In a meeting livestreamed on Facebook where public comments came via email, Reynoldsburg City Council on March 23 voted 6-1 to approve the city's first zoning-code overhaul in 50 years.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the meeting was livestreamed and those attending had to go through a temperature check before entering city hall.

Councilman Barth Cotner cast the lone no vote.

He said he couldn't "get on board with supporting" the new zoning code "in this atmosphere" because the meeting only should have addressed the continued operations of the city.

"Not a single member (of the public) -- there's nobody here," Cotner said. "I don't know why we're rushed.

"There's still a lot of pieces; there's just a lot still to make sure is corrected and pieces that are not clearly communicated."

Waggoner Road resident Mary Turner-Stoots agreed. She was among a handful of residents who emailed comments to be read into the record by council clerk Mollie Prasher.

"This is probably one of the most critical pieces of legislation the City Council will vote on," Turner-Stoots wrote. "It appears the city is using this pandemic as an opportunity to keep us out of the public hearing. What is so important about this legislation that it can't be postponed?"

Based on the 2018 comprehensive plan, the new zoning code strives to create mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods with higher densities near certain "corridors" along East Main Street, including the intersection of East Main and Brice Road, said Andrew Bowsher, development director.

It includes special development considerations in areas like Olde Reynoldsburg and classifies about 3,200 acres, mostly around the Interstate 70/270 interchange, as innovation districts.

Those districts are intended for new "economic centers that will serve Reynoldsburg and surrounding communities" and encourages the reuse of commercial areas and recommends moving new retail developments closer to the street, with parking at the rear.

The code has two areas relating to housing: suburban residential (SR) and residential medium (RM).

SR zoning allows for traditional single-family homes with off-street parking but also accommodates "multiple forms of single-family development, including attached single-family dwellings," according to the code. RM zoning introduces a "more diverse range of housing options, including two-family buildings, townhomes, row houses and apartments."

The new zoning code originally called for about 30 acres along Waggoner to change to RM zoning, but after months of lobbying by residents, the land was kept as SR zoning.

Even though multifamily housing will not be allowed along Waggoner Road, the new map contains about 30 acres of undeveloped property that will be zoned RM, Bowsher said. The largest area, about 24 acres, is near Taylor Road and East Main Street.

Councilwoman Kristin Bryant said as public servants, members of council have "an obligation to be here tonight. It's certainly regrettable that we can't have members of the public here, but we've had at least five opportunities where we've entertained questions and comments."

"We've got people in our community that are doing their part and we need to do ours," she said.

Ward 2 councilman Louis Salvati said in this instance it would be inappropriate to allow the pandemic to stall a process more than a year in the making.

"We've been through three readings, at least four or five planning commission meetings. There were working sessions, two or three public hearings.Even this one being as odd as it is, there were four or five written comments," Salvati said. "There's been more public comment on this than I've seen on any other issue."

Still, city officials said it will not take another 50 years to review Reynoldsburg's zoning.

"Our zoning code is only good if it's a living document," Bowsher said. "This will continue to be updated but as it stands right now, this is a great document that will allow new development and new planning in the city."

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Because of the pandemic, council is in recess for the month of April. The next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 11.