ZEBULON — A town committee, town staff and town leaders have deliberated over a special zoning district in downtown Zebulon for more than two years.
At a public hearing May 13, residents will get their turn to speak out for or against a proposed ordinance for a downtown overlay district – an area in which a set of rules can be applied on top of existing ordinances, commonly used to govern appearance standards for new development.
Town staff will present the most recent draft of the overlay ordinance at the public hearing, including final tweaks Zebulon commissioners made during their April 17 work session.
The most significant change came after commissioners questioned some portions of the proposed overlay district boundary where it jutted out from the heart of the central business district.
“I personally thought the purpose of the overlay was to protect the downtown core,” Commissioner Dale Beck said at the work session.
At the board’s request, Zebulon planning staff redrew the proposed boundary, leaving out portions along Vance Street where the overlay had extended into areas zoned transitional residential to the east and west of downtown.
“We’ve gone through and split it up by the property lines instead of the alleys,” Zebulon planner Julie Spriggs said.
Another tweak staff made, based on the town board’s input at a March meeting, was to allow bars on the exterior of buildings where they already exist.
The initial recommendation made by the Zebulon Downtown Overlay District Study Committee – a town board-appointed group that researched the need for an overlay district for nearly two years – called for a ban on exterior bars on buildings and windows.
“Using Mike Weeks’ office as an example, I really don’t find those bars offensive,” Mayor Bob Matheny said in March.
The committee also wanted to ban chain-link fences in the proposed overlay, but town board saw otherwise. Town staff rewrote the proposal to allow chain-link fencing in areas of recreation, like daycares and church playgrounds, and in areas not visible from a property’s storefront so long as the fencing is coated with a powder or vinyl finish.
A small revision cleared up language in another section of the proposal that called for a preference of flat roofs with parapets to maintain a steady flow along building roof lines. As Matheny pointed out, the parapets aren’t possible on all properties without forcing major renovations, or extending into the right of way.
As proposed, the regulations of the ordinance would apply only to non-residential development or redevelopment inside the overlay boundary.
While some overlay districts are used exclusively to impose appearance standards, Zebulon’s current plan includes relaxing two main zoning standards.
By eliminating current off-street parking and setback requirements for new developments that don’t require special use permits, town staffers say it is more likely redevelopment can occur in the downtown overlay area. Buffer requirements between commercial and residential properties would still apply.
Following the May 13 public hearing, the Zebulon Planning Board is scheduled to review the proposed ordinance and make a recommendation to commissioners, who could make a decision on the overlay district as early as June.
Spriggs said updated copies of the proposed overlay map and ordinance are available at town hall for any resident who wants to review the documents prior to the public hearing.