Gering City Council postpones zoning ordinance approval

Gering City Council approved the first reading of the city's new comprehensive plan at its Monday meeting. Last updated in 1984, the plan includes numerous changes that make it more business and development friendly. The city hopes to have the plan in place by mid- to late July. The Gering City Council held off approving new zoning regulations at its Monday, July 13 meeting.

The Gering City Council held off approving new zoning regulations at its Monday night meeting, voting 7-0 to postpone the second reading of the ordinance.

“We will not be adopting the motion this evening,” Council Member Julie Morrison said when introducing the motion.

Mayor Tony Kaufman and councilman Dan Smith were not at the meeting.

On the agenda, staff reccommended waiving the second reading and approving the new zoning regulations and map. For more than a year, Gering city staff and consultants worked to develop new ordinances as zoning was last updated in 1984.

City Council President Susan Wiedeman said members had questions for City Engineer Annie Folck about the ordinance transitioning some of the power of the council to the Gering Planning Commission.

Folck said the intent of the new 120-page code is to “streamline the process, and make it business-friendly whenever possible,” by making changes such as decreasing the number of zoning districts and adding some flexibility.

Folck said one change allowed the Planning Commission — a volunteer board of nine members which advises the city council on planning amendments, zone changes, subdivisions and zoning ordinance — to have the final say on conditional use permits which are exceptions granted on certain terms. Currently, a permit for making an exception to the zoning requirements has to be approved by the commission and then by the city council.

“State statute allows us to do it either way. It’s actually fairly common practice for communities to have the planning commission do this,” Folck said. “I know Scottsbluff, Alliance and Chadron are three that I checked with and they all do things this way.”

Morrison asked if there’s any way for the city council to appeal a commission decision, saying, “Cause nobody’s going to watchdog the Planning Commission.”

Folck said there is nothing in the ordinance that would allow council to override any decision, adding that all decisions by council or the commission can be challenged in the courts.

Councilman Michael Gillen said the authority lies with the council to lay out what’s allowed and what’s not in the zoning code.

“If we’ve already determined (a conditional use) is OK, I think we’re doing a disservice to the business to make them sit through another month of the meetings before they can continue what they are doing,” Gillen said.

He said Gering has to stay competitive with other cities in the area.

“I’m seeing this as something the valley has already adopted and I think we need to make sure we stay business friendly,” he said.

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