Zebulon adopts downtown overlay district

amoody@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2013 

RALEIGH

— There are new zoning guidelines in place for commercial developments in Zebulon’s Central Business District and the immediate surrounding area.

The new rules went into effect June 3 as the Zebulon Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance that took more than two years to finalize – one that creates a downtown overlay district. Such districts are areas where a set of rules can be applied on top of existing zoning ordinances, commonly used to govern appearance standards for new development.

Not all of Zebulon’s overlay regulations, which apply only to non-residential development and redevelopment inside the overlay boundary, are restrictive in nature. The majority actually relax pre-existing development standards.

Off-street parking and setback requirements have been eliminated inside the overlay district for new developments that do not require special use permits. That will make the downtown and surrounding area more attractive to prospective businesses, according to town staff. Eliminating the setback requirements also brings existing downtown properties with zero-lot lines into compliance with town code.

“The idea is to encourage redevelopment of the residential properties that are currently zoned Transitional Residential,” Zebulon planner Bo Dobrzenski said, referring to the properties that immediately surround the downtown corridor. “Those two changes really make it more easy for businesses to move into the downtown area.”

Buffer requirements between commercial and residential properties still apply.

The Zebulon Downtown Overlay District Study Committee, a group that researched the need for an overlay district for nearly two years, included several appearance standards along with its recommendation to the town board. The majority of the standards the committee proposed were included in the ordinance adopted by commissioners.

“(The overlay ordinance) also adds some appearance standards, generally to display windows and cleanliness of the rear side of your building and the entrances,” Dobrzenski said. “It also stipulates you can only board up your windows temporarily, in the case of a catastrophe or some sort of construction.”

Additionally, the overlay ordinance relaxes sign regulations to help downtown businesses become more visible and addresses rules for awnings over the public right of way.

The town board also approved a town-wide nuisance ordinance amendment – another recommendation from the overlay study committee – that better defines unsafe buildings and at what point they trigger action on the part of the town.

“Prior to this, it was an ambiguous line of if (a building) is safe or not,” Dobrzenski said. “This provides the town the ability to say, ‘you’re a broken window, you’re a fallen roof,’ – specific guidelines, for the property owner as well so they know how to meet the ordinance.”

The overlay district’s boundary primarily outlines the area that falls inside Church, Poplar and Barbee streets and Gannon Avenue.

Its adoption brings closure to an initiative that began in February 2011, when commissioners established the overlay study committee.

Moody: 919-829-4806

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