New Castle News

June 20, 2013

Hearing set on city’s zoning changes

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Good fences make good neighbors, so the saying goes.

But the question for New Castle residents is: What constitutes a good fence, or, more aptly, an appropriate fence?

However one wants to characterize them, chain link fences would be prohibited in the front yards of residential districts under a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance.

It’s just one of several amendments proposed to the ordinance, which was adopted in 2009. Other amendments include language changes regarding the North Hill Historic District and the downtown overlay.

City council has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed changes for 5:30 p.m. June 25.

James Farris, city zoning officer, said the reason for barring chain link fences in front yards is to have fences that are “more aesthetically pleasing.”

Farris said existing chain link fences would be grandfathered.

The authority for approving home occupations also would be changed.

Currently, home occupations such as beauty shops are conditional uses that have to be approved by council. Under the amendment, home occupations would be considered special exceptions that would have to be approved by the city’s zoning hearing board of appeals.

Explaining the rationale for the change, Farris said special exceptions are “more neighborhood oriented” while conditional uses generally affect larger areas of the community.

The proposed amendments to the historic district and downtown overlay essentially change certain building improvements from mandatory to voluntary.

In adopting the ordinance in 2009, council set standards for making renovations and improvements to buildings in both the North Hill and downtown areas of the city.

Under the amendments, “shall” in several parts of the ordinance is replaced by “may.” In some cases, “shall” is deleted.

For example, in the section dealing with building design, the ordinance now says, “Bold colors shall be limited to and reserved for awnings, door, window trim and accents.”

It is amended to read, “Bold colors limited to and reserved for awnings, door, window trim and accents are encouraged.”

Another section prohibits the use of fiberglass or metal panels, plywood panel siding and plain concrete masonry units as wall–facing materials.

An amendment to that section discourages rather than prohibits use of those materials.

The proposal also changes the role of the Historical Architectural Review Board, an advisory body made up of seven residents.

The ordinance says the board shall give recommendations to city council “regarding the advisability of issuing any permit required to be issued in accordance” with the sections dealing with the downtown and the North Hill Historic District.

The proposed amendment says the board “shall give council recommendations regarding permits issued in accordance” with the sections dealing with the two areas of the city.

Enforcement of the zoning ordinance would be changed from the city zoning officer to the permit officer.

Last year, council considered similar language changes and elimination of the board after receiving complaints from residents of being harassed by board members when making improvements to their homes.

Council later decided not to make any changes after residents spoke in support of the board.

Regarding the proposed changes to the historical portion of the ordinance, council president MaryAnne Gavrile said, “I do believe that it may weaken the provisions of the historical district.”

She said council hasn’t had any issues with the language dealing with the historical district, adding each case is individual.

“And, if there was an issue, the zoning officer would take it to the (historical review) board,” she said.

Gavrile said she believes council should be allowed to vote on the amendments individually, rather than having one vote on the entire ordinance. That would allow any council members to vote no on the historical district amendments and yes on the other proposed zoning changes, she said.

“Other parts are vital and necessary for the integrity of the ordinance.”