Residents and city staff began the process of rewriting Fort Atkinson’s zoning ordinance during a kick-off workshop Wednesday evening.
“We want to make development and enforcement more predictable,” consultant Ben Rohr of Vandewalle & Associates said during the gathering at the Dwight Foster Public Library.
The purpose of the zoning ordinance rewrite is to implement the concepts set in the city’s updated comprehensive plan and simplify the development process while also ensuring that property values, unique environmental and cultural resources and community character all remain protected.
Also, Rohr said the intent will be to encourage high-quality development, mixed-use development and redevelopment and a diversity of housing types, as was frequently discussed during the comprehensive plan update process. The rewrite also brings the city’s zoning ordinance up to date with state statutes.
City building inspector and zoning administrator Brian Juarez said the zoning code last saw a substantial update in 2001, but the base document actually dates back to the 1960s.
“Code written 50 years ago doesn’t necessarily adapt to what is on the ground today,” Rohr said.
Starting with Wednesday night’s meeting, the general timeline for the rewrite is expected to be a 12- to 18-month process.
Wednesday’s meeting was intended to identify and begin analysis of the existing zoning ordinance. A project-specific working group will be formed to work in concert with Vandewalle & Associates, who was hired to guide the project through each phase. The firm previously had led the city through an update of its comprehensive plan.
Rohr said a draft zoning ordinance is set to be reviewed by the city’s Plan Commission in late spring or early summer 2019 after a review by the working group. In the fall and winter of 2019, the focus will be on the zoning map.
“Hopefully by early 2020, we will have an adoption date,” Rohr said.
Public input will be encouraged throughout the process to ensure the zoning ordinance reflects community needs and wishes.
At Wednesday’s meeting, which was attended by more than 30 people, Rohr started off by explaining the basic concepts.
“Zoning regulates how land is used, what is on the parcel, what your property is being used for whether it is residential, commercial, industrial or some other use,” he said.
Through zoning, there are a variety of designations or districts including residential, commercial, industrial and mixed use, he explained.
“All of those are different land-use categories based on density and what the land is being used for,” Rohr said, noting that each district includes allowable land uses, setbacks, building sizes and other requirements.
To avoid confusion, Rohr also highlighted some of the differences between a zoning ordinance, a comprehensive plan and a subdivision ordinance.
Wednesday’s meeting related strictly to the update of the city’s zoning ordinance.
The final draft of Fort Atkinson’s updated comprehensive plan is expected to be approved at next Tuesday’s joint session of the Fort Atkinson City Council and Plan Commission.
Similar to the zoning code rewrite, Vandewalle & Associates was hired to guide the city through the update process for the comprehensive plan.
Rohr said the comprehensive plan is intended to serve as a guide for development. It was due for review in 2018 per state law. It originally was developed in 1997 as a master plan and then updated as a comprehensive plan to comply with the law in 1999 and then again in 2008.
“This is our plan for what policy should be in the future,” he said, adding that the zoning ordinance is one of the policies to implement that plan.
“It is one of those ordinances written in the city’s code and is enforceable as a policy,” Rohr said.
Unlike the comprehensive plan, which looks at future land use, the zoning ordinance actually regulates land use.
“The zoning ordinance is an implementation tool of the comprehensive plan,” he said. “Building the ideas of the comprehensive plan into the zoning through a policy mechanism, that is how it can be enforced and dictate what development is going to look like moving forward.”
Rohr added that there is both an official zoning map for the city marking the zoning designations for each parcel versus the comprehensive plan map that illustrates projected future land use over the next 20 years.
He said city staff is working on updating the subdivision ordinance, which primarily addresses regulation of infrastructure such as sidewalks, roads and placement of utilities.
“Zoning is ultimately a legislative decision,” Rohr said.
Once the basics were explained, participants at the meeting Wednesday were led through a series of questions they were able to cast votes digitally on in terms of the importance of specific zoning issues. The intention was to determine if there was a general consensus in some areas or if certain issues required more discussion at future sessions.
There was some discussion as to whether residential or small-form alternative energy projects should be an allowable use or be regulated by a conditional use permit. Conversely, there appeared to be general support for regulation of design standards within the various zoning districts.
In addition, the participants appeared supportive of promoting the multi-modal access within the community, which mirrored prior input during the comprehensive plan update process.
No date has been set for the Plan Commission to review the first draft of the rewritten ordinance.
Regular updates will be given to the commission and the Fort Atkinson City Council throughout the process. Each of those meetings will be open to the public.
Final adoption of the new zoning ordinance and official zoning map will take place at a public hearing before the city council.
Visit the city’s website or Facebook page for updated documents and a schedule of events, or contact City Manager Matt Trebatoski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (920) 563-7760 for additional information.