Denison tightens restrictions on development along highways

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Denison approved a series of ordinance updates Monday that included new restrictions for development along major corridors.

Denison tightened its restrictions on what can be built along the city's major roadways Monday night when it adopted its new comprehensive zoning ordinance. This new ordinance update refines and defines what cannot be built along the city's highways while also eliminating some loopholes that in exist in the office zoning district.

The council unanimously voted to adopt the new updated ordinance, which will bring the regulation up to current market standards and better reflect the city in the 21st century.

The council initially considered the ordinance update in August, but tabled the item in order to answer some questions on highway zoning.

"I am not sure, this is just me speaking, but I am not sure we want to have anything by right on the highway overlay district," Denison Mayor Janet Gott said in August. "This is our last opportunity to get it right. There are some places we cannot get it right because it has already gone wrong, but we can get it right here."

The changes were proposed by John Webb, executive director of planning and community development, who started looking into places where the  ordinances can be updated to reflect modern development trends, industry standards and streamline uses.

Upon looking at the ordinance, Webb said it seemed as though portions of it were about 30-40 years old.

"This will likely be one of many future amendments for development codes," Webb said in August. "When I started here in January, one of the things I spoke with leadership about wanting to go through was development codes to ensure that accurately reflect where Denison is in 2021 and where we want to go forward."

As an example of the updated uses, the ordinance now allows for retail uses in light industrial areas around the city.

"As you know, the light industrial market has changed over the years," Webb said. "We have a lot of properties in the city where we need more flexibility for those uses to come in."

Under the proposed changes, the city added 14 new uses that are prohibited along the city's highway-oriented and corridor districts. Many of the newly-restricted uses focus on motor-vehicles and related businesses, ranging from trailer rentals and RV Sales to auto wreckers and used motorcycle dealerships, among other uses.

Other uses that previously were by right now require a conditional use permit. These include dealerships for new motorcycles, ATVs and automobiles and boat sales and rentals.

Phil Jones, representing Classic of Texoma, cautioned against requiring businesses like car dealerships from needing conditional use permits, noting that it could unnecessarily lengthen development for these projects and lead to second thoughts by some developers.

"I understand you want control, but there are other ways to do that," he said noting that Classic is currently developing a location that would fall into this category.

One of the concerns raised relates to what happens to a conditional use permit if the recipient closes down or sells a property. In some cases, the permit is tied to the person, while in other cases the permit is tied to the property itself. However, the permit will laps after six months of disuse.

"It isn't about control; it is about planning," Gott said, noting that Classic would be grandfathered in the new ordinance. "We get one chance as a community to plan the highway overlay district. We get one chance to do that."

Other restrictions relate to residential uses in office districts within the city. While these districts were initially envisioned as mixed-use areas with commercial and residential uses in close proximity, this type of development never took place to the level foreseen. However, Webb said the current language leaves loopholes were high-density residential can be developed by right in areas that would otherwise not support it.

Under the changes, residential uses would no longer be allowed by right.

Developer Jonathan Earnhart agreed with the change, but noted that grandfathered homes in these districts would become non-conforming. This could put up barriers if the home owner were to try and sell the property. Earnhart suggested that the city offer these residents the chance to rezone their properties to residential at no expense as a way of avoiding this issue in the future.

When put to a vote, the ordinance passed unanimously.