10 ways the county zoning ordinance could be improved

Brown County’s zoning boards have taken a first step toward revising the county’s zoning ordinance, which has been updated piecemeal but not completely overhauled since the 1960s.

Each member was asked to bring a list of points they felt needed to be addressed in the revision process. Though public input was not originally intended to be taken at this meeting, board President Dave Harden also opened up the floor to the large number of residents present.

These are the items that generated the most discussion.

1. Tourist homes

The Board of Zoning Appeals is overloaded with requests for special exceptions to allow tourist homes, said board member Debbie Bartes. She would like to see the resolution that allows tourist homes amended and formalized as an ordinance.

Board member Jane Gore would like to see a limit on the number of tourist homes. The BZA reviews two to three applications for a new tourist home each month.

The influx of tourist homes could drive up prices for real estate and crowd potential full-time residents out of the market, Bartes said.

BZA president Lamond Martin proposed that tourist homes be treated as businesses within a home, rather than as a designation that stays with the deed for the property.

2. Signs

Brown County lacks a provision for temporary signs, Bartes said.

In contrast, Nashville does provide for temporary banners and similar signs through a permitting process.

Allowing temporary signs outside town limits as well could enable events to be advertised near the gates to Brown County State Park, Bartes said. That would help draw people who may only otherwise visit the park to explore more of the county and patronize businesses.

3. Land use

Several members of the board said there was a need to revisit land use as a whole, as well as specific definitions for zoning exceptions such as private recreational developments.

PRDs, which include country clubs, golf courses or like businesses in other communities, are not defined in Brown County’s zoning ordinance. However, the zoning board is allowed to grant requests for PRDs.

The buffer between residential and mixed-use areas also needs to be re-examined with the idea of allowing more home-based businesses, Bartes said.

4. Tiny houses

Tiny houses might be one way to deal with the lack of entry-level housing in Brown County, said Area Plan Commission member Carol Bowden. She said some Brown County houses would have counted as tiny houses before tiny houses — generally 400 square feet or less — were a trend.

Board member Paul Navarro proposed separate designations for fixed and mobile tiny homes, as some tiny homes are built on wheeled trailer frames so the owners can move more easily.

Plan Commission Director Chris Ritzmann said mobile-style tiny homes are allowed in a campground under the current zoning ordinance. A community for tiny homes could be created along those lines.

5. Home businesses

The county needs a clear definition for allowing home-based businesses that do not disturb neighbors, Bowden said. Such businesses have been denied in residential areas in the past.

Audience member Jim Schultz said current rules prevent someone with a private greenhouse from selling excess produce to a restaurant. He wants to revise rules so that people could carry on such business without getting a special exception from a county board.

6. Historic preservation

Navarro would like the county to look at creating a historic preservation ordinance, such as the town has.

The county needs something in writing that will help to preserve buildings that are historically significant, he said.

7. Noise ordinance

The lack of a noise ordinance in the county is a continuing problem, Navarro said. Describing traffic in an area of State Road 135 North, he said the noise from motorcycles speeding up to pass other vehicles was louder than his former neighborhood in Chicago.

County council member Darren Byrd said he doesn’t want to place too many restrictions that the town has on county residents. Many people out in the county choose to live further away from town to avoid such rules, he said.

He also was concerned such a rule might discourage the younger people with families whom the county wants to attract.

“When I was 25 and heard ‘noise ordinance,’ I thought ‘retirement community,’” he said.

8. Subdivisions

As a father whose children would like to find a place to live in the county, Harden said he would like the subdivision process be revised.

Instead of the APC having to approve every minor subdivision, if they meet all the requirements of the ordinance, the plan commission director could sign off on them, Harden said.

Also, the current ordinance requires each lot of a divided property to have 150 feet of road frontage. “Brown County’s limited on road frontage sometimes,” Harden said.

As long as the frontage met the approval of the highway department, it shouldn’t be further restricted, he said.

Harden also questioned the requirement for a subdivision with more than six lots to have two entrances, when some dead-end county roads have 50 to 60 houses on them, he said.

Harden proposed having large culs-de-sac instead where emergency vehicles could turn around.

“We’ve got to create places for our kids to put houses,” he said.

9. Cut the fat

Navarro said there are a lot of things in the current zoning ordinance that don’t need to be there anymore, such as prohibitions on empty tables in flea markets and rules governing phone booths.

10. The younger generation

Audience member Lucinda David said she would like to see an effort to reach out to younger people than those who are often involved in county decision-making.

Schultz said he had invited several people in their 30s to attend that night’s meeting and speak about their business ideas and how current regulations make them more difficult. None had come that evening.

Brown County needs to make itself friendly and inviting to young innovators, Schultz said.

Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.