Apr 13, 2023 - News

Columbus plans long-needed zoning overhaul

Illustration of a hammer as a gavel.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Zoning can be a helpful tool to support thoughtful community development — or a cudgel to curb it through a tangled web of regulation.

Why it matters: Columbus leaders want to right past wrongs and better position the city for future growth via its first major zoning code overhaul in generations.

Development remains the defining long-term issue of a capital city looking to improve material conditions for its 900,000 residents and the 1 million more expected to move to the region by 2050.

  • A planned rewrite of the Columbus zoning code will go a long way toward spurring badly-needed housing construction, improving transit options and developing "walkable" neighborhoods, city leaders say.

State of play: The zoning code regulates what can be built on various properties, with rules dictating everything from the construction of massive apartment towers to landscaping standards, parking requirements and dumpster locations.

Yes, but: The existing code is panned by critics as a relic from an era when discriminatory city policies imposed segregated neighborhoods and helped build infrastructure projects on top of minority communities.

What they're saying: The city has since ended policies like redlining, Zone In Columbus program manager Kevin Wheeler says, but the code remains a headache for planning officials and developers alike.

  • The current code is a "barrier" to achieving the "vibrant, equitable community we aspire to be," Wheeler, who is leading this overhaul project, wrote in a recent report.
  • "It's also difficult to use, creating a heavy reliance on project-by-project negotiations, variances and rezoning to accommodate even simple projects."

One example: Most neighborhoods enforce height limits on any properties facing the street, restricting the construction of taller mixed-use properties that could provide denser housing, job centers and entertainment hubs.

What's happening: Columbus has already highlighted 62 main corridors throughout the city with growth potential via more favorable zoning rules, including West Broad Street, Cleveland Avenue and Bethel Road.

What's next: A series of community forums are planned for the coming months and the public will have a chance to review a draft code later this year.

  • City Council is expected to vote on a new code in spring 2024.
  • The project will focus initially on the main corridors mentioned above, but the code will eventually apply to the whole city.

Community forum details

Community forums on zoning and housing issues:

  • 6-7:30pm, May 2, Glenwood Community Center
  • 6-7:30pm, May 10, Whetstone Community Center

Community forums on "equitable growth" strategies:

  • 6-7:30pm, May 16, City of Grace
  • 6-7:30pm, May 31, Schiller Community Center

A forum on zoning and community development:

  • 6-7:30pm, May 24, Linden Community center

A virtual forum on zoning and supporting businesses:

  • June 8, time TBD
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