The Denison Planning and Zoning Commission recently voted to approve changes to the city ordinance defining and regulating assembly halls, event venues and other meeting spaces. The ordinance change is expected to be heard and decided upon by the Denison City Council on Sept. 9.


The request for definitions comes as city officials have received calls and inquiries regarding converting buildings in downtown to serve as event spaces for gatherings and wedding receptions. However, these uses were not specifically defined in the city code, Denison Interim Planning Director Phyllis Jarrell said.


“Right now there are several overlapping uses,” Jarrell said, citing exhibition halls and for-profit community centers as examples. “But they don’t fully describe what we have in mind with assembly halls.”


Main Street Director Donna Dow said she recently was approached by two prospective businesses in Denison that were looking to convert older buildings into downtown event spaces. These conversations ultimately lead to the conversations and proposed ordinance changes.


“It was just someone looking to have a wedding venue in downtown,” Dow said.


The proposed venue would have space both inside and in an outdoor courtyard space. Dow said the talks were just initial conversations and nothing definitive has been planned.


Dow said the city already has two similar venues in downtown — Le Venue and The Venue — located in the 400 block and 500 block of Main Street, respectively.


Under the proposed amendment, an event venue or meeting hall is defined as “a building, facility, room, or portion thereof, which is rented, leased or otherwise made available to any person or group for an event, meeting or function such as a wedding or reception.” This does not include fraternal organizations, religious facilities and civic community centers.


The change would also allow these uses by right in most commercial, retail and office districts across the city. This would also include the central district through the core of downtown Denison, Jarrell said during the meeting.


Under the changes, there would need to be one parking spot for each three seats at a venue or gathering, Jarrell said.


The ordinance change did raise some confusion by members of the commission who noted the broad terminology of what could be considered an assembly hall. Commissioner Mary Karam, who owns an art gallery in downtown Denison, said her property is sometimes used as an event space for a variety of groups and occasions. With the changes, Karam said she was uncertain which zoning requirements would fit her building.


Jarrell said it would depend on what is listed as the use on the building’s certificate of occupancy and what its primary use is. In the case of Karam’s gallery, it would also have some reduced restrictions on parking as it is also in the central district.


Jarrell said a building may also have multiple uses, adding another level of complexity. As an example, she said the bottom floor of a building may be used as event space, with offices located above.


Among the locations currently operating as an event space in downtown is the Katy Depot. Property Manager Audrey Robinson said the lobby space near the entrance and the upper floors are rented out for events nearly every weekend. The space is primarily used for weddings, but occasionally hosts family gatherings, proms and a rare class reunion.


Robinson said she was unaware of the city’s move to add regulations to businesses like her own, but was relieved to find out that the effect would be minimal, given her location in the central district.