After about a year of work, Porter County Plan Commission officials have completed their proposed overhaul of the county’s zoning ordinances, resulting in a document that’s much more comprehensive than the 23-year-old rules now in effect.
Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said the current 1983 zoning ordinances incorporate uses that date back to 1959 -- such as listing telegraph offices among the permitted uses.
He describes the new “Porter County Unified Development Ordinance” as a major change in Porter County’s rules.
“We needed a major change,” he said.
The draft ordinance will be the subject of public hearings tentatively set for April at various sites throughout the county. The ordinance must be adopted by the Porter County Commissioners before it can take effect.
Among other things, the draft ordinance establishes new zoning categories and building standards, but doesn’t address where these zones would be. That process will take place later with the development of a zoning map. Thompson said he first wanted to go through the public input process to see how the public feels about the changes in the underlying definitions, categories and uses.
The draft ordinance is on-line, and Thompson said he urges the public to look at the document in preparation for the upcoming public hearings.
The ordinance helps bring the zoning categories in sync with the land use plan adopted several years ago. That plan was never codified but has served as a guide for planning officials. In general, it encourages higher density housing closer to cities and towns and agricultural use and low-density housing in the more rural areas.
Some of the proposed zoning categories and building standards resemble existing rules, and some are entirely brand new.
For example, the new Residential-Septic category is like the county’s current Rural Residential zoning, and the new Neighborhood Commercial district is like the current Commercial-1. On the other hand, the county now has only one agricultural zone; in the new version, the AG zone is divided up in three different categories. And, the county’s two residential zones -- RR and R-1 -- are now broken up into six different residential categories, based largely on density.
Thompson said what he especially likes about the ordinance is the level of detail as it relates to new subdivisions. The current zoning ordinance basically calls for 11,000 square foot lots in the R-1 zones and goes into little additional detail. The new ordinance outlines different types of subdivisions -- a “traditional subdivision” would have at least 30-foot wide streets, 56-foot rights of way and 13 percent open space while “conservation” subdivisions would have 26-foot streets, 44-foot rights of way and 40 percent open space.
“It gives more options, more choices,” Thompson said.
How many lots would be allowed in subdivisions would depend on the zoning. The Residential Septic (RS) zone requires two-acre lots; the low-density single family residential category (R1) requires lots of 15,000 square feet with a septic and 22,500 square feet with municipal services. The medium density single family residential category (R2) calls for 11,000 square foot lots, while the two-family residential zone (R3) would allow 9,000 square foot lots per unit.
Thompson also noted that the proposed new ordinance goes into much more detail in its definitions. The current ordinance contains about two or three pages of definitions; the new one consists of more than 40.
Among other changes, the new zoning ordinance reinstates a category known as a greenway district, which Thompson said used to be on the county’s books but was taken out in the 1983 revision and incorporated instead into the AG zones. The greenway district is intended to provide a buffer zone between industrial and other high-impact districts.
Also new are the AG categories. The A1 (general agriculture) zone would cover general farming operations, ag-businesses, and sales of produce and products; it would require a lot size of at least 10 acres. The A2 (prime agriculture) zone is aimed at the “significant protection” of agricultural operations, and would require lots of at least 20 acres. The A3 (intense agriculture) zone is geared toward the industrial side of agriculture, such as confined feeding operations.
In addition to the zoning district, the ordinance also establishes new districts aimed at protecting and enhancing the existing features: An airport overlay district, an arterial roadway overlay district, a scenic roadway district, a watershed overlay district, and a wellhead protection overlay district.
Each district has different priorities and restrictions. For example, the airport district would not allow any use that would interfere with navigational signals, radio communications, and aircraft landing and take-off.
The watershed overlay district is aimed in part at reducing soil loss, erosion and siltation. Uses within the district that would not be allowed would include construction-material landfills, gas stations and junk yards.
Plan is Online
The 442-page Porter County Unified Development Ordinance can be accessed on line by going to the county’s webpage, www.porterco.org
Click on “departments,” then “Plan Commission,” then “Department Web Site.” The link to the ordinance appears on the left hand side of the plan commission’s webpage.