Individuals who own a home within the St. Clair city limits undoubtedly have their property zoned residential. However, as it currently stands, some individuals who own or operate a business in the city also may discover that their commercial property is zoned residential.
The St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board learned more about that revelation on Monday as members gathered for their April meeting, which was their first of 2014. The issue came to light when Chairman Myrna Turner brought up the proposed cellular tower that will be built on city-owned property at 530 Park Ave.
An ordinance already in the city’s books allowed the board of aldermen legally to bypass its planning and zoning board for site plan and conditional use permit approval on city property by referencing a sentence included in its code of ordinances.
In March, a resolution unanimously was passed that waived the zoning requirements where the city’s maintenance shed is located and allowed the project to proceed.
While doing research, City Inspector Jeremy Crowe discovered the section in the first appendix of St. Clair’s Code of Ordinances.
“The city of St. Clair shall be exempt from the zoning regulations contained in this chapter with respect to any property owned and/or operated by the city of St. Clair,” it reads.
Specifically, it appears in Appendix A, Article 1, Section E.
At the same time, however, Crowe said he came across a zoning regulation established in 1969 that basically blankets much of St. Clair’s zoning as residential, including where the city maintenance shed sits.
“We’ve found that we have a problem with a lot of outdated zoning regulations,” said Mayor Ron Blum, who sat on the planning board as a member in order to make a quorum.
He mentioned the 1969 zoning ordinance.
In a nutshell, that blanket zoning law stipulates that unless otherwise noted and recorded, property in the city limits is zoned residential.
One of the properties affected is the city maintenance shed. Under current regulations, it is zoned residential.
Many other properties are affected, officials said.
Blum also mentioned and referred to a three-ring notebook that dates back to 1971. It contains approved motions to rezone properties but without ordinances or a lot of specifics for support. He said ordinances backing the zoning decisions started in 2002.
Because of what has transpired, Crowe said he is working on a time line regarding all zoning laws that have taken place within the city limits.
“Zoning in the distant past was only done by motion,” Crowe told The Missourian after the meeting. “No ordinances of preliminary plats were submitted. ... The issue with the motions is that there are no legal descriptions to go by, so I will have to complete additional research to determine which properties were rezoned.”
And, he said the research will take time to complete.
“It is going to take quite a bit of time to complete an accurate review and to revise the city’s zoning map to accurately reflect rezoning which has taken place in the past,” he said. “I will be including all motions and eventually review all past planning and zoning board and board of aldermen minutes to ensure accuracy.”
The city’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 2009, was mentioned several times during Monday’s meeting. The plan contains an existing land-use map as well as a future land-use map as prepared by the Lang Gang Inc. of St. Louis, an urban planning consultant firm that assists the public sector with planning and zoning services.
“An existing land use inventory was undertaken by the city staff of St. Clair,” the executive summary of the comprehensive plan states. “From this inventory, an existing land-use map was prepared. In turn, this map was used as the basis for development of a future land-use map. The future land-use map can be used by the city’s elected and appointed officials as a ‘guide’ in making future land use and zoning decisions.”
The word “guide” is in quotation marks.
However, the map never was adopted as the official zoning map for the city, meaning those specific regulations go back to 1969 or thereabouts when the blanket designation was made, unless otherwise noted by motion or ordinance.
“Adopting the comprehensive plan doesn’t make your zoning laws,” City Attorney Kurt Voss told the planners on Monday. “I don’t think adopting a comprehensive plan alone allows you to change zoning.”
Turner said she doesn’t believe the city ever “actually did anything” to change its zoning regulations through the adoption of the comprehensive plan.
However, both Turner and Blum said they believe the building department has been following the comprehensive plan as far as the city’s zoning regulations.
“If we can’t find ordinances that say properties are commercial, we need to clean it up,” Voss said.
The city attorney said that would be a two-step process. The city first would have to apply through its planning and zoning board for the zoning regulations to follow the comprehensive plan map, if that is what city officials desire.
Then, after a public hearing and any discussion, planning and zoning will have to adopt a map — the comprehensive plan one or a different one — as presented.
An ordinance would follow. Board of aldermen approval would be necessary.
Crowe said before any of that happens, the map needs to be reviewed per current use.
“We need to determine the use of each piece of property,” he said.
Crowe also told The Missourian that he believes the Lang Gang map was intended as a future use map and was not created based on existing uses.
“That makes it difficult to determine and enforce use regulations by zoning districts because a large amount of the properties within city limits would be considered a nonconforming use,” he said. “Most of the zoning ordinances are scattered throughout our books, and many of the motions are going to have to be compiled and a thorough investigation completed to determine exactly what properties were rezoned.”
As the process moves forward, Voss urged the city and the planners to proceed with caution.
“We’re really not talking about rezoning properties,” he said. “It’s not what we want the lines to be, but what we thought they were to be.
“You have to be careful. You have to have some basis and fact.”
“You have a definitive map. Look at that (comprehensive plan) map. Discuss it. Then have your public hearing. When you’re comfortable with it and after it’s cleaned up, the ultimate goal is to get it approved.”
Blum agreed with Crowe and said that process from start to finish will take some time.
“It might take a year or two to identify all properties,” he said.
Despite who long it may take, Turner said it needs to be done.
“If we’re just now discovering this, we need to correct it,” she said.
Voss reminded the planning board that what it needs to do is be able to have a document that specifically outlines what each piece of property is zoned.
“Then you have something that says, ‘This is the zoning map,’” he said.