The Relationship between a Comprehensive Plan and Zoning

The Ohio Revised Code requires all communities (townships, cities, counties) that have zoning to adopt a Future Land Use Plan and or a Comprehensive Plan.

Land use and comprehensive planning is a complex and multi-dimensional process that communities go through to better prepare for eventual changes and development requests in their community.   The plans are one part of how the township can manage future development. They are the primary mechanism a township has, to either approve or deny a zone change request.  This is done by evaluating the request against the plan recommendations to see if it meets the intended future land use and other characteristics set out in the plan.

Zoning is the legal regulation of land uses and development and includes a zoning map which geographically and visually defines the zoning district, and the zoning code or written regulations.  The township has existing zoning for all properties in the community.  Zoning cannot be changed without approval of the Township Board of Trustees at a public hearing after a process involving the Zoning Commission’s review and recommendation of the change, which is called an amendment.  Unless an amendment to the zoning map, or zoning regulations are requested and approved by the Trustees the existing zoning is what applies to any development.

When the township initially established zoning, the basic district that applied to farms, large land holdings, and existing residential subdivisions, as a kind of holding area was “Residential Single-Family (R-SF)”.  This district allowed for agricultural and rural uses and detached single-family homes on lots no smaller than 14,000 square feet or approximately 3.11 homes per acre.  This was a very common practice in the early days of zoning in townships, because it was placing rules on land which formerly had no restrictions on use or density other than what could be serviced by septic systems.  The relatively high yield for residential development was a way to make the zoning more palatable to landowners who saw development of their land as a considerable financial asset.  This base zoning was great for landowners but really wasn’t intended as a “growth management” tool.

When a property owner has a piece of land that is zoned “R-SF” they have the right to subdivide and develop that land with single-family detached homes on 14,000 square foot lots provided it meets the Warren County Subdivision Regulations.  They hold this right, and if it meets all the zoning standards the township planning staff can administratively issue a zoning permit. This means that there is no public process to approve this subdivision.

Over the last several decades, property owners in different areas have made zoning change requests when they wanted to do something that was not permitted in the “R-SF” zoning district.  In a few instances the township has initiated a zone changes to help manage development in transitional areas around the highway interchanges or along major corridors.  When this happens, it is important that the township has an updated and effective land use or comprehensive plan.

There are two common ways a zone change, or amendment, can be executed:

Property Owner Initiated.

Sometimes a property owner may want to do something with their land that is not permitted under existing zoning, and may request a zone change (change to the applied zoning district on the map), or a text amendment (changes to the written regulations).  With a property owner-initiated change, the township’s zoning commission will review the comprehensive plan and land use plans to determine if the proposed new zoning would be consistent with the recommendations of the plan.  For example, if the land is currently zoned “R-SF” and it’s current use is active farmland, and the plan says that area should be developed for single-family homes, but the request is for “General Business, GB” commercial zoning to allow a grocery store;  the request would not be consistent with the plan and the township could deny the requested zone change.  A zoning amendment includes public hearings, so the public is aware of the change and can speak for or against the change.

Township Initiated.

Sometimes things happen that prompt the Trustees or staff to want to study or consider certain areas of the township for change.  For example, a new configuration of an interchange, road widenings, new roads, or a new use that no one had ever heard of before that may impact the community in a negative way.  When this happens, the township may craft new zoning regulations and districts to help improve the management of these areas or they may need to adjust the zoning to prevent another less suitable zone being applied.  Just like the property owner-initiated zone changes, this goes through a very public process that allows the community to review and provide input on the proposed changes before the trustees vote to adopt the amendments.  If these do not stay consistent with the adopted land use and comprehensive plans, the township will usually include a study and evaluation of data and information to justify the proposed amendment and why it is deemed necessary.

Useful terms to know

Character Area

A group of real properties with diverse owners that have similar attributes including street widths, lot sizes, levels of tree cover, uses and building types.  This term is used in the 2008 and 2015 Comprehensive Plans to describe general guidance for future land uses, transportation improvements, redevelopment, and parks and recreational efforts.

Land Use

The term we apply to how a piece of real property can be occupied or developed.  It is used in both planning and zoning contexts to describe what is on a property.

Existing Land Use

What we refer to when we describe how a piece of real property is currently used.  It reflects what currently occupies the property.

Future or Planned Land Use

What we refer to when we describe what the proposed or preferred use of a piece of real property is if it changes from it’s existing land use.  This is usually represented in a map and narrative.  In the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, the future land uses were not mapped but listed in each character area.

Focus Area

Term used to identify smaller groups of properties which require additional levels of detail in their planning recommendations.  The area planning process and Focus Area Plan Workbook is structured around presenting the existing land use, existing zoning, character area and recommended future or planned land uses from the 2015 Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning

Refers to the local laws that regulate how real property can and cannot be used in certain geographic areas. The map defining the “zones” or “zoning districts” and the accompanying regulations govern the use, lot configurations, size of buildings, landscaping, lighting, and parking for a property.

Existing Zoning

Refers to the local laws that regulate how real property can and cannot be used in certain geographic areas. The map defining the “zones” or “zoning districts” and the accompanying regulations govern the use, lot configurations, size of buildings, landscaping, lighting, and parking for a property.

Potential Zoning

Refers to the plan recommended zoning which could be applied to support the future or planned land use, character area, and focus area recommendations found in the comprehensive plan. In the workbook the potential zoning designates what we suggest changing it to with this plan update. There are a few new zoning districts which should be considered they are mentioned in the Emerging Ideas section of the workbook.

This is how you can participate

If you would like to follow the Steering Committee in the process of evaluating the recommendations for the areas in the township that show potential for change from their existing land use because of their market desirability, or because of anticipated changes in surrounding conditions like roadway improvements or adjacent development.  Then please download the Steering Committee’s “Planning Focus Area Workbook” and join us to hear the Steering Committee’s discussion.

This workbook is only a starting place for the Steering Committee, and we anticipate they will make modifications to the draft recommendations before presenting it to the community at a Public Open House in the spring.   This draft takes into consideration what we have heard from landowners and citizens in the previous meetings and events and provides alternatives for the Steering Committee’s consideration to change the plan recommendations from what the 2015 Comprehensive Plan included based on that feedback.