Proposed zoning changes spark discussion in Bay
A proposed change to the city’s zoning code to permit mixed-use developments in designated commercial districts drew a standing-room crowd of more than 50 residents to Bay Village Council Chambers on Oct. 5.
City officials conducted the informational meeting to answer questions about Issue 2, which will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot in Bay Village. The issue will ask voters to approve changes to the city’s zoning code to allow projects that combine commercial space and housing.
Jason Russell, of Concord Consulting who is working with the city on the proposal, explained that the proposed changes – referred to as an overlay – provide an option for current property owners and/or developers to create mixed-use projects that combine commercial and residential uses on the same parcel. Such developments, which are gaining in popularity in Ohio and elsewhere, are not permitted under Bay’s current zoning.
Russell said that the proposal – which has been discussed since 2019 – is intended to “create tools that will enable property owners to improve their spaces” and support the city’s "Stay in Bay" effort.
America’s retail industry is undergoing wrenching changes, said Russell, as it adapts to the increasing popularity of online shopping; greater awareness of the social and environmental costs of sprawling, single-use development; and by Americans’ growing preference for nearby shopping and dining. In response, developers are looking increasingly at rebuilding built-up areas like Bay Village with mixed-use developments.
Developers believe that combining retail, housing, restaurants, and offices in their projects can help revitalize communities by attracting new development, making more efficient use of land and infrastructure, increasing affordable housing options, and promoting a sense of place.
By permitting property owners and developers to create mixed-use projects, the changes hopefully will make Bay more attractive to developers and investors, said Russell.
“Empty parking lots and vacant stores are not the legacy of Bay Village,” said Russell.
While mixed use structures frequently feature ground floor retail with dwelling units above, that is not the only option, said Russell. Mixed uses might be vertical – apartments above stores – or horizontal, with a portion of the development comprised of homes while another portion includes commercial space.
The proposed changes are part of the city’s "Stay in Bay" effort, which seeks, among other things, to create additional housing options in the city, while creating an attractive village center.
The zoning changes would apply to three of the four commercial districts in the city: the Bay Square Center and Heinen’s at Dover Center and Wolf; the commercial area around the intersections of Dover Center and West Oviatt, East Oviatt, and Knickerbocker; and Clague Parkway Plaza south of Reese Park. A fourth commercial area, at Columbia and Eaton Way, was not included because of the small size of the parcels, said Russell.
Russell and Mayor Paul Koomar both stated that no mixed-use projects have been proposed and that the potential zoning change is an attempt to provide additional future options for property owners and developers.
But several residents at the meeting expressed concern that mixed use projects, if developed, might threaten the residential character of Bay Village, which is built almost entirely of single-family homes. Other residents worried that by changing the zoning, future mixed-use projects could be approved by city officials without the need for residents to vote on the project, surrendering residents’ ability to control future development in the city.
Noting that no mixed-use developments have actually been proposed, one resident called the change, “putting the cart before the horse.”
But city officials contend that such developments are less likely if the zoning is not changed to permit them. Developers who might want to build a mixed-use project in Bay will be less inclined to pursue the project if they need to obtain a zoning change, said Russell. The delays inherent in the process and the chance that the change would not be approved could cause developers to look at other communities.
While some residents wondered about the effect increased commercial activity might have on traffic, sewer capacity, and safety services, Russell explained that those concerns could be addressed if and when property owners would submit actual proposals.
Planning Commission member Jeff Foster reminded attendees that the proposal on the ballot is not a plan, but is a set of rules that define what developers can and cannot do.
The city's Planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review will still need to approve development plans, if any are submitted, said Foster. The approval process does not change under the proposal. What the overlay provides, though, is more detailed guidelines for developers and Planning Commission members to use when proposing or evaluating projects. Use of the overlay – including mixed-use development – will be optional, said Foster. Property owners and developers may still propose projects under the current zoning code.
Detailed information about the proposed measure, including the proposed ordinance itself, maps, and frequently asked questions are posted on the city’s website, cityofbayvillage.com.
Walter Topp is a resident of Bay Village.