The city's new zoning law called Shape Places will be on the ballot in the April 8th city election. It is a big deal for the city and my bet is that most citizens don't have a clue what it really means to the common citizen. The tendency of voters is to vote no when they don't understand a ballot issue. They will probably think they are voting on whether another Walmart Superstore should be built in southern Sioux Falls.
What exactly is Shape Sioux Falls and Shape Places? Are they the same or are they two different documents? How do these documents affect us and what should we know about them before the April election? Does this new ordinance give all the power to the developers and leave the homeowner without a say? Please tell us, city officials, why this is good for property owners too and won't leave property owners without a say in zoning matters.
Shape Sioux Falls refers to the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan which was adopted by the City Council on December 7, 2009. This is a comprehensive plan that guides future land development. The last comprehensive plan was through 2015. I tried to find the actual Shape Sioux Falls document online but it says it's temporarily unavailable. This is an important document that guides what our city is going to look like in the future. That's important especially because we are a growing metropolitan area. Actually, it's an interesting read.
Shape Places refers to the Shape Places zoning ordinance which was adopted by the City Council on March 19, 2013 and was to be effective April 22, 2013 until it was referred because of a successful citizen petition drive and is now on the ballot April 8, 2014. The Shape Places zoning ordinance is a major update to the city's current zoning ordinances that was last updated in 1983. It is a culmination of 5 1/2 years of work by the planning and zoning staff to bring city zoning ordinances in compliance with the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
You see, state law requires the city to have a master plan that is in line with its zoning laws. Jeff Schmitt, Assistant Director in the Planning and Building Services Department stated, "Because Shape Sioux Falls was designed for Shape Places, it will have to be changed to reflect the 1983 ordinance." So, if the Shape Places zoning ordinance is defeated in April then the City will have to go back and change the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Master Plan which was adopted back in 2009. Zoning is complicated but why did it take the city 5 /12 years from the time the comprehensive plan was adopted to update 1983 zoning ordinances? I am still confused but let's move on, shall we?
Master Plan, current zoning ordinance, Shape Places Ordinance, zoning districts, i.e. commercial, residential, forms, categories, uses, - all terms in this controversy that the voters don't understand. Those terms roll off the tongues of planning officials who assume everyone knows what they are talking about. My head is swimming. I want to understand this important issue but I need some help so I can make an informed decision when I go to the ballot box.
I went back and listened to the March 19th City Council hearing on this issue. Director Cooper said that they were trying to accomplish two things with the Shape Places zoning ordinance. First, they want to clarify for developers, landowners, and property owners what is going to be allowed and what's not going to be allowed, especially through the conditional use process. I say, that's a good thing. They want to make sure when a property is zoned to something that zoning matters whether it's going to be residential or commercial. How will it matter? He said the expectation of knowing what's going to happen on that property now and into the future is now going to be improved with Shape Places. How will it be improved? He went on to say that the comprehensive plan (Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan) is the guiding document on how these owners or intersections should be zoned. The Shape Places zoning ordinance makes it consistent with the comprehensive plan, trying to clarify what is going to happen or be allowed in residential and commercial zoned properties.
Councilor Entemann praised city employees on their work and stated city employees are citizens too and that they are not going to propose changes to ordinances that are the detriment to citizens, that they are trying to improve processes and policies. Councilor Staggers stated that although he had some problems with the signage language in the proposed Shape Places ordinance, it is more flexible and less confusing for people compared to what we have now. A deferral to April 2nd was introduced by Councilor Anderson and seconded by Councilor Staggers but it was defeated. The City Council voted 7-0 to adopt the Shape Places Zoning Ordinance. Councilor Jamison was absent from that meeting.
The rest is history. Residents opposed to a large development proposed for the 85th and Minnesota intersection, including a Walmart SuperCenter, submitted petitions to refer the Shape Places zoning ordinance to a public vote which will be on the ballot April 8th. Personally, I think it is a shame that this neighborhood zoning issue is being lumped into the Shape Places zoning ordinance as a whole. The zoning ordinance revision needs to be done to be in compliance with the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan to be in compliance with state law.
The city needs to apply the KISS principle - keep it simple stupid - on this vote. Educate the public and start doing it now, city officials.
It's the middle of January and the city needs to get in high gear and educate the public on their work revamping the massive zoning ordinance from 1983 or it may very well go down in flames which will then topple the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan. All because some people out near 85th and Minnesota don't want a Walmart Superstore in their neighborhood.
Ridding the confusion on this vote can only come from the city. If it fails, they will only have themselves to blame.