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Columbus kicks off series of public meetings on changes to the city's zoning code

Zoning Code Assessment Report
City of Columbus

Columbus wants to revamp its zoning code which was last overhauled in the 1950s.

Columbus is holding a series of public meetings on proposed changes to the city's zoning code that could impact housing, development and the impact of historical redlining.

The city hopes to prepare itself for future growth in key commercial areas in Columbus, while chipping away at redlining's legacy on housing segregation with an updated zoning code. The code hasn't had a major overhaul since it was implemented in the 1950s and the city is looking for public opinion at five meetings between early May and June 1.

Zone In Columbus Program Director Kevin Wheeler said the city hopes to lessen the impacts of redlining while preparing the city for future growth. He said the city's efforts will focus first on major commercial corridors in Columbus.

"Even though the whole code and the whole map deserve a revisit, we're starting with these corridors, simply because this is a big, complex project and the corridors, we believe, are the best place to start," Wheeler said.

A map of these focus areas on the Zone In Columbus website highlights the major corridors entering and exiting downtown including High Street, Parsons Avenue, Sullivant Avenue and Broad Street.

Wheeler said the zoning code changes could impact regulations on building height, parking requirements and other rules that typically limit what structures can be built in certain locations in the city.

Wheeler said these corridors are where "the action should be" with development and dense housing, but the current code isn't designed to supplement that goal. He said future zoning code changes could look deeper into neighborhoods beyond these commercial corridors.

"The current code isn't very well positioned to support a future of ever growing Columbus in Columbus. It's maybe growing up more than out," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the city also wants to make the zoning code less complex to remove barriers to building for smaller developers and businesses.

On redlining, Wheeler said the city isn't equating the existing zoning code to the practice, but it did play a role in how Columbus became what it is today.

"We are recognizing that redlining played a role in the development of Columbus, along with deed restrictions and other discriminatory practices," Wheeler said.

The first meeting is at the Reeb Avenue Community Center on May 2 at 6 p.m and will focus on housing. The other meetings take place across the city and will focus on housing, development and the city's main street commercial areas.

Wheeler said he hopes to get the word out that Columbus is doing this work and give people a chance to ask questions and get familiar with the project and the effort. He said these meetings also give the city a chance to hear from people in the community about how they see the role of the city's main streets and commercial corridors in the future.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.