Lewisburg officials struggle to bring zoning amendment to a vote

(Register-Herald file photo) Lewisburg Mayor Beverly White in Dorie Miller Park in August 2020.

A second attempt to conduct the first reading of a Lewisburg zoning ordinance amendment failed Tuesday evening when attorney Tom White advised city officials they could not hold a public hearing on the topic without advertising it in advance.

But long before White, who is employed as the city attorney, was asked about the legality of the proceedings, it was evident the ordinance amendment was not ripe for adoption.

Originating in the city’s Planning Commission, the amendment was designed to rewrite, and thereby clarify, the zoning ordinance’s Planned Unit Development section. Such developments are known for a mixture of residential and commercial land uses, a departure from traditional zoning, which requires those uses be kept apart.

The initial first reading of the amendment was conducted at city council’s regular January meeting and was preceded by a properly advertised public hearing during which no member of the public spoke. That first reading passed, despite quibbles about some unclear language in the document, which council decided to clean up before presenting it for a second and final reading.

But in the wake of that meeting, White advised city officials they would have to restart the process with another first reading instead because the changes in the amendment’s wording were so extensive.

The wording changes included altering most, but not all, references to “Planned Development” to read “Planned Unit Development.” Other changes were intended to clarify what features restaurants and/or bars in the development could have.

Before the legal advertisement issue put an end to debate at Tuesday’s meeting, council members engaged in a lively discussion about whether Planned Unit Developments should be permitted to include restaurants with drive-through service. Wording in the submitted ordinance amendment indicated developers would be allowed to opt for drive-through.

But according to Council member Mark Etten, who also serves as the president of the Planning Commission, planners are opposed to allowing drive-throughs in mixed-use developments. Because a Planned Unit Development is a contained space, planners don’t think it’s appropriate to “encourage out-of-development traffic” that might be attracted to a drive-through, Etten said.

Therefore, he asked council to remove from the ordinance amendment the language permitting drive-through restaurant service.

Council member Arron Seams pushed back against the ban, however, saying he was not convinced that a “single drive-through restaurant” would disrupt an entire development.

Council member Joshua Edwards agreed with Seams, saying he favored letting the developer choose what features to include in a given Planned Unit Development.

“This gives maximum choice,” Edwards said of the wording presented Tuesday.

Many of the other land uses permissible under the regulations in the proposed ordinance amendment could also attract outside traffic into a Planned Unit Development. Those allowable uses include retail sales, professional offices, medical offices, banks with drive-in windows, bowling alleys, movie theaters, nursing homes, child care centers and public parks.

After Mayor Beverly White opened a public hearing on the document as presented, Edwards pointed out that the public hearing was not on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

State law requires that government meeting agendas be publicly posted in advance. Only in cases of emergency can any piece of business not on that agenda be considered. Public hearings additionally require legal notices to be published in advance in local newspapers.

With city attorney Tom White on standby for an unrelated executive session that capped off the evening’s virtual meeting, city manager Misty Hill called on him to address the legality of the public hearing. He said the hearing must be advertised in a local newspaper at least 15 days prior to the event, which it was not. Thus, council could not vote Tuesday on the proposed ordinance amendment.

Leaving the drive-through restaurant issue unresolved, council tabled the ordinance amendment, with the intention of resuming the discussion — and perhaps attempting a third first reading of the measure — in March.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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