Education zones could cut through red tape

Flexible zoning requirements and fewer trips to the planning commission may be possible for Oberlin College.

Commission members last Wednesday discussed adopting institiutional zoning, which would target educational buildings such as the college and Lorain County JVS, provided the vocational school is annexed into the city limits.

Mark Majewski of Northstar Planning and Design said if the college were in an institutional zone and educators wanted to add to a building, they would not have to go before the commission for approval as long as the project met pre-defined requirements.

Moving to institutional zoning can be a complex process, though, he said.

It requires a school to look ahead 10 to 20 years to see whether it will expand, and city officials have to determine whether the zone will be in one part of the city or several sections, Majewski said.

“If you adopt a new institutional district it does not have to apply to each company,” he said. The zone can be targeted at just educational campuses.

Oberlin planning director Carrie Handy believes there are advantages to creating this zone for Oberlin College instead of forcing it to abide by the rules of a residential zone.

“They’re a very special entity and have a special need that residents don’t need,” she said. Handy urged city planners to start looking at what requirements such as setbacks, signage, and height should go into institutional zoning.

This type of rezoning has been discussed since 2005 by former planning director Gary Boyle but has been resurrected as the city fights to annex the JVS.

“It’s the biggest single building that would come into Oberlin,” said city manager Eric Norenberg.

He is expected to speak with Oberlin College staff and provide feedback to the commission at its next meeting at 4:30 p.m. July 15 at city hall conference room two.

Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.