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Sulphur eyes zoning changes with growth in mind

Last Modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 8:35 PM

By Natalie Stewart / American Press

Sulphur officials are looking forward to the future and updating the city’s zoning ordinance to complement its growth.

In recent years the city began a comprehensive master plan detailing the city’s goals for development and promotion regarding land use and what officials envisioned for Sulphur’s future.

The master plan was completed and adopted by the City Council last year, moving the city to its next phase of modifying its comprehensive zoning ordinance.

John Bruce, Sulphur public works director, said the council’s approval at its July 8 meeting “expressed support” of an outline for a revised ordinance, but nothing regulatory was adopted into law.

The new “guide” showing the direction the city wants to see the revised zoning ordinance take is similar to its current one with two exceptions — the establishment of a Board of Adjustment, which would be responsible for variances and similar issues, and an increase in the number of zoning districts from eight to 14 and defining the land-use areas.

Consultants Tim Jackson and Steve Villavaso, hired by the city, recently completed a conceptual outline of the new zoning ordinance. With the council’s ratification earlier this month, city officials and the consultants have a “course and scope” to “put the flesh on the bones” and develop the ordinance, Bruce said.

“The actual development of the text in the ordinance will define what the different land-use districts are, what types of activities can be conducted in those districts and what the rules are,” he said. “(Consultants will) simultaneously develop a map that will actually show the different land-use areas and where they are on the ground.”

Bruce said this phase will consist of “a lot” of reviews that will be available to the public so residents and businesses can see what effect, if any, the revised ordinance will have on their property.

“When available we will definitely encourage people to (give input),” he said. “(The revised ordinance) will take into account how property is used now and what the city sees as a trend in trying to provide a planned means of growth.”

Bruce said public input will play a significant role in the final result for the ordinance.

“Sometimes mistakes happen when drawing the maps. Something is inadvertently included or excluded,” he said. “No one can catch that like the individual property owner. Everyone looks for their own lot, so the public’s input will be important.”

The city’s revised ordinance would encompass four residential districts, five commercial districts, two industrial districts, two institutional districts and one recreational/open-space district.

Jackson said analysis by the consulting team showed that eight districts wasn’t “quite enough.”

“Our analysis suggested that the right number, we think, is 14,” he said. “We (Jackson and Villavaso) think the city of Sulphur has outgrown what (it) has now in terms of the number of districts. Now you (the city) have two residential districts. We’re suggesting four just to reflect and acknowledge what is on the ground now. Some single-family neighborhoods on one side of town are very different in looks from other neighborhoods in other areas of town.”

Jackson said that to gain a more uniform look throughout the city he and Villavaso may suggest setbacks and minimum lot sizes while protecting what is already “on the ground.”

Bruce said there is the possibility that some property owners may not meet the criteria under the revised zoning ordinance.

“In land use, that happens, frankly, under our current zoning ordinance,” he said. “Those are termed as legally nonconforming lots, or more popularly referred to as grandfathered uses. Those provisions would largely still be available in the new ordinance. We would have a definition of what a legally nonconforming lot was and how it would be accommodated.”

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