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Council, board may meet to review height rules

By Staff
Rooftop development spurs dialogue on possible changes to zoning ordinances
By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
Washington’s Planning Board is expected to discuss setting up a meeting with the Washington City Council to review height requirements for new construction in all of the city’s zoning districts, including its waterfront.
That review could result in changes to existing height regulations for new construction in the city.
The Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. tonight in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Building at 102 E. Main St.
In the wake of several developments started and projects proposals unveiled in 2006, council members are keeping an eye on proposed development, especially on or near the city’s waterfront. Those developments included interest by owners in developing existing rooftops on downtown buildings.
On Monday, a moratorium on rooftop development in the Historic District expires. The council imposed the moratorium at a meeting in October.
The council and mayor said then that placing a moratorium on rooftop development in the areas included in the city’s business-historic zone, would give the council and mayor time to study how such development could affect the city’s effort to protect the city’s history and historical buildings from inappropriate development and support appropriate economic-development opportunities at the same time.
Councilman Archie Jennings said then city’s Historic Preservation Commission is “struggling” with rooftop development.
At a council meeting in September, Michael Overton, a member of the commission, suggested the city put such a moratorium in place until it determines how best to manage rooftop additions that could change downtown Washington’s skyline. Overton noted that several downtown projects such as The George — Little Inn at Washington and The Fowle at 189 West Main call for rooftop commercial and residential uses.
Overton told the council the city needs a policy that sets out guidelines for rooftop additions.
When it came to such proposals, Jennette said, she and council members were concerned that “before we knew it, it would get away from us.”
For several months, the city has been considering whether adjusting its height restriction on new buildings along its waterfront may be required to protect its waterfront skyline. An existing ordinance requires that a new building — located in the office-and-institutional zones — be no more than 95 feet high (with some variations possible). Some people want to change the ordinance so that maximum height for a building on the waterfront is considerably less than 95 feet.
The council and board want to determine if what the city already has on the books offers adequate protection from inappropriate development throughout the city, especially its waterfront areas, Roberson said.
Jennette said she’s heard some people want to limit the height of new buildings in O&I areas to no more than 80 feet. The mayor said she doesn’t know what, if any, changes could be made to existing height regulations.
The advantage of multi-story buildings is they move density upward instead of spreading that density out on the ground, Roberson said. That means less ground is disturbed, he said. When it comes to a new building, Roberson said, the city often faces a “trade off” decision — finding a balance between height and ground disturbance. Disturbing more ground may be more desirable than disturbing the skyline in some instances, he said.
Roberson did not know when the council and board may hold their joint meeting.
Under the schedule included in the moratorium ordinance, from November 2006 to December 2006, the city would hire a consultant to prepare design review requirements for rooftop development and the commission would complete its review of the revisions to the design guidelines. This month, the commission would conduct a public hearing to consider proposals for design guideline changes. Later this month, the council would conduct a public hearing to consider adoption of the proposed guidelines for rooftop additions in the business-historic zone.