The public will have a final opportunity to learn about and comment on the proposed new Sunset Hills zoning code and map at a yet-to-be-determined point between now and the end of the year. The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 25 —following a three-hour session — voted to send the voluminous document and map to the board of aldermen with a recommendation for adoption.

More than 50 residents attended, many wanting to sound off on the city’s public notification system — which some said has been inadequate for vetting the proposed new zoning code — as well as to weigh in on the proposed zoning map and ordinance before the commission voted. Commission Chairman Terry Beiter took pains to hear any and every — including oft-repeated — comment in the interests of full transparency.

The commission voted on eight separate “zoning changes” that reflect the proposed combination of some existing zone classifications and the elimination of others. Each was approved unanimously except for one that would consolidate non-urban (NU), large-scale single-family residential (R-1), moderate-density single-family residential (R-3), planned-development residential/cluster homes (PD-RC), planned-development mixed use (PD-MXD) and planned-development limited commercial (PD-LC) under low-density residential (R-2). Commissioners Frank Pellegrini and Rich Gau voted no, with Gau calling the change “crazy.”

Prior to the vote, however, the discussion centered on the city’s failure to physically post notices on the more than 1,400 properties up for rezoning. Property owners whose properties would be directly affected by the proposed zoning changes were notified by postcard.

City Attorney Bob Jones drew groans from the audience when he explained it would have been impractical to require physical posting of notices on all properties and the city had met legal notification standards, which requires a formal notice of publication 15 days prior to “a legislative body’s” discussion of the rezoning.

“That would be the board of aldermen and the official public hearing date has not been set,” he said.

Commission Member Michael Hopfinger pushed back at what he said has been an effort by some to characterize virtually every decision by city officials over the past few months as nefarious.

“These disinformation campaigns lead to an unproductive process. It merely feeds uncertainty and doubt. We are not looking to invade our own city,” Hopfinger said.

John Houseal, principle at Houseal-Lavigne, the firm that has conducted the code revision process, said the new code and map essentially codifies existing land uses. Through the process of annexation a large percentage of properties do not conform to the existing code. Some property owners who said at the meeting the zoning reflected on the map was not correct, were allowed to retain their existing zoning classes.

Cathy Friedmann, a vocal critic of the zoning code rewrite, asserted that local press coverage had inaccurately reported that under the proposed new code, townhouses are allowed in the R-1 and R-2 zones. Houseal, however, affirmed that those zoning categories would not allow townhouses.

“Detached, single-family homes are the only uses allowed (in R-1 and R-2.) The only way a townhouse can be built is under a planned development,” Houseal said.

The code rewrite eliminated planned developments as established uses but a PD “overlay” can still be negotiated with the city on a case-by-case basis. A developer seeking a planned development would be required to meet with adjacent property owners before proceeding with a plan and provide detailed evidence to the city that such a meeting occurred.

Pellegrini was adamant that the new code provide extra prohibitions against any non-single-family, detached developments in the R-1 and R-2 zones and made a motion that the new code include that language. Gau agreed, but the motion failed 2-7.

Some of the finer points of the proposed code — new landscaping requirements, parking requirements, signage, building setback changes — did not generate much discussion. A list of concerns raised by the commission and the public during the vetting process was included as an addendum to the commission’s recommendation for approval to the board.

The proposed new code remains accessible through a link to the city’s website, where the public is still invited to leave comments.