By Brad Hicks
Several changes to Erwin’s municipal zoning ordinance could be on the way if the town’s legislative body follows a recommendation made last week by the Erwin Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission, during its Wednesday, May 24, meeting voted unanimously to recommend the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s approval of an ordinance to amend articles within the municipal zoning ordinance. The articles to be altered through the amendment include the definition of a nursing home within Erwin, the provision pertaining to nonconforming uses, off-street parking regulations, and the town’s comprehensive sign ordinance. The amendment would also clarify provisions within the town’s M-1 industrial district and remove the F-1 flood zone district.
The town’s current code defines nursing homes only as facilities licensed by the state. Clarifications and additions to this definition have been proposed and, per the now-recommended amendment, nursing homes are to be defined as a “home licensed by the State of Tennessee for the aged or chronically or incurably ill persons in which five or more such persons not of the immediate family are provided with food and shelter or care for compensation, but not including hospitals, clinics, or similar institutions devoted primarily to the diagnosis and treatment of the sick or injured.”
This new definition is intended to delineate nursing homes from hospitals in the zoning ordinance.
The change to zoning ordinance provision pertaining to nonconforming uses has been recommended to adhere to state law. Under the current zoning ordinance, when the nonconforming use of a building or land has ceased for a period of one year, it cannot be reestablished or changed to any use not in conformity with the provisions of the zoning ordinance. To comply with state law, it is recommended that this period be increased in the town’s zoning ordinance from one year to 30 months.
The recommended off-street parking amendment states such parking space shall be provided on every lot for a number of uses except in the B-3 central business district. Among these uses, the amendment states churches would need at least one parking space for each four seats. For dwellings, one space would be required for each unit. At hospitals and nursing homes, one space would be needed for each two staff or visiting doctors plus one space for each two employees and one space for each four beds, “computed on the largest number of employees on duty at any period of time.” Hotels are to provide one space for each four employees and one space for each two guest rooms. Schools are to provide one space for each faculty member, plus one space for each four pupils except in elementary and junior high schools.
If the off-street parking space cannot be “reasonably provided” on the same lot on which the principal use is conducted, the Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals may allow such space to be provided on other off-street property so long as this space lies within 400 feet of the main entrance of the principal use, according to the amendment. Such space shall be deemed to be required open space associated with the use and shall not “thereafter be reduced or encroached upon in any manner.”
The parking spaces are to be a minimum of 9 feet in width and anywhere from 18 to 25 feet in minimum space depth, depending on the parking angle. Standard and van-accessible handicapped spaces are to conform with state and federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Turning space shall be provided for off-street spaces so that no vehicle is required to back into the street, according to the recommended amendment.
Required parking spaces may be extended up to 120 feet into residential districts so long as the space adjoins a commercial or industrial district, has its only exit to or from the same street as the property in the commercial or industrial district from which it provides the required parking space, and is separated from abutting properties in the residential district by a plant or fence buffer strip as determined by Erwin’s building inspector.
If the amendment is granted final approval by the BMA, a provision governing the town’s M-1 industry district would be changed to allow the Erwin Planning Commission to request input from the town’s building inspector, fire chief and/or police chief when determining permitted M-1 uses. The commission can seek this input to ensure an industry “does not cause injurious or obnoxious noise, fire hazards or other objectionable conditions,” according to the amendment.
A number of alterations have been proposed for the town’s comprehensive sign ordinance contained within the zoning ordinance.
Per the recommended changes, the announcement portion of all permanent signs, other than monument signs, is to be located at least 9 feet above the ground. Signs above a driveway are to have minimum clearance of 15 feet. Monument signs will be allowed only when advertising along a road with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less.
Attached single-tenant signs, such as those located above a business entrance, must be flat against the building or within 24 inches of the structure, under the proposed changes. Attached signs are not to project above the building and are to be limited to 1 square foot of area per linear foot of wall facing a public street or customer parking area not to exceed 200 square feet.
The new regulations would allow one detached single-tenant sign with a maximum of 150 square feet.
For multiple-tenant signs, such as those at shopping centers that list the businesses found within the complex, only one such “major directory” sign would be allowed for a multiple-tenant complex, per the amendment. This sign would have to be located on the same real estate tract as the business complex and may only advertise businesses physically located within the complex. This detached sign is not to exceed 150 square feet.
Signs that advertise a product, service or other business that are not physically located on the same premises as what is being advertised are prohibited, per the proposed changes. Also, according to the recommended changes, any nonconforming sign located as a business in continual use shall not be allowed to be changed in any manner other than to provide for safety precautions or unless in conformance with the provisions found within state law.
Under the proposed changes, a monument sign would be defined as a “freestanding sign attached to the ground, which incorporates a design and materials complementary to the architectural theme of the building on the same property. A monument sign is not mounted on a pole or brace, and does not exceed ten feet in height.”
Under the proposed amendment, the F-1 flood zone district as described in the town’s zoning ordinance would be removed. This zone is not contained on any of the town’s maps, and it is up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine flood zones.
These changes to the town’s zoning ordinance were discussed at length during a Planning Commission workshop held in late February. The Planning Commission reviewed and again discussed the proposed alterations in April, and the changes were put into an ordinance format for the panel’s consideration ahead of last Wednesday’s meeting.
Cory Osborne, community and transportation planner with the First Tennessee Development District, said the multiple amendments could be enacted under a single ordinance.
“This would be the cleanest way to do it, and it would hold up,” Osborne said.
As Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff explained, the town’s zoning ordinance differs from its municipal code in that the zoning ordinance is set up as a single ordinance containing multiple articles rather than the multiple ordinances pertaining to various items that make up the town’s code.
But Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said it may be difficult for citizens and officials looking for a particular item to locate the updated zoning regulations with so many amendments covered under one ordinance.
“How would they know to come and look at this ordinance when it’s got signage, nursing homes?” Hensley said.
Hensley said she would like to see separate ordinance amendments for each of the proposed changes put before the Erwin BMA. Osborne said this could be done prior to that board’s meeting to consider the alterations.
“If the concern is it’s too confusing because everything is grouped together or that it would be harder to reference back to because of that, it can be broken into individual multiple ordinances,” Osborne said. “It doesn’t have to be, but it can be for the sake of clarity.”
The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen must approve the Planning Commission-recommended amendments on two readings before they take effect. The board could consider the first reading of the changes as soon as its next regular meeting. A public hearing will coincide with the BMA’s consideration of the second and final reading.