By Hannah Lester
The Opelika Planning Commission voted to send recommendations on the zoning ordinances to the Opelika City Council during its meeting last week. The changes included Section 7.3.A District Regulations and Section 7.7 Downtown Residential Living.
Previously, there were 16 units per acre allowed in the density dwelling units per acre in the C1 zone. The planning commission previously proposed 36, however, the Opelika City Council asked the planning commission to reevaluate that.
The planning commission voted recommending 28 units per acre during the meeting.
Dwelling units per acre is often higher in downtown than other areas because you don’t have to deal with as much parking or smaller building footprints, said Planning Commission Chairman Lewis Cherry.
“We feel like 16 units, which is what’s allowed in most other zones in the downtown, does not meet the density residential requirements for our downtown area, so we’re recommending this be moved up to 28 units per acre,” Cherry said.
The other change includes how the bottom floor of a business can be used, meaning residential or business.
While Cherry said that they would still like to see the majority of bottom floors used for businesses, rather than residential, some changes needed to be made.
“In many cases in our downtown, especially on the first floor we have either alley access, we have corner access, it doesn’t necessarily make so much sense to be so limiting on how those units are occupied on the first floor, provided that the frontage is still non-residential,” Cherry said. “… As we continue to grow and expand downtown, we would prefer, from a city standpoint, to push our commercial spaces in the heart of downtown, based on these recommendations.
“And so we still see that there is still a fairly good bit of usable space in the current downtown that we feel should be prioritized for first-floor commercial, rather than other spaces.”
The planning commission also voted to recommend changes to uses in downtown to include/exclude some businesses.
Warehousing space, for instance, is not optimal in the downtown area, Cherry said.
“I know this is all tied back to a development that y’all saw and granted conditional use approval on,” Cherry said. “I will say that we have had some further discussions with the developer there. They are continuing to look and review what they’ve submitted to y’all and see how they can best work with the city to make changes based on feedback from city council and citizens.”
The items were opened to the floor for a public hearing and one resident, Ashley Smith, asked if there would be conditions allowed for units per acre to go higher than 28. She said that at the current standard of 16, there are conditions to allow for 20. She said that changing the first floor to residential also allows for more units.
“Having commercial property is there for a reason,” she said.
A second citizen, Joyce Newland, requested that information regarding zoning be made available in a way that the average citizen can understand. Additionally, she said that the lingo used during meetings isn’t understandable to citizens listening.
The vote passed, with two commission members voting against the recommendations.
The recommendations will appear before the city council for final vote.