Council gives initial approval to zoning change in residential area

The Vermillion City Council has given initial approval to a zoning change that will affect 29 residential properties located near the downtown area.

The action follows the filing of a petition signed by 48 percent of the property owners that reside in the area, who have requested that the zoning of the area be amended from its current R-2 residential to R-1 single family residential.

The primary difference between the two residential zoning districts is that R-2 allows multi-family structures of up to four dwellings, and R-1 is reserved for single family homes, and does not allow duplexes or four-plexes.

The residential property is located south of Kidder Street, between Church and Market streets.

"This has gone to the (city) planning commission, and while there, we did have a public hearing, and there were several people there both for and against the change," said Farrel Christensen, city zoning official at Dec. 21's meeting of the Vermillion City Council. "Comments that we heard from those opposing the change came from people who wanted to retain their flexibility and continue to have twin homes, tri-plexes and four-plexes.

"The opposing side wanted to retain the historic nature of the homes that are there, and preserve that through an R-1 designation that would limit the use to single-family dwellings only," he said. "The planning commission did decide to recommend the zone change, and city staff agrees that the best way to preserve this neighborhood would be to approve the down-zoning from R-2 to R-1."

City Manager John Prescott said several pieces of correspondence, both in favor and against the zoning change, had been received prior to the hearing at city hall.

Lydia Freedon, 25 E. Bloomingdale, spoke in opposition to the zoning change.

"I'm opposed to the change. There are any number of us who have purchased property in this area specifically because it was R-2 and it gives us the flexibility to have duplexes and use them as rental properties if we so choose," she said. "I am a landlord, so I am aware of the hazards of multi-family housing, and I think that the city of Vermillion has put in a lot of ordinances recently where you can have a three-strike process if you have problems with tenants, so I don't know that making it single-family dwellings is going to take care of the problems you are concerned about."

Freedon noted that changing the zoning won't guarantee that the properties in the area will be maintained properly.

"You can have single-family homes that are for rent, and have very bad neighbors," she said, "and it would just be from one family. You don't necessarily have that problem if you have a duplex or a four-plex. So, I'm very much opposed to this."

Robert Stoner, 18 West Bloomingdale, spoke in favor amending the zoning.

"I have lived in this neighborhood all 45 years that I have lived in Vermillion," he said. "I find it a nice, quiet neighborhood even though, at least where I live, it is only two blocks from Main Street. It's a mixed neighborhood as far as inhabitants are concerned – there are working people and professional people, there are USD professors who live in that neighborhood, there are inhabitants with families, with children, and yet is a nice, quiet neighborhood without a lot of traffic.

"I would like to see that area preserved in the kind of atmosphere that I have grown accustomed to over the 45 years that I have lived in that neighborhood."

Melvin Walz, 18 ? Bloomingdale, also stated he was in favor of the zoning change.

Doug Tuve, a member of the planning commission who was present at the city council meeting, was asked by Alderman Mary Edelen to address the concerns expressed by Freedon and others who are opposed to amending the area's zoning.

"As far as rental property there, I believe it is grandfathered in if it is currently rental property," Tuve said. "As long as the current owner owns the building, it can continue to be rental property if it is already rental property. Once it is sold, though, or if major changes are made to the property, then it would revert to R-1."

"The non-comforming use would last as long as that use was maintained," Christensen said. "So if it is a duplex, which I think we only have three of in the neighborhood, they would be allowed to stay on as long as they were registered with the rental registry and actively rented; if they ever expire for more than a year, they lose that use, or if they are ever damaged by more than 50 percent of their assessed value.

"If you have a non-conforming use, you can keep it and maintain it forever if you choose to," he said.

Tuve said the commission considered long-term planning when it made its recommended the zoning of the area be amended.

"Since it considered a historic district, the thinking was that this would in keeping with the long range planning," he said. "Another factor that came in was various discussions of other cities and their experiences with down-zoning. The conclusion was that property is usually better maintained and housing prices are stable if not rising in a R-1 area. They tend to go down in a R-2.

"The discussion also admitted that we have some exceptional people in the area who are very conscientious about caring for their homes," Tuve said, "including those who own rental property. But if that were sold, we would not know who that would be sold to, and we may be out of luck. We can't depend, as an administrative body, on the good will of people. We have to also have rules."

In a memo to the city council, Christensen noted that an objective of Vermillion's comprehensive plan is to down-zone historical neighborhoods to single-family only zones to help maintain the character of the property.

"It appears that there may be several potential historical homes included in the zone change area; at least one home is on the National Register of Historic Places," Christensen wrote. "With respect to the city's zoning map, the area is adjacent to an existing single-family district to the east. Nearly all of the residential property south of Main Street in the city is zoned R-1, which occurred during the 2008 revision of the city zoning map."

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