City officials, local business owners and representatives from regional development groups gathered inside the Trusler Business Center Thursday evening for an informational meeting on industrial zoning.

It was the second in a line of free ELC-Z workshops run by Lyon County Planning and Zoning Officer Sam Seeley and Emporia Zoning and Planning Officer Joe Foster, the first coming last week on the topic of agriculture. As with the previous meeting, the duo stressed most in attendance would not see noticeable effects of the proposed zoning changes, stating existing businesses would be grandfathered in in most cases.

“If you have an existing building or structure that’s zoned industrial that you continue to use as industrial, you’ll be grandfathered in,” Foster said. “How you use the building today can continue.”

“There’s rare instances where something was already built in a manner that was unlawful to begin with, but is still allowed to exist in its current manner unless a change is made to it,” Seeley added. “So, if you had something that didn’t meet any of the regulations before and you decided you wanted to make a complete overhaul of it, then you would have to abide by the current regulations … Our goal here is to grandfather in the uses that exist, then address the new things that are moving in.”

One of the most notable planned additions to the zoning handbook, Foster said, was a new classification of industry. Currently, “light” and “heavy” categories are the only types designated within the city limits, but new industries could come to be considered “flex” use.

“Industrial flex parcel types support commercial retail, service, office, trade or light industrial buildings as well as planned employment centers or planned integrated use development along corridors and city boundaries with pedestrian-oriented interiors, pocket parks or plazas,” Foster said. “An industrial flex area could possibly be something like a business park ... It’s a bit broader in scope than just standard light industrial and heavy industrial.

“[The classification] allows for a number of different things that wouldn’t be allowed right now in a light industrial zone. It could range from a liquor store, to an art gallery and other wholesale establishments. If you go through and look, even restaurants can be in industrial flex zones. We’re talking service-oriented businesses.”

Much of the rest of Thursday’s session was spent addressing individual and organizational concerns about specific parcel classifications in districts around the city. Some expressed doubt about the need for an additional industrial type — and the need for the “confusing” and “complicated” zoning handbook changes at large — but members of local government said the restructuring would eventually serve to streamline development issues going forward.

“We already have over 200 pages of regulations related to zoning, divisions and everything else,” Emporia City Commission Member Rob Gilligan said. “The goal of this — as crazy as it might sound right now — is to simplify and give us more options for development in a cleaner and more modern way. It’s so that we don’t have as difficult and as restrictive of areas. It gives us freedom.”

Those with questions on industrial zoning are encouraged to reach out to Foster through email at jfoster@emporia-kansas.gov or by phone at 343-4268. The next ELC-Z workshop — which will concern commercial zoning — will be held from 6 - 8 p.m. Thursday at the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce, 719 Commercial St. The most recent draft of the zoning handbook can be accessed on both the city and county websites as well as the @LyCoPlanningZoningFPM Facebook page.

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