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New zoning district open to public comment Tuesday

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MORRIS – Six months after several local business owners criticized the Morris Planning Commission and Morris City Council for re-zoning their property in 2011, residents will have the chance to comment on a proposed compromise that would allow for business uses while maintaining the residential nature of a downtown neighborhood.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 5:15 p.m. the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed Neighborhood Commercial Zoning District before deciding whether to send it to the Morris City Council for approval.

Several local business owners approached the planning commission last August when they realized a 2011 change to the zoning for property on the north side of East Seventh Street between Columbia Avenue and Iowa Avenue meant they could not sell commercial property to different business owners.

During a comprehensive zoning plan for the entire city of Morris, the zoning for this area was changed from a highway business district to a multiple family residential district because the highway no longer runs along Seventh Street.

Under the new zoning designation, existing businesses could continue to operate or be sold to another owner if they operated as the same business. However, commercial property that isn’t being used can’t be sold to a commercial business. It also can’t be sold and subsequently converted to another business.

Initially, members of the city council directed the planning commission to simply re-zone the area to a highway business zone. The planning commission responded by asking the council for more time to develop a compromise that would work for existing business owners while maintaining a residential feel for the area.

Since October, the planning commission has met to work on the new neighborhood commercial district.

The proposed district combines the existing rules for residential and commercial properties and seeks to “provide a mix of housing and small-scale businesses that are compatible with surrounding residential areas.”

In addition to a range of dwellings, the district allows for a range of commercial uses including retail establishments and personal, professional and repair services. It also allows for small engine repair shops and parts stores, as well as small scale auto agencies selling new and used cars.

Property owners can also apply for a conditional use permit for a range of uses including churches, cemeteries, hospitals, schools, solar energy systems and veterinary clinics, among other uses.

The district restricts the size of allowed buildings by limiting the parcel size to a maximum of three standard lots and includes a range of height, setback and traffic requirements and restrictions.

Copies of the text of the zoning district are available for review at the Morris City Hall.

At Tuesday’s Morris City Council meeting, council member Kevin Wohlers said he had heard from some residents who were concerned about some specific aspects of the new code and asked when those issues could be addressed.

City Manager Blaine Hill said the best time to make changes to the proposal is at the public hearing next week.

“I would strongly urge anybody that is coming to you that has specific recommendations or comments that they send them to the planning commission – that’s the easiest way to deal with it,” said Hill.

At the end of the public hearing on Feb. 18, the commission will decide whether to send the zoning district to the City Council for consideration.

If it moves forward, the city council will have a first reading on an ordinance to establish the new zoning district at a city council meeting. Their next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The first reading is followed by a second reading at the following meeting where the council will decide whether or not to adopt the ordinance.

If the council adopts the ordinance, it will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the official newspaper of record, the Morris Sun Tribune. Under that timeline, the zoning district could be in place by mid-April. 

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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