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Columbus Zoning Code Needs Improvement, Third-Party Report Finds

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The City of Columbus released the results of a third-party assessment of its zoning code Monday morning, citing its code might not be up to snuff.

The assessment done by Lisa Wise Consulting, Inc. has five key findings. This includes code standards not tailored towards the city's growth, inequities in housing and transit needs, and that the code is not user-friendly.

Other findings were that the city's decision-making process for zoning was too multi-layered and confusing, and that there was an overuse of site-by-site negotiated zoning actions.

Scott Messer is the Director for the Department of Building and Zoning Services. He said the city's code had not been updated since the 1950s. Messer said even though it's allowed a lot of development throughout the years, it's not suitable for a growing city like Columbus.

Messer said from 2010 to 2020, the city grew 15% in population while it's only increased by about 2% geographically.

"We felt strongly that our zoning code needed to be updated to provide more strategic growth in the city of Columbus along with a much more equitable approach to zoning and land use," Messer said.

That equitable approach includes providing more affordable housing and making public transit more accessible in underserved areas, which were deficiencies the study found.

Messer said city leaders have recognized that while the city is growing, not everyone has been able to equally enjoy that growth.

"So I think what we're looking at when we talk about equitable growth, is we're talking about finding ways where we can design a city, where residents have access to affordable housing, great green space, reliable, affordable commuting," he said.

Messer said even before the assessment, they looked intensely at other cities across the country on ways they can improve when it comes to mass transit. For example, he said it's possible Columbus could look into adopting a rapid-bus transit system like in Indianapolis.

The specifics, however, aren't yet set in stone. Messer said the assessment of the city's code is just the first phase of updating it. He said later this year, his department will meet to make specific changes to the code to follow the recommendations from the consultants.

Those changes include focusing on improving transit corridors like East Main and Broad Streets, and engaging with the community to design a more equitable code.