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New zoning ordinance calls for simpler language, more modern downtown
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For the average Turlocker, the city’s zoning ordinance is anything but simple to understand.

City officials are hoping to change that.

On Thursday, Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore presented the Turlock Planning Commission with a comprehensive update to the current zoning ordinance, in hopes to simplify and clarify some presently muddled language in the existing ordinance. 

“Currently, there are little clarifications for what the community needs are,” said Whitmore. “We want to create an ordinance that stays fresh and modern.”

Whitmore said that the public’s inability to understand the current ordinance prevents them from exchanging potentially useful information that can benefit the city as whole.

"It’s difficult for the public to engage," said Whitmore. “Once you get specific, it makes it easier for the public to engage and understand what you’re presenting.”

Tentatively, the new zoning ordinance would bring changes to a variety of issues including accessory structures, recycling facilities, underground and mobile food facilities and parking standards.

Whitmore stated that the current ordinance leaves “room for interpretation” for things like accessory structures and that the certain designations for specific areas continue to be muddled.

In the new ordinance, design guidelines, permitting requirements, and height designation would be changed to match the general plan.

For example, the commercial Thoroughfare Zoning District, a zone that initially catered to automotive repair businesses has caused confusion over what purpose it exactly serves.

"There are some various confusing things about this district,” said Whitmore. “Even people who have been here for years don’t really understand it."

Whitmore also discussed future changes to the downtown overlay districts. Based off the new plan, downtown would head into the direction of a metropolitan type downtown area.  This new downtown vision would call for the maximum height of buildings to be extended to 60 feet, permit housing densities at 40 units per acre, and create an expedited permitting process for developers looking to obtain property in the downtown area.

“We're typical of very suburban downtown areas,” said Whitmore. "We need to break through the ceilings and look through a different vision.”

Whitmore also suggested that the current permitting process become more expedited for businesses looking to develop in the downtown area. Instead of giving out conditional use permits, which have heavy public input, Whitmore suggested the process become more reliant on staff, and in turn would speed up the permitting process and entice possible developers.

"The type of process you have shows the developer what you want to see there," said Whitmore.

The Valley Oaks Senior Center, a proposed condominium project that would have ran along Marshall Street, saw a loss in financers due to its inability to build over 60 feet in height based on the current city ordinance, according to Whitmore.

“If you start putting out those signals that you’re not looking for anything over three stories in your downtown, it doesn’t really look like your typical downtown,” said Whitmore.

Mike Brem, Planning Commission chair, said that although he has no qualms with the notion of buildings that are above 60 feet in height, he would like to see public input on proposed projects.

“For me, it has to do with the people living in that neighborhood,” said Brem. “You’re going to need to ask about the public’s opinion.”

Both an updated copy and a revised copy of the zoning ordinance will be presented to the Planning Commission in September.