Fairfield to update its city-shaping planning tool

The planning and zoning code update should be complete by the end of 2022

Fairfield is underway in updating its planning and zoning code, and while it’s a dry subject, the code is an important tool in shaping the city.

“It’s a pretty monumental task,” said Erin Lynn, planning manager for the city of Fairfield.

The city contracted with McBride Dale Clarion to help update the planning and zoning code, which should be completed by the end of 2022. Overall, the update will take 14-to-18 months, and the initial steps have included data gathering and meetings with the consultant, the board of zoning appeals, and planning commission.

Lynn said the project should be completed by the end of 2022.

“It’s not easy to read,” said Lynn. “It’s difficult to use for us, so can you imagine what it’s like for a homeowner trying to figure out, if they want to build a shed in their back yard, what the requirements are, or a business owner who has no idea what the process is like.”

The difficulty comes from being unorganized and it contains outdated terminology, she said. The goal is to have a “more modern and user-friendly” planning and zoning code document, including adding graphics and diagrams of pictures.

“Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words and it’s easier to show something as opposed to trying to write it out,” Lynn said.

The city’s planning and zoning code was adopted in the early 1980s and has undergone “piecemeal updates through the years,” she said.

“We’ve kind of taken on a reactive approach, which is not what you want to do,” she said. “The goal is to get away from that.”

The city’s 2019-adopted comprehensive plan Fairfield Forward recommended more than 40 zoning updates, including enhanced landscaping and buffering standards, revised parking regulations, addressing sign height and clutter, and encouraging new developments to incorporate public gathering places or pocket parks. The city and McBride Dale Clarion will work to incorporate these updates.

Fairfield’s planning and zoning code is the primary implementation tool used to guide development throughout the city through a set of regulations as to how land can be used. This includes, among other things, building placement, signage, landscaping, parking, subdivision layouts, and cell tower regulations.

The planning and zoning code does not address property maintenance, though they do have areas that overlap. The city will look at the property maintenance code after the planning and zoning code update, Lynn said.

The planning and zoning code, as well as other types of codes, like the building code, will need to address the organic changes that has occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While more people are working from home because of the pandemic, and offices are downsizing, Lynn said there’s been a greater need for open space and parks and recreation spaces.

Because of changes due to COVID-19, or just a changing economy with new or evolving types of companies and industries, Development Services Director Greg Kathman said “sometimes there’s an odd reference in the old code so we have to figure out where it’s comparable to.”

But COVID will require other codes to be updated, such as the building code. Kathman anticipates some COVID-related changes, such as to air filtration systems, will be reviewed when the time comes.

The next phase in updating the planning and zoning code is to draft the regulations in a four-step process. Step one will be addressing zoning districts and uses.

Step two will be addressing development and design standards. Step 3 is subdivision standards and the last step will address administration, general provisions, review procedures, and definitions.

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