By ZEINAB NAJM
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — The City Council unanimously voted in favor of updating a zoning ordinance away from heavy industrial use and focusing on waterfront uses that prioritize cleaner land and more people-centric activities.
A second reading of the ordinance was read and passed during a Dec. 14 meeting, after the first reading at a Dec. 7 meeting and recommendation from the Planning Commission in the summer.
This ordinance update has been almost five years in the making when the city put together a committee to review the existing zoning ordinance, make changes they deemed necessary and make a recommendation to the Planning Commission — which happened July 22.
“Though this solution represented a considerable improvement over the status quo, I have worked diligently with our city council, city administration, legal counsel, and planning professionals for months to continue to look for opportunities to improve and strengthen the ordinance and promote an environmentally and economically sustainable waterfront,” Mayor Steven Rzeppa said.
“We have all put an incredible amount of time, effort, and research to put together a forward-thinking and environmentally and economically sustainable roadmap for our future with this ordinance,” he said. “Since this was brought to us in July, we have been working hard to incorporate many key changes that will put us on the right path forward, and I think this new ordinance will accomplish that.”
Under the zoning ordinance, I-W Industrial Waterfront District was changed to W-R Waterfront Revitalization District to consider the future of the city’s waterfront properties, especially those which have been fundamentally altered by their history of industrial use.
“The W-R Waterfront Revitalization District is designed to support a transition away from the heaviest industrial uses along the city’s waterfront and permit a combination of uses which support an emerging economy more focused on innovation and connection than on extraction and fabrication,” Rzeppa said during the Dec. 14 meeting.
“At the same time, the intent of the district recognizes that the existing conditions on these sites have been profoundly shaped by their industrial past and remain suitable for certain types of such uses due to their locational assets, and further recognizes that they remain desirable to preserve and balance the city’s tax base and employment opportunities,” he said. “The W-R district is structured mainly to preserve and protect the waterfront and natural resources while allowing appropriate and suitable development.”
Several changes that were made from when the proposed ordinance from the Planning Commission passed, to what was approved by the city council are:
• Commercial customer-serving uses such as dining, retail, and offices. Also generally limited industrial uses to those permitted in the I-1 district, which are already defined as those able to coexist with other uses in the absence of a buffer zone.
• The organizational principle of the uses is to permit the commercial and required uses by right, and the industrial uses by special land use. The purpose of this is to offer the Planning Commission greater control of site design for the industrial uses, and overall compatibility among uses.
• Required Conditions have been amended to require screening of outdoor storage areas that abut non-industrial uses (previously this only applied to non-industrial districts). Required Conditions also have been amended to require screening of industrial uses which adjoin existing non-industrial uses (previously this only applied to non-industrial districts), and to expressly permit landscaping as a screening device in that instance.
• Requirement for impact assessment has been added to all uses in PD, W-R, I-1, and I-2 districts (Section 110-601). In the W-R district, the Planning Commission may limit the scope for uses of a purely commercial nature which are principally permitted in the W-R district.
“The required impact assessment for planned development, waterfront revitalization, light industrial, and medium industrial zones in the city is huge,” Rzeppa said. “It will give us much more control over developments in every one of these districts.”
The purpose of the impact assessment is to evaluate the developmental, ecological, environmental, social, economic, and physical impact from a proposed development on and surrounding the development site.
“This means every development will require a thorough review and assessment of any and all potential pollution, effects on traffic, neighborhoods, public utilities, tax base, and so much more,” Rzeppa said. “It allows the planning commission and city council to evaluate whether any proposed developments will, among other things, be harmonious with the general objectives of the master plan, will represent a substantial improvement to property in the immediate vicinity and to the community as a whole, will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of the community, and will not have a detrimental impact on the environment.”
With the updated zoning ordinance passed, what is no longer allowed on portions of the former McLouth Steel site and other I-3 heavy industrial sites along the riverfront was changed.
A list of what is no longer allowed includes storage of petroleum-coke or its derivatives; any storage or transport of explosives, radioactive materials, and “hazardous waste” unless permits are obtained from city, state, county or federal authorities; toxic substances which are liable to cause death or serious injury to human health if inhaled, swallowed or by skin absorption; biohazards; junk yards or storage of disabled or damaged vehicles; commercial incineration or other forms of waste treatment; petroleum or other inflammable liquids, production, refining, or storage; smelting of metallic ores or compounds, such as copper, iron, or zinc ore; tire manufacturing; recycling plants or recycling processing facilities when done outdoors or with outdoor storage; and waste transfer facilities.
Rzeppa thanked everyone who worked on the zoning ordinance including the administrative team, city council, city attorney, planners, planning commission, members of the previous administration and residents who made their voices heard.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) addressed the Dec. 14 meeting virtually from Washington, D.C., to congratulate the council and city for the zoning ordinance changes.
State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-1st District) released a statement on the zoning ordnance and map.
“Trenton and Downriver residents have spoken clearly about their wishes for the waterfront and the importance of protecting the public’s health, quality of life, and our environment,” she said. “Changing the proposed Industrial Waterfront designation to Waterfront Revitalization and requiring impact assessments for certain developments are important changes that will go a long way toward ensuring a stronger future for Trenton, and I support this new ordinance.
“While this zoning ordinance is a critical step forward, there is still much more work to be done by way of monitoring what happens at the former McLouth Steel site and ensuring that all possible protections are put in place for the good of Trenton residents. I look forward to continued collaboration with officials at all levels.”
For more information on the zoning ordinance go to www.trentonmi.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])