Commissioners discuss pros, cons of proposed zoning change

Hope Outreach, which offers community care ministry and a homeless care center, is considering establishing a new transitional housing facility. (Bonnie Vculek / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — Enid commissioners are considering tweaking an existing zoning law, leading to concerns over unintended consequences and questions about how much say a neighbor should have over someone else's property.

The ongoing conversation arose after Hope Outreach contacted the city with its own questions about zoning, as it considers establishing a new transitional housing facility as part of its ministries.

A particular location Hope Outreach was looking into is zoned for general commercial use, as "C-3." That zoning allows the property to be used for a whole host of different purposes, from a bowling alley, to a flower shop, to a hotel, motel, a taxi service and many other possibilities.

However, not allowed at a C-3 property under the current rules is "R-7" residential use. Some examples of what an R-7 property might be include a child care center, a group home or multi-family dwellings.

"Zoning is always something you want to make sure you're in line with before operation," said Rodney Fowler, Hope Outreach's transitional housing manager. "We don't want to purchase a property and then find out we can't use it."

Any project hasn't left the drawing board. There weren't, and aren't, firm plans to buy any particular property at the moment, Fowler said. But ever since bringing the query to the city, the zoning question hasn't gone away.

C-3 is generally seen as a very open and permissive designation, allowing for a lot of different things, with few hurdles to stop them.

Commissioner Ben Ezzell, Ward 3, said it was "an oversight that R-7 wasn't included," in allowed uses of C-3 property.

It's an oversight that he said gets in the way of the city's own goals.

"Our long-term planning indicates that higher density residential mixed use is what we're seeking out, so why would we put a barrier in front of that?" Ezzell asked.

David Mason, Ward 6, said he has no problem with Hope Outreach's plans specifically, but is hesitant to establish allowance of R-7 uses at C-3 properties as the general rule.

This would give neighbors of a C-3 property less of a say in use of design, he said.

"It's going to take the option away of every property owner that lives around there ... to come in and say, 'Hey, I have an issue with this,' or, 'I want to have a voice in it,'" Mason said.

City Attorney Carol Lahman suggested a process of "use by review" could be the solution in the situation of Hope Outreach, and in similar scenarios.

With this process, citizens would have an opportunity to share their thoughts on proposed uses, their worries and concerns.

"We need to secure the rights of not only C-3 owners, but everyone around them," Mason said.

Presently, use by review is reserved for "adult entertainment use" and warehouses, according to city of Enid regulations.

Ezzell responded that neighbors already have little say regarding the choices of C-3 property owners, and said that using such a property for a transitional housing or other high capacity residential purposes is not unlike a hotel. Use by review is not necessary for a hotel.

"Not everybody gets a say in what their neighbors do with their property, and we have the lowest say in what our neighbors do with their property when it's zoned C-3," he said. "I feel like we should have a really low ability for an annoyed neighbor to tell me what I can't do on my property in a C-3 zoning, because that's what C-3 is for.

"I can have a movie theater, I can have a hotel, and if I call my boarding house a motel, then the neighbor can't do anything about it anyway."

He went on to say that the city should be careful about encouraging use by review, as it could potentially be abused.

"All of the sudden, we could have people coming to use every time they're (irritated) their neighbors did something, and say, 'Hey, let's add that to use by review," Ezzell said. "We could theoretically add this whole laundry list, and I'm just not sure we want to open that can of worms."


Willetts writes for the Enid News & Eagle, a CNHI News Service publication.

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Willetts is education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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