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Commissioners seek to allow indoor recreation facilities in commercial, industrial zoning

March 13, 2013 - Some Oxford Township planning commissioners want to expand the zoning where commercial indoor recreation facilities are allowed so as to make it much easier and less expensive for them to open here and fill vacant buildings.

"We've kind of ordinanced people out of certain uses," said Planning Commission Chairman Todd Bell.

That's why the planning commission will be conducting a 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28 public hearing regarding a proposal to allow commercial indoor recreation facilities as permitted uses in the general commercial (C-2) and light industrial (I-1) zoning districts.

"Right now, we've got some stringent standards in the ordinance, so I think we're probably going to loosen those quite a bit," said township planner Brian Oppmann, who's an associate with the Ann Arbor-based Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc. "Obviously, the big one is making (the indoor recreation use) permitted."

The township's zoning ordinance defines an indoor recreation center as "an establishment which provides indoor exercise facilities and indoor court sports facilities, and which may include spectator seating in conjunction with the sports facilities."

Examples of indoor recreation facilities include dance studios, martial arts schools, bowling alleys and indoor batting cages.

"I would imagine we even have some buildings big enough to put (in) an indoor soccer (field)," Bell noted. "Why wouldn't we want to have something that keeps our kids in town, so parents don't have to drive so far?"

Bell explained that right now, if a business owner wishes to open an indoor recreation facility in either the C-2 or I-1 zoning districts, they can't do it because it's not a permitted use in those areas.

The owner must attempt to get their facility approved as a special land use and the township's process to accomplish that is "very expensive," according to Bell.

It costs about $6,000.

Bell said to some folks, that "sounds like chump change, but it's not chump change when it comes to a small business."

Township Trustee Jack Curtis, who also serves on the planning commission, agreed.

"To a start-up business, $6,000 is a lot of money," he said. "(And) they're forced to go through another hoop."

Officials see this proposed ordinance change as a way to save small business owners both time and money.

"If we make (indoor recreation) part of our use, (these business owners) may not even have to come in front of the planning commission," Bell said.

"If we make it a permitted use, then essentially it's handled administratively at the township by me, as the zoning administrator, and through the building department," Oppmann said. "So, it's a much quicker and much, much cheaper process."

All the applicant would need are zoning and building permits.

Even if there was some interpretation required by the planning commission in certain cases, Bell said it would simply be a matter of the applicant coming to the meeting and the board giving them a yes or no answer as to whether their proposed use fits with what is permitted.

Oppmann believes the proposed ordinance change "just makes sense."

"Usually if someone's going to do indoor recreation, they're not going to build a new building. They're going to go into an existing space," he said. "For someone to (incur) the expense of (having) a site plan (drawn), which is required as part of the special land use, plus (pay) the fees involved, it's difficult."

Oppmann explained whether an indoor recreation business wants to move into a retail space or a warehouse space, the "main concern" is really "if there's adequate parking and "if there is, then there's not too many other issues."

Curtis views the proposed ordinance change as a way to eliminate another "roadblock" for businesses, help fill vacant buildings and prevent the loss of these types of commercial enterprises to other communities.

Although the township doesn't keep any type of records concerning the businesses it's lost because of the current ordinance language, Curtis said, "We've had several instances where this has been brought up."

The public hearing concerning the proposed ordinance change will take place on the second floor of the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St.).

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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