Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shape Sioux Falls - Shape Places - Are You Confused?

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.


  1. The City is in a difficult position as they can't advocate they can only educate (as you say) so it is up to us as citizens to get educated and doesn't fall at the feet of City it falls on us. It is very very difficult to keep zoning codes simple if it were there wouldn't be any confusion and all would be good and people would thoroughly understand. It is very complex and we the citizens again need to do our home work. The reason it took 5 1/2 years to update the zoning ordinances is because there were a lot of citizen work groups that involved stakeholders at all levels, including homeowners, business and developers. There are so many parts to the zoning ordinace it is very difficult to act quickly and frankly isn't prudent. I encourage all citizens to look at how we live, work, shop in Sioux Falls today, it is vastly different that it was in 1983 and we need to make changes that reflect that. I don't believe that this is a gift to developers with little input from the neighbors, much the opposite it will give greater clarity to what is going to be built, the size of the buildings and will have some teeth in the what developers present to what is built. Do your homework ask questions and vote accordingly.

  2. I follow many zoning issues both during Planning Commission and City Council meetings. The results of the decisions made by these two bodies have tremendous impacts on both individuals and businesses.

    My perception of Shape Places is that it is an ordinance which serves to limit public input.

    1. Limit public input? What Shape Places will do is require more rezonings which is a petition to and a final approval of the City Council. Re-zone has two public hearings. How does that lessen public input?

  3. Shape Places eliminates Conditional Use Permits...which in turn eliminates 50% of the citizen input allowed in these decisions. You cannot count the Planning Commission as 1 of the hearings and they are a tried & true rubber stamp!
    Lets use the example of the Walmart neighborhood. If Shape Places had gone into effect last Spring, it would be over for them. Their citizen input would be done the moment the City Council voted last Fall. They would not have a chance to participate in the discussion of size, signage, hours or operation, etc.
    Shape Places minimizes/eliminates public input, period.

    1. Shape Places should be a No vote in April. It has wonderful intentions, however removing citizen input through elimination of the Conditional Use Permitting Process is a horrible part of these proposed changes. This is also the same document that would have rezoned property all over the city without Notice to nearby property owners. Read as: Against the Law. The most recent post by Anonymous hit the nail on the head. Me thinks the first Anonymous is either the Mayor, Jeff Schmitt, or Pat Lalley.

    2. I'm not sure that limiting public input is the intention of the removal of conditional-use permitting. Conditional-use permitting, in short, is micromanagement by the city of the private use of one's property. There are certainly certain uses - say, renting out a room in a single-family home - which I believe are reasonable uses and should be allowed by right, rather than by permit.

      Don't forget that the most beloved neighborhoods in this town, and the ones with the most character and charm - Downtown, Whittier, McKennan, etc. - were all developed without zoning codes or land-use planning. For all their good intentions, zoning codes tend to create cookie-cutter developments that are unwalkable, charmless, irresilient, and sterile. I'm in favor of form-based codes, but you have to take what you can get, and I think that Shape is a modest improvement over what currently exists.

  4. Thank you. I agree many think this vote is about allowing a Walmart near 85th. Education will certainly be necessary for voters to make a decision on voting yes or no.

  5. @ Tom H,
    While limiting public input may not be the intention of the removal of conditional-use permitting, that unfortunately will be a direct consequence if the current version of Shape Places is passed. Sioux Falls can do better and it deserves better. You are correct, if someone wants to rent out a room to someone in their home, they should be able to do so, this situation is not about those types of decisions.

    Instead, as you know, Shape Places had never been practically applied until the proposed Walmart at 85th & Minnesota and the folks with SON saw that their input would be dramatically limited as to how development would proceed at that location if it were passed (directly contrary to what Pat Lalley's article said in yesterday's paper espousing all the input citizens will have if this passes). Not to mention the fact that the city had incorrectly zoned their single family homes as multi-family residential.

    The reason many think this vote is about the proposed Walmart at 85th & Minnesota is precisely because it was that project, conjoined with the passage of Shape Places, that brought these issues concerning improper zoning, lack of notice as to up and down zoning throughout Sioux Falls and the loss of citizen input to the forefront.

    So, in a sense, if the last poster believes education is the answer, perhaps he should begin with the subject of History for a little context here.

    1. "the city incorrectly had incorrectly zoned their single family homes as multi-family residential." Do your research and get the facts straight. If you do, you will find that this is incorrect information. The city of Sioux Falls adopted it's first zoning ordinance in 1928 and has had zoning ever since. Power to the people and get out and vote!

  6. The Anonymous poster directly above is 100% correct!!