Government

2-year effort to overhaul Cedar Rapids zoning code nears completion

Newstrack: Changes include 'form-based' code, allowing multiple uses in same area

A rezoning notice is posted in Cedar Rapids. The city is nearing completion of a two-year overhaul of the city's zoning code, which should be released for public review and comment this summer. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A rezoning notice is posted in Cedar Rapids. The city is nearing completion of a two-year overhaul of the city's zoning code, which should be released for public review and comment this summer. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Two years ago in April, Cedar Rapids staff embarked on ReZone Cedar Rapids, a daunting exercise to overhaul the city’s zoning code, which guides how land can be used throughout the city.

The goal: Make it simpler, more flexible and modern.

The idea behind ReZone Cedar Rapids has been to better reflect the type of development and land-uses officials say is desired in Cedar Rapids, such as a greater variety of housing types and a mix of commercial, residential and other uses.

The current code is traditional, segregating uses such as commercial, residential, industrial, agricultural and office, in different parts of town. The contrast between what’s wanted and how the code ties developers up in red tape. The rezoning process, for example, typically takes an extra three months and requires City Council approval.

Residents provided input on how to regulate concepts such as garage-forward houses, urban beekeeping, and accessory dwellings at three stakeholder input meetings in 2017. Officials had planned to collect the feedback, vet drafts of the plan with stakeholders, and finalize the new zoning code this year.

What’s happened since?

At a meeting last Monday, the ReZone Cedar Rapids steering committee received an update on the draft plan as the process reaches its final stages.

One of the key attributes is a recommendation for a “form-based” code in pockets of town, said Anne Russett, a city planner.

Rather than letting the use of a structure dictate where it can be built, form-based code focuses on the form of the building and how it fits with other structures and how it integrates with the public realm, Russett said.

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Another element is different structure standards based on whether the location is the urban core, a suburban area on the edge of town, or older traditional areas in the middle between the core and the suburbs.

“What we are trying to do is create regulations that consider these different contexts,” Russett said.

For example, in suburban areas, at least two distinct front facade options could be required in single- and double-unit developments for every 10 houses.

Examples of differences include the materials used in facades, the placement of windows and doors, and the location and proportion of garages.

By the end of June, a draft of a proposed ordinance is slated to be made available to the public online and presented during an open house. The plan could reach the City Council for a vote this summer.

People can learn more about zoning and land use issues during a free lecture led by Tom Murphy, the former Pittsburgh mayor and an Urban Land Institute Fellow.

The event is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. May 23 in Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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