‘We can disagree without being disagreeable’
Ennis zoning commission discusses draft ordinance
An April 17 work session on the Ennis draft zoning ordinance drew close to 30 members of the public. Led by the zoning commission, made up of volunteers Kaye Suzuki and Mark Odegard and town commissioner Lisa Roberts, the intent of the work session was to discuss and work on the first two chapters of the draft ordinance.
The draft, which has been 18 months in the making, was first presented at the March 2018 council meeting and was met with much opposition and confusion from the public. The draft is an update to the current zoning code, subdivision regulations, transportation standards and annexation policy. The current regulations were created in 2002 and zoning codes have not seen an update since 1996.
The process for the draft came in 2015 after then Mayor Becky Vujovich approached the town’s on-call engineer and planning firm, Great West Engineering, about updating the codes. “The town then applied for a Community Development Block Grant through the Department of Commerce, which they were awarded, and contracted with Great West to begin the process,” said Jerry Grebenc, project engineer with GWE and technical advisor to the commission.
The zoning commission was later created as required by state statute and appointed by town council. Much like the March meeting, audience members during the April 17 meeting still questioned the reasoning for only three zoning commissioners. “This goes back to the issue early on in this project that the town commission had real difficulty getting participation on the planning board and essentially dissolved,” stated Grebenc, who emphasized the importance of participation from the public. “These are the only folks who stepped up to do it,” said Blake Levitt, adding the town commission could appoint more members to the commission.
The intent of the work session was to focus on chapters one and two, but the crux of the evening was spent with folks still questioning the intent of the draft. “This is a true, raw draft,” said Suzuki. “There is nothing in here that cannot be changed, and it is so important that people participate.” The purpose of the commission now is to gather public comment and data for modifying the draft to meet the needs of the majority of the town. All three zoning commission members and Grebenc stressed the importance of participation and attendance and written public comment on the draft.
The goals of the ordinance are to provide a document that is easier to read and use for both the town and community, according to the commission. This is achieved by tailoring the needs of Ennis, preserving the integrity and appeal, remove real property versus zoning map inconsistencies and achieve year-round economic sustainability while maintaining the unique local character.
Several people stated a wish for a traditional red-line document to track changes made to the existing ordinance. “I know a lot of folks want to have what we traditionally called the red-line doc and the hard part is, which is just my perspective, things either have been changed or rearranged trying to take the new changes and make sense out of it an it’s just very confusing,” said Grebenc.
Realtor Chris Murphy stated the commission would have less opposition if people knew what the changes were being made. “I’m trying to appreciate and sympathize with you,” he said. “I think you should provide something to citizens of what changes are being made so we understand the entire process.”
Old vs. new
Pointing out a few differences between the two drafts, Grebenc said the biggest difference is the language in the current code. “You traditionally don’t see that language from the old town comprehensive plan,” he said. “A typical plan provides just guidance, not a regulation. The 1996 language, frankly, needs to come out because it technically becomes regulatory.”
Grebenc said another change between the documents is within the administrative provisions. The current regulations have administration provisions scattered throughout the entire document. “The draft takes all admin positions and puts them all into one chapter, so they are all together and less confusing. The commission members also wanted to build some flexibility into the zoning districts, simply trying to achieve what they see as things needed to be fixed.”
Both the commission and Grebenc stressed their desire for public input. “This is not a perfect document. The old one is not a perfect document,” said Suzuki. “We are willing to change this document – this draft is just a foundation. We can disagree without being disagreeable – this is our town.”
“The commission wants this document to reflect the majority of the town,” said Grebenc. “If the majority of people want something in there, they’re going to make changes. I’m glad people are showing up and expressing concerns.”
To view the current town ordinance, visit the town office or go to HYPERLINK "http://www.ennismontana.org/"www.ennismontana.org and follow the link draft zoning ordinance information. From there, you can find Grebenc’s PowerPoint, the updated draft, current draft and public comments. To submit comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.