Douglas County Commission to begin process of updating zoning regulations

photo by: Chris Conde

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

The Douglas County Commission will soon begin a process to change zoning regulations in the unincorporated parts of the county.

During a work session on Wednesday, the commission will get its first look at the proposed zoning regulation changes, which include adding a public feedback step to the county’s process when considering applications to subdivide land in rural parts of the county.

Currently, those applications are processed by county staff without a clear opportunity for the public to weigh in.

Sarah Plinsky, county administrator, said the work session was the first step of a public discussion to update the zoning regulations, which Zoning Director Tonya Voigt recently asked the commissioners to consider because of a dramatic increase in residential development in the county. Plinsky said the county expected the process of considering the changes to take until early 2020.

Plinsky said the proposed regulations would create zoning districts, which do not currently exist. The creation of the districts is important because if landowners want to change their land from agricultural district to residential district, they would need to apply for the zoning district change. The application process would then go through the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission, a new feature that would allow the public an opportunity to weigh in before the planning commission can approve it.

The beginning of discussions comes about a month after the commission put a temporary halt to processing requests to subdivide land in the rural parts of the county.

On Aug. 21, the commission unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on the county’s processing of applications for certificates of survey outside of the county’s urban growth area. Submitting an application is the first step in the process of dividing a large parcel of land — in this case, one that’s 20 acres or larger — into smaller residential lots.

The commission approved the moratorium in response to a request from Voigt, who told commissioners the halt would give the county time to consider zoning regulation changes that better reflect how the county government views the use of rural land.

Voigt told the commission that changes were needed because some rural residents suggested the current regulations were too lax, specifically noting a lack of public process when the county considers applications to subdivide land. She also said the county needed to make changes to keep rural and urban areas of the county distinct, which is a goal in the county’s comprehensive plan.

While the process of developing rural land is a major part of the regulation changes, Plinsky said it also included many other aspects, encompassing every aspect of land use in the unincorporated area. The county is working toward publishing a draft of proposed regulations on the county’s website this week, she said.

After the discussion on Wednesday, the county will hold public feedback meetings with residents in October. The meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Historic Taylor Barn, 1827 E. 1150 Road; 6 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Lawrence Virtual School and Greenbush Resource Center, formerly known as the Wakarusa Valley Elementary School, 1104 E. 1000 Road; and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Douglas County Zoning and Codes Office, 3755 E. 25th St.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Full agendas are available online at douglascountyks.org.

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