Homeless Crowd

The Washington Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night recommended a code revision that would allow more possible locations for a homeless shelter than initially proposed by city staff.

The planning commission gave the nod to the code update that would allow temporary shelters to be permitted as a special use in industrial zoning districts, M-1 and M-2.

In addition, the commission voted for the temporary shelters also to be permitted in Planned Developments Commercial (PD-Cs).

The code change stems from a rezoning request to “up-zone” two properties at 4 and 10 Franklin Ave. (Highway 47), from C-1 light commercial to C-2 general commercial. The request was made by supporters of the Franklin County Homeless Task Force (HTF) who sought to build a shelter at that location, a former doctors’ office.

The current code permits a homeless shelter in C-2 general commercial zoned districts.

The request was on the planning board’s agenda Monday night, but it was withdrawn that afternoon.

The planning board voted 8-0 to approve the code revision. Member Carolyn Witt was not at the meeting.

The city council still must give final approval to the new zoning code. A public hearing on the revision is slated for Monday, May 20.

 Shelter Definition

According to Sal Maniaci, community and economic development director, during discussions about the proposed shelter, city staff determined that there should be a clear definition in the zoning code for temporary shelters.

He explained that the city’s “zoning matrix” — which lists all permitted and special uses — is derived from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Staff recommended the city adopt the NAICS definition of temporary shelters. The NAICS defines temporary shelters as emergency shelters for abuse victims, homeless people, runaways and patients in a “medical crisis.”

“We realized we didn’t have a definition,” Maniaci stated. “The closest we had was for a hotel/motel. All hotels/motels are permitted in C-2 and C-3 (zoning districts).

“However, when we discussed it, we realized the best definition (of a homeless shelter) didn’t fit that of a hotel/motel,” he said.

Planning commission member Samantha Cerutti Wacker initially asked if a temporary shelter could be placed in a C-4 zoning district. But the city has not had C-4 zoning districts in its code since 2017 when there was an overhaul of the Washington zoning and development codes.

Instead, now in the codes are PD-Cs, which the city said has greater oversight and can implement more stringent conditions and a more intensive review process.

PD-Cs have a minimum lot size of 5 acres. Wacker pointed out that the code states the lot size requirement can be waived.

“We have used planned commercial in the past,” she said. “I think it is an advantage for both sides.”

Planning commission member Tony Gokenbach backed Wacker’s recommendation.

“(PD-Cs) are a great opportunity to review (requests) on a case by case basis,” he said.

Mayor Sandy Lucy added PD-Cs offer “an interesting alternative.”

Industrial Districts

M-1 and M-2 are not limited to Washington’s industrial parks.

City staff pointed out Monday that there are M-1 and M-2 districts in several locations in the city, including in the area of the former Hazel Products Group at 10th and Stafford streets.

The districts also are “up and down” Jefferson and Market streets and along Fifth Street, according to city staff, as well as the Mercy Hospital South location where the former Zero manufacturing plant had been.

There also is M-1 or M-2 zoning on International Drive where the bowling alley had been located, and on Chamber Drive off Highway A in south Washington. 

West Main Street and Westlink Drive, in the area of the city’s industrial parks, also are industrial zoned districts.