Zoning of former church a problem

Published 6:10 pm Friday, December 21, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – It has become a difficult situation, but the City of Niles is working long and hard to help Greta Dalyrymple bring her dog grooming business to the city.
The problem is the fact that her property, located at 1305 Fort St., is currently zoned a Low Density Residence District (LDR) and Dalyrymple would like to use the building for her business. The building is actually an old church.
Unlike a single family home, church buildings are not readily usable for residential purposes. The City's zoning ordinance, however, pigeonholes structures formerly used as churches into use as single family homes because most churches are located within LDR districts. Therefore, these structures are rendered extremely difficult to reuse once the organizations utilizing them have moved on.
At Wednesday evening's Planning Commission meeting, Community Development Director Juan Ganum said the City is looking at options to allow Dalyrymple to start her business, however, the City doesn't have a method for her request.
"We threw a lot of different options on the table, like considering to amend the ordinance to grant the city flexibility to reuse buildings, like other churches, for other purposes, but there are a lot of other issues that go along with it," Ganum explained.
The planning commission also found itself severely constrained by the zoning ordinance, which does not empower the City to impose conditions on rezonings. Rather, once a rezoning is approved, all permissible uses within the new zone are allowed, effectively limiting the City's ability to mitigate land use conflicts.
The commission instructed the zoning administrator to consult with the city attorney Robert Landgraf and determine an alternative that would allow the dog grooming business, but prevent the property from being used for other, more intensive commercial uses.
"He suggested using conditional rezoning, which is similar to using a contract between the city and the property owner, where certain conditions would be applied," Ganum said.
He also mentioned a special use permitting process.
"Special uses, as defined by the zoning ordinance, require special consideration in relation to the welfare of adjacent properties and to the community as a whole. Most importantly, the special use process empowers the planning commission to consider the requested use in light of general standards and specific use standards," he said.
While the city ordinance gives the planning commission the ability to grant special use permits within LDR districts, it lacks language to address outmoded structures that pose significant reuse challenges.
"Church buildings are an excellent example of such outmoded facilities. Due to the nature of their use, their design is not well suited to be adapted as a single-family dwelling. Of course, there are examples of churches being effectively converted into office space (Meridian Title on Broadway), but this is not an option for most churches in Niles because the vast majority are located within LDR districts," Ganum explained.
"We're going to continue to look into this. Right now we are just trying to find ways to make it work," Ganum said.