While few people would find a city zoning code compelling reading, Reynoldsburg Planning Administrator Eric Snowden is an exception.

While few people would find a city zoning code compelling reading, Reynoldsburg Planning Administrator Eric Snowden is an exception.

For about a year, Snowden has been cleaning up and clarifying a code that had not been reconciled since about 1999. He hopes to have the process substantially finished by the end of the year.

"Working with the team here, the administration and the planning commission, I have committed to re-evaluating, modernizing, information that is there," Snowden said.

"It's adding more information when it's necessary, deleting information that's not necessary. For the most part, it's not changing the development standards, the regulations that people need to meet when doing new development."

Many people would not notice the changes or would find them trivial, but for property owners who apply to make changes to the use of their land, and to the staff members who try to interpret the law to make those changes possible, it's a big deal.

"Many of the things are small, even infinitesimal, but they are good practices in terms of code-writing," Snowden said. "An example is that 'planning administrator,' my title. There were six different ways the code referenced my job, and that needed to be standardized to one thing."

A zoning code typically consists of two things, Snowden said. The most obvious and common-sense portion is the actual standards and allowed uses for property, such as how far back buildings must be located from property lines and other buildings, and what types of uses are allowed: Factories must be located near other factories, for example, and residences near other residences.

"Back in the horse-and-buggy days, when industries were very polluting, you might have had an industrial use that could cause health problems if it was too close to a residential use," he said.. "At the highest level, the purpose of zoning is to make sure there are not land-use conflicts."

But just as important, he said, is having a consistent process so when the standards are applied in practice, they mean the same thing to different people involved.

"(Updating the zoning code) is organizing material so it's neat, consistent with itself and easy to interpret for staff and the public and developers," Snowden said. "We as the city government owe that to our residents and developers, to have the process make sense."

Examples are things such as appeals: If the applicant disagrees with a staff decision, who settles the disagreement? There can be different answers to that question, including various boards and commissions, and sometimes city council. Knowing the path to follow and the information developed at each stage is important to a fair and effective process.

In Reynoldsburg, there are three primary boards that make various decisions: a design review board for commercial architecture, a planning commission, and a board of zoning and building appeals.

Snowden believes the task of updating the code could be improved if it were less periodic -- 15 years since the last update is a long time in the zoning world, he said.

"Many communities do this continuously," he said. "The reason we have had a jump is we have not done it in such a long time. Now we can do periodic updates as new issues arise in the planning and zoning world and as new case law comes down from state and national supreme courts. In some ways, we are basically playing catch up."

In the end, the zoning code allows development to happen in an orderly and predictable way.

"It applies to boards making decisions for new development or commercial (development and redevelopment), it applies to staff approving permits, it applies to a homeowner that just needs to do a minor project," Snowden said. "It's to simplify the process but still allow for the quality results of development."

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews