Citing increased economic opportunity, Douglas County officials are trying to expand allowable uses in industrial zones.
On Tuesday, Douglas County planning commissioners unanimously approved a staff-initiated zoning text amendment that alters county code regarding light and industrial service areas.
"There is so much vacancy out there, we have to allow more uses," Brad Spires, a commercial Realtor, said during public comment.
Kathy Beamer, owner of Custom Fit in Johnson Lane, said she wants to expand her personal fitness business to serve north valley residents but is restricted by light industrial zoning.
"I need a larger facility," she said. "I would love to own a business in the area but can't do it without this zoning change."
County planner Dirk Goering said the community development department has received several comments about such restrictions.
The 2011 master plan, he said, documented 391 industrial parcels, totaling 1,990 acres.
The amendment would alter the land use definition of "light industrial" to include construction equipment repair and sale, storage, showrooms, and product testing and sampling areas.
"Based on comments received at the planning counter, many business owners have expressed a desire for more flexibility with accessory sales, either as a means to promote products developed on site or as a means to supplement their revenue stream by selling products related or unrelated to their primary use," Goering wrote in his staff report.
However, distinguishing industrial from commercial land use, the amendment stipulates that "accessory sales of products or material produced, stored, or modified on site, may occupy a maximum 25 percent of the area designated for the main use."
"Outside sales must be located in the rear or side of the building and be screened," reads the ordinance. "Accessory sales may include the consumption of products."
Planning commissioner Jim Madsen raised concerns about equipment repairs. He worried that oil, hydraulic fluid and other substances used in construction machinery could contaminate light industrial areas.
"This stuff goes through concrete, cracks and gutters," he said. "It needs to stay in service industrial areas."
At the same time, he suggested the county convert some light industrial zoning into service industrial.
"It seems the service industrial areas are pretty well eaten up," he said.
Planning Manager Candace Stowell said the amendment in question wouldn't change zoning but only expand uses under code. She pointed out that light industrial areas, such as business parks in Minden, allow more "intense" uses than service industrial and require a minimum parcel sizes of 1 acre.
Service industrial, such as Industrial Way in Gardnerville, allows more retail flexibility associated with service and rental shops. The zoning requires a minimum parcel size of 10,000 square feet - roughly a quarter acre.
"This would not be changing the areas," she said. "The main reason for bringing this forward is for recreational needs in light industrial."
The amendment would expand the list of allowable uses in both light and service industrial areas and change several permitting requirements.
For example, instead of being prohibited in light industrial zones, car washes and pet service businesses would be permitted with a design review.
Educational facilities would be allowed in both areas with a design review rather than a special use permit.
Recreational uses would be expanded extensively. Health clubs, indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, membership clubs, nonmotorized racing, and public recreation centers are currently prohibited in light industrial areas and would be permitted with a design review.
Vehicle rentals and sales, service areas, and veterinary clinics would also be allowed in both zones with either a design review or special use permit.
"The premise for this change is the county's 2010 Economic Vitality Strategy and Action Plan which sets a goal that 'by 2022, Douglas County will be recognized as the best place to live, work and play because of our community commitment to education, recreation and innovation,'" Goering wrote. "In addition, there are several existing nonconforming recreational uses taking place throughout the county in light industrial zoned districts. This is due to the fact that industrial facilities are an ideal fit for indoor recreational uses."
He gave the example of indoor rock climbing and paintball facilities. Other industries like pet services would benefit from large industrial suites versus retail offices.
"They need that space for (animal) training purposes," he said.
Madsen objected to veterinary clinics in industrial areas, arguing the county has required existing veterinarians to use agricultural parcels.
"It's an ag-based operation, and that's where it belongs," he said.
Planning commissioner Jeremy Davidson, who generally supported the expansion of uses, questioned whether the county needed to separate light and service industrial.
"Under current code, light industrial seems very restrictive," he said.
Some of his colleagues agreed.
"We need to become more business-friendly," said planning commissioner JoEtta Brown.
Stowell said consolidation of zones is a possibility in the future but not addressed by the current proposal.
"The distinction between light industrial and service industrial is not as strong if this ordinance goes forward," she said.
Last but not least, the amendment would address solar energy in industrial zones by eliminating screening requirements for ground- or wall-mounted panels.
"County staff recognizes that screening requirements for solar energy systems, which can range in height from four to 10 feet and can have an obtrusive horizontal appearance, makes sense for zoning districts such as residential or commercial that have higher design standards," Goering wrote. "However, industrial zoned districts have relatively relaxed design standards. Furthermore, screening requirements for solar energy systems typically require cyclone fencing with plastic slats or dense landscaping. Due to the large area covered by some solar systems, such screening requirements can be burdensome and costly."
Brown inquired whether the standards would change if industrial areas happen to be near homes.
Goering said there are different design standards in some buffer zones. However, industrial areas, which likely predate residential development, still allow for a variety of construction.
"You'd be asking people to screen solar four to 10 feet high when they could build a 45-foot brick building with lights around it," he said.
The zoning text amendment will now head to county commissioners for review.
n In other news, planning commissioner Margaret Pross will continue as board chair.
Colleague Kevin Servatius made a motion on Tuesday to keep Pross in the position, which was seconded by Frank Godecke, and approved unanimously with the exception of Don Miner, who was not present at the hearing.
Servatius said Pross had done a great job handling the advisory board and "leading us with the proper decorum."
Godecke also received a vote of confidence to continue as vice chair.
Planning commissioner Jim Madsen made a motion to keep Godecke in the position, which was seconded by Servatius, and approved unanimously by the board with the exception of Miner.
Madsen said Godecke had done an excellent job thus far.