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Zoning hearing set

Sheila Gardner

Tucked among the utility bills, greeting cards and advertisements, Douglas County property owners may have come across a bright orange postcard from the Community Development Department.

The notices – some 19,413 pieces of mail – served to alert residents to this month’s hearings on the revised official zoning maps which were produced as part of the county’s new master plan.

“We’ve had phone calls from as far away as London,” said John Doughty, the county’s planning-economic development manager. “We sent notices to Australia and Austria.”

Doughty said the department set up a special telephone number at 782-6244, staffed by two employees, to handle telephone calls which average about 30 to 40 each day.

“For the majority of people, there’s no change at all except in name only,” said Doughty. “For all practical purposes, you have the same parcel size, same setback, same everything. There’s no change in the way you live your life.”

The new zoning district names are part of the development code which was adopted in November as an implementation measure of the new master plan. The county is rezoning property to bring it into conformity with the master plan land use map.

The most controversial aspect of the zoning maps is the hillside conservation overlay zoning district. An overlay zone is designed to superimpose special standards over the base zoning district. In the hillside overlay, the zoning district regulates grading and development of land with 15 percent slopes and greater and more than 25 percent in vertical height. The ordinance does not apply to existing dwelling units and accessory buildings on legally subdivided parcels.

There are several other exemptions, Doughty said.

“The best thing people can do is read the ordinance clear through first,” Doughty said.

The overlay zone is designed to minimize soil and slope instability, erosion, sedimentation and water run-off to protect water quality and natural character of the hillside and mountainous areas.

Doughty said a similar ordinance has always been on the books in Douglas County, “but it had no teeth in it.”

“It didn’t really tell people what to do,” Doughty said. “You either deal with it or you don’t. There’s no half way.”

Doughty said most callers have basic questions about the changes in zoning maps.

“They want to know why Douglas County is rezoning their property,” Doughty said.

Other questions include:

n Q. Will I be able to have the same uses on my property?

A. It depends on the specific property. In a vast majority, the uses are identical to those previously permitted. A number of uses have been increased. Primarily, those parcels which are changing to commercial or industrial will have different uses.

n Q. My parcel is less than the minimum parcel size. Can I build on the parcel, expand my house or add accessory structures?

A. Douglas County code specifically states that a lot which is non-conforming in size may be developed in accordance with the applicable regulations (setbacks, heights, etc.). A variance may be approved where the setbacks or other provisions cannot be met.

n Q. Can I have horses and other farm animals on my property?

A. While zoning districts may not reflect “agricultural” in their name, animal keeping and other related agricultural uses are still permitted on parcels of one gross acre as a right with no limitations and may be permitted with a livestock overlay designation on parcels as small as one-half acre, with some limitations.

n Q. I have received notice that I am in the hillside conservation overlay district. Can I still build on that parcel?

A. It depends. The hillside conservation overlay district designation is attached to the entire parcel. However, the provisions of the ordinance only apply to those portions of the property which contain slopes of 15 percent or greater. In many instances, only a portion of the property contains slopes of 15 percent or greater and that development is not affected at all. The ordinance also contains a number of exemptions including existing residences and structures. For parcels more affected by slopes, the ordinance provides for a limitation on grading, vegetation removal, heights, etc., but does not eliminate development entirely.

The ordinance will be introduced at Thursday’s county commission meeting .Agricultural, residential and hillside conservation zoning on Feb. 13, review of non-residential zoning on Feb. 20 and second reading of the ordinance on March 6.

Doughty emphasized that the hearing schedule is not the time to bring up master plan amendment requests.

“The request must be consistent with master plan land use designation,” he said. “This is not the opportunity to ask for commercial zoning where you have residential.”