Government

8 take-aways from Cedar Rapids' new zoning code

Urban beekeeping allowed, and no restrictions on 'snout houses'

The sun sets on downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The sun sets on downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Budding beekeepers can start hives in their backyards under the city’s new zoning code.

For the past three years, city staff and a consultant have been rewriting the zoning code — a much more comprehensive overhaul than the last revision in 2006, which cleaned up the 1979 zoning code.

Allowing urban beekeeping — with a permit and some restrictions — is just one of the notable changes.

The old code was written in the spirit of the 1950s and ’60s when suburban development took precedent over downtown neighborhoods, but the city has grown and tastes have changed and in some case come full circle. The old rules had procedurally complicated the ability to adapt to trends many preferred, said Seth Gunnerson, a city planner.

The end product, which was approved by the City Council in December, is a 350-page new ordinance that regulates the built environment.

“For a developer, hopefully it adds a lot of clarity to the process,” Gunnerson said. “There’s less review for projects if it meets the code. There’s less process.”

The average homeowner will see little change but could see impacts if seeking to build an addition, for example.

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At a high level, the new code is designed to make urban centers more walkable and bikeable, mix uses, orient commercial spaces to the street, and ultimately better align city processes with the City Council’s vision as defined in its 2015 comprehensive plan. The emphasis is on form of structures and that they compliment each other and public spaces rather than the use of the structures. This model is known as “form-based code.”

“As new buildings come in, they will be close to the street, pedestrian friendly, accessible to all modes of transportation,” said Bill Micheel, assistant director of community development. “This is something where we will see things change over a period of time.”

The process included feedback from at least 1,000 stakeholders and more than 50 input opportunities, he added.

Eight take-aways from the new code:

Urban beekeeping

The single most requested item was beekeeping. Under the old code, a property had to be zoned agricultural to allow the insects. Under the rewrite, urban beekeeping is allowed with a permit and a few restrictions, such as keeping hives away from property lines or providing screening.

Accessory dwelling units

While property owners in the past needed to go through the rezoning process, the new code allows a small additional structure up to 800 square feet with a foundation and frost protection. “This does not allow people to just plop a trailer down,” Gunnerson noted.

Bike parking

Large new buildings will be required to provide bike parking for visitors and secure bike parking within the structure for tenants. For buildings with an elevator, this could be in the person’s unit or it could be a space within a garage or room on the first floor.

Walkable neighborhoods

Development in neighborhoods in the core of the city, such as NewBo District, Czech Village and MedQuarter, will be required to build up to the street with an emphasis on a walkable environment.

Non-conforming lots

Older core neighborhoods, such as Wellington Heights and Northwest Neighborhood, were laid out with small property footprints, which put set backs and other layout specifications in conflict with the old code established after many of those neighborhoods. This created obstacles as the city and developers sought to rebuild in the years after the 2008 flood. The new code allows certain exceptions for these types of lots.

Ground-floor retail

For years, the city had emphasized ground-floor retail or commercial space in the core business districts. Under the new code, the city is moving away from that requirement and letting the market dictate except for on Third Street SE and 16th Avenue SE between NewBo and Czech Village.

Snout houses

Garage-forward houses — dubbed by some as “snout houses” — in which the garage protrudes closer to the street than the rest of the house, are not restricted, despite pressure from some to limit them. In core areas where street parking is at a premium, the structure would need to match the neighborhood aesthetic.

Connectivity

Emphasis on connectivity in neighborhoods should lead to fewer cul-de-sacs and more redundant connectivity in neighborhood street grids.

More information about the code and zoning map is available at cityofcr.com/zoning.

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

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