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Code uncertainty delaying development

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Developers have questions about what zoning in Lebanon will require in the future, and nine builders, engineers and architects representing about a dozen developers are waiting on the answers before they can start construction, according to City Planner Paul Corder.

What they want to know is what's going to be approved in the city's proposed revision of its comprehensive zoning code, first unveiled at a series of public hearings last October and November. Projects ranging from subdivisions for individual homes to multifamily complexes need to be designed to the right specs before they can be built, developers say.

However, the revised code has been deferred repeatedly in City Council since it first appeared on the agenda in November, when councilors unanimously approved it on first reading.

It was deferred in December as well, although council held a work session with Corder about it that three councilors (Lanny Jewell, Kathy Warmath, and Bernie Ash) attended on Dec. 8.

Deferred to Feb. 3
This month, on Jan. 6, the revision was deferred again to Feb. 3. Councilors say they've slowed the process down since their initial approval of the revamped code because they take revising it very seriously and want to assess its many details.

"I just want to be sure about what we're voting on," is how Warmath, who represents Ward 6 on the council, explained her point of view. "And I want it to be as comprehensive as we can make it."

Local developer Charley Dean and Warmath agree on that point. Both want a good, clear code that holds to high standards for all types of housing.

"The code needs to keep the public interests in place, and help make it work for the developer," Dean said. "It should hold all development to a high standard in general, instead of trying to limit types of development."

'Specify materials and standards'
Warmath, in turn, wants the code to specify materials and standards clearly. "It needs to give specifics on building materials that are acceptable," she said. "We need to create our vision and set standards to make it happen. I want the Highway 70 corridor to be very pretty and something we can be proud of."

Warmath represents that section of the city, and she also points that the corridor makes the first impression of the city many people get when they drive in from the west.

However, according to Corder, would-be-developers are wanting answers sooner rather than later.

"They're not sure which code to design for, but are willing to try to deal with it however it goes," Corder said. "But they need an answer one way or the other."

The developers, civil site engineers and land surveyors agree that they do want answers but they hope for some improvements in the code as well.

35-foot height limit
One example is the 35-foot height limit for some zones in the old code. It requires roof heights of 35 feet or less for multi-family buildings or apartments.

"Thirty-five-foot limits on three-story buildings makes it more difficult to design roof lines that are pleasing," said engineer Mike Wrye. "If Lebanon approves the new code, that problem goes away."

Wrye is the civil site engineer for Gross Builders and Carroll Homes, both developers that want to build affordable homes locally that are also high-quality housing.

Paul Crockett, who serves as land surveyor for three local developers, says he thinks the outside setbacks required for multi-family developments are another problem that needs to change.

50-foot setbacks unpopular
"One of the main issues in multi-family is the 50-foot setback all the way around the property," Crockett said. "It takes 50 feet all the way around, and you can't do anything with that. If that doesn't change, developers are going to walk away. Some already have."

Developer Kennedy Striplin said he wants to look at the changes before he decides what to build. "We can build two or three stories," he said. "It depends on where they measure the 35 feet."

The developer said he has worked with codes in several places and some count 35 feet to the top floor ceiling, others count it to the center height of the roof, and still others to the highest point of the building.

"If it's to the top ceiling, then the roof pitch could be almost 45 feet," he explained.

Height limit for fire safety?
Striplin also said he wonders if the 35-foot limit may have been set so fire trucks with ladders could reach the roof in a fire.

But Corder said he doesn't think that has been a concern. The current code was originally passed in 1968, so Corder can't be sure. But he said the current fire chief, Chris Dowell, told him height doesn't matter, because the buildings could still be successfully protected under the proposed revisions.

Despite the general consensus among developers, an urgent need for the proposed code changes to be settled one way or the other is not so obvious to one prospective developer, however.

Developer Stephen Dronen said his company from Cincinnati is still looking for land in the area. "Lebanon has a lot that is attractive about it," he said. "We are just trying to understand (the regulations). Certainty is helpful, but I wouldn't say (not having) it will hold us up."

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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