Clayton News-Star

Clayton writes a code for future

Planning board member Bob Ahlert pointed out that the police department’s outdoor gun range would be out of step with town code.
Planning board member Bob Ahlert pointed out that the police department’s outdoor gun range would be out of step with town code. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

While written for a courtroom and bound with red tape, a town’s planning code has something of a philosophical mission in mind. If most streets have sidewalks on both sides, homes are so many feet from one another and only restaurants in certain business districts have drive-thrus, the code argues this is what a perfect society might look like.

Clayton is revamping its zoning ordinance, cutting things out, modifying a few uses and generally trying to anticipate the coming needs of an increasingly suburban town. In proposed changes the planning board reviewed last month, the town aims to preserve industrial land while it still can, but most changes deal with the balance between homes and businesses.

“The purpose of land-use regulation in Clayton is to promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare,” town planner Jay McLeod said. “It’s pretty standard language, with the root ability for government to regulate anything having to do with land use. You don’t always see morals in there, but in this case, the town of Clayton also wants to promote healthy morals.”

Ideally, McLeod said, the code aims to lessen congestion and overcrowding, both on the town’s streets and in the utility infrastructure underground. He said the code attempts to regulate the character of the town by fitting its many diverse pieces as inoffensively as possible.

“As the town continues to grow, we continue to have a need to modify our land-use plan and start thinking further and further down the road,” McLeod said.

A major change is planned for the town’s industrial districts, where the current rules reflect the laissez-faire attitude of the past, when Clayton saw less constraints on industrial space and greater elbow room for all. The proposed changes remove a long list of potential “light industrial” uses but keep specific heavy-industrial uses. The aim is to keep vague and lower-impact uses out of industrial land. McLeod pointed to cemeteries and solar farms as examples that could easily gobble up Clayton’s manufacturing land.

“If we have a cemetery moving into industrial land, that’s a large land user and a place where jobs might have happened, where another Novo expansion might have happened,” McLeod said. “If a solar farm moves into an (heavy industrial) area and takes up a lot of land and when we’re out of heavy industrial land, it’s hard to find another place for those manufacturing-type, sometimes nuisance-generating uses to go.”

Under the proposed changes, the town would prohibit two uses, explicitly outlawing open dumps and outdoor gun ranges. Planning board member Bob Ahlert noted that the town’s police department uses an outdoor gun range for target practice, which McLeod said would be grandfathered in.

“It is indeed a nonconforming use; they can continue as long as they don’t stop shooting bullets,” McLeod said.

The proposed changes draw a clearer distinction between home-based businesses and typical office districts. One of the few adjectives added to the code is “dense” in the downtown business district, suggesting the town wants to see downtown gaps filled in rather than encourage sprawl. For restaurants, the code would no no longer have separate category for eateries with drive-thrus, but drive-thrus would not be allowed downtown, either for restaurants or banks.

In residential areas, the town would allow up to two backyard structures; in the past, the town’s planning department sometimes made homeowners choose between a poolhouse and a shed. A two-family home would now be a duplex, and the town would remove a section devoted just to homes with driveways in the back.

Clayton has seen hundreds of homes planned within its boundaries in the last couple years, but McLeod noted that while the town’s population might grow, the land doesn’t usually match it, and the role of government is figuring out that puzzle.

“In reality, Clayton only has one thing it can do to ensure it’s prosperity in the future; I mean Clayton as a community but also as a government,” McLeod said. “And that’s basically what we do with land, which is a finite resource.”

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