Ordinance Would Change Downtown Blythewood

An ordinance to greatly change the official zoning map of the downtown commercial area in Blythewood passed the first of two required votes by Town Council almost unnoticed on Sept. 24 of this year. But as the little white zoning signs began popping up on all downtown commercial properties (and 19 outside the downtown) a month or so later, heralding a public hearing and the second and final vote to make the ordinance the law of the Town, some business and commercial property owners have taken note and started asking questions.

And those questions could be warranted, considering that the Town’s Planning Commission Chairman, Mike Switzer, publicly aired his opinion that “the new zoning classification ordinance is one of, if not the most important and urgent of the Master Plan’s recommendations.”

In a speech to his fellow Commissioners as well as to those in the audience who might speak to the issue, Switzer explained that it is understandable to fear change. So, Switzer said, the town’s “government and businesses reached out to the community to address these fears and the need for change.”

What resulted, Switzer said, was the town “hiring a respected consulting firm with expertise in planning for smart growth.” He said the town then “held many public meetings, known as charettes, which were widely participated in.”

Switzer said the “Master Plan was then vetted again throughout the community, in the newspaper, online and in public hearings and finally passed by the Town Council over two years ago.”

Switzer said that a consensus of support was built from businesses and citizens for the Master Plan.

As Switzer pointed out, the biggest changes occur in the Town Center District which, he said, “previously had only a zoning designation of General Commercial.”

However, a review of the town’s color-coded zoning map shows two other more restrictive commercial zoning designations in that area of Neighborhood Commercial and Office Commercial.

Under the Town’s current zoning regulations, there are only those three commercial designations. Under the proposed zoning ordinance, there will be six commercial zoning designations: (from most to least restrictive) Neighborhood Office, Neighborhood Commercial, Multi-Neighborhood Office, Multi-Neighborhood Commercial, Town Center District  and Community Commercial.

According to Switzer, “these zoning changes were recommended by the Master Plan so as to allow for a gradual scaling of commercial development in Blythewood and to provide the design guidelines that will allow the town to achieve the goals envisioned in the Master Plan.

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