After months of discussions, the Washington City Council voted on Monday to create a new downtown zoning district that city officials say could help spur construction and renovation of the historic business district of the city.
“Developers are lining up, expressing interest,” said Sal Maniaci, director of community and economic development for Washington. In the original proposal, the downtown neighborhood includes 96 properties stretching from Market Street west to portions of Elm, Cedar and Olive streets.
“This neighborhood, a central business district, would allow no lot lines, mixed use with retail on the ground floor and housing on the second or third floors,” Maniaci said. It would also eliminate off-street parking requirements for downtown businesses, relying on public parking lots and on-street parking for downtown employees and shoppers.
Existing uses, Maniaci said, would be grandfathered into zoning, so there would be minimal changes for current owners.
“The biggest question we received from property owners was about their property taxes. It doesn’t change their property taxes, ”Maniaci said. Instead, Maniaci said it allows landowners to reconsider the possibilities for using their properties, which has happened organically over time.
“One of the things it does is remove industrial use zoning for future use,” Maniaci said. “Some of these vacant properties are still industrial, but do we really think the return of industrial use to downtown is still appropriate given how our downtown has evolved over the past 20 or 30 years? “
All current industrial uses, Maniaci said, would still be permitted.
Among the zoned industrial properties are: Bleckman Machine and Supply Co., 405 W. Main St .; Tibbe Power Co., 426 W. Front St.; and Missouri Meerschaum Co., 400 W. Front St.
The push to approve a downtown commercial zoning district project was nearly quashed, however, by Tony Bequette, owner of the Tibbe Power Co. building and majority owner of Elijah McLean’s, a wedding venue and venue. popular event at 600 W. Front St.
Bequette asked council to expand the proposed district two blocks west to include Elijah McLean’s while also asking council to exclude the Tibbe Power Co. building from the district.
“This is the only commercial property on Front Street not included in the neighborhood,” Bequette said, referring to Elijah McLean’s property. The Washington Planning and Zoning Commission previously denied Bequette’s request, citing neighbors’ concerns about parking.
“I can guarantee you that Elijah was there long before anyone who bought houses next door arrived,” Bequette said. Although the Planning and Zoning Commission denied his request, Ward 1 Councilor Duane Reed suggested he was open to it.
“I just think it’s weird that we can’t lock him up. It is clearly the city center. Elijah always has been, ”Reed said.
In the end, council voted 5-3 to send Elijah McLean’s property back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further consideration at the commission’s November meeting. Ward 4 Councilor Joe Holtmeier, Ward 4 Councilor Gretchen Pettet and Ward 3 Councilor Greg Skornia voted against referral to the committee.
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said she believes council made the right decision to send it back for further consideration.
“It’s not just a simple zoning change,” said Lucy. City officials said Bequette wanted to replace an existing event tent on his property with an outdoor pavilion which, under current building codes, would require Bequette to provide additional parking space.
In July, Bequette said that in order to comply with the parking requirement, he would have to convert the portion of the property facing Front Street into a parking lot. If it were included in the proposed expansion of the downtown area, Bequette would not be required to add parking.
The board approved Bequette’s request to remove the former Tibbe Power Co. building from the area, creating and approving a central business district area of 95 properties.
Bequette said the building’s current zoning gives it more options to find a tenant than the commercial district proposed by the city. The building is currently unoccupied.
In other matters, the council decided to go ahead with the purchase of the city’s newest industrial park. More details on the industrial park are expected to be announced later this month.