Douglas County Commission authorizes new zoning regulations, expects county staff to continue refining them

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Douglas County Commissioners Nancy Thellman, left, Patrick Kelly, center, and Michelle Derusseau, right, listen to public comment during their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19 2020.

Months of work by Douglas County staff to develop a major overhaul of the county’s zoning regulations came to an end Wednesday as the Douglas County Commission authorized the proposed changes during its regular meeting.

But Tonya Voigt, the county’s director of zoning, said staff will continue to work on the regulations as it considers refining the language in the text. She said such revisions may be needed to address a few issues county residents brought up during the crafting process and other issues that staff did not have time to consider.

“This set of regulations is a really great step … and we have still not made it all the way to the end,” Voigt said.

The county has been considering new zoning regulations for more than a year, with a goal of addressing a significant increase in residential development in rural parts of the county. The major changes in the regulations include the creation of new agricultural districts for properties in the rural parts of the county and adding a step to the process of subdividing land outside the urban growth area that surrounds Lawrence.


Douglas County Commission to consider authorizing new zoning regulations, extend moratorium on subdividing land

During public comment, about five residents spoke in favor of the new regulations, but some also mentioned they would like the county to consider cleaning up language and other issues that directly affect them. Voigt said she and planner Mary Miller would continue to look into those issues and consider proposing text amendments in the future.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she too was happy with the proposed regulations, but she also wanted county staff to continue thinking about how the regulations could be refined. She said she wanted staff to take another look at the rules for residential development in the rural parts of the county, suggesting they may need to be even more restrictive.

But she said she was impressed with the staff’s work and the fact that the community generally supports it.

“That’s a win,” Thellman said.

Along with the new regulations, the commissioners extended a moratorium on processing applications to subdivide land in the rural parts of the county for another month — until March 22.

In August, the County Commission established a six-month moratorium on processing the applications, which are known as certificates of survey, to give county staff time to develop the new zoning regulations. That moratorium was set to expire on Friday.

Voigt told the commissioners the extension was needed because the changes to the zoning regulations called for some amendments to the joint city-county subdivision codes, which the commission approved with the zoning regulation changes. The Lawrence City Commission will also need to approve the updated subdivision codes, and it is expected to consider them in March.

However, several residents told the commissioners they wanted the moratorium to be extended even longer. Myles Schachter said he believed it should be extended another six months.

Thellman said she was interested in the idea of lengthening the moratorium by more than a month, but she feared it would not be consistent with the commission’s previous stance of only having the moratorium for the duration needed to create the new zoning regulations.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the commissioners she would need to consult with the county’s legal counsel before proposing a longer extension. She advised the commissioners to approve the one-month extension and told them she would bring the issue back up at a later date.

Related coverage

Aug. 18, 2019: ‘Shocking’ increase of residential development in rural parts of Douglas County likely to bring code changes

Sept. 18, 2019: Douglas County Commission hears proposal to change county’s rules for dividing rural land

Dec. 1, 2019: Douglas County’s proposed zoning code changes heading to Planning Commission soon

Dec. 16, 2019: Residents of Big Springs voice opposition to Douglas County’s proposed zoning regulation changes

Jan. 24, 2020: Planning Commission approves proposed county zoning regulation changes after revising Big Springs district

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