the same commercial zoning standards or one size fits all to the downtown area."

Dutton said the underlying zoning for downtown is general commercial and low-density residential that were really created for subdivisions or traditional neighborhoods.

The goal of the downtown zoning commission is to create a zoning code that accommodates smaller lot sizes and setbacks in the downtown and to decrease the number of variances that have to be granted, Dutton said.

He said the downtown zoning commission also hopes to clarify what commission is in charge of which approvals for the downtown area. Village code currently says if there is a major exterior modification to a building, the application goes to the planning and zoning commission. But what is classified as a major modification is up to the discretion of the village staff, he said.

Once the downtown zoning commission has concluded its work, the staff won't have to guess which applications to send to the planning and zoning commission, he said.

The revised standards should also help clarify whether a property is located in the preservation district or historic district. Dutton said the group is looking at preservation guidelines and how they should be applied to downtown properties. The downtown zoning commission studied maps of the historic and preservation districts to determine if any modifications need to be made, he said.

It also has looked at properties in the preservation area to see if they should be rezoned as downtown residential, commercial or general commercial district, Dutton said.

"We are hoping that it makes geographic sense," he said.

The landmarks commission, Main Street Canal Winchester, the planning and zoning commission and the Old Town committee are represented on the downtown planning commission. Other members include a downtown property owner, a business owner and a resident, a city staff member and Mayor Michael Ebert.