The city's zoning code is undergoing its first update in 20 years. A report issued by the Chicago firm the city hired to codify its long-range land use plan hints at what the new regulations will look like.
Camiros Ltd's technical report and analysis is available on the city of Hot Springs website, https://www.cityhs.net/, along with a link to provide feedback ahead of the June 8 presentation to the planning commission, and at https://www.codeforwardhs.com/.
"We're hoping the public will seize upon this opportunity to take an early look and react to it," Planning and Development Director Kathy Sellman said.
The Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted HS: 2040 Forward Hot Springs Comprehensive Plan in 2020. Last summer, the board awarded Camiros a contract not to exceed $229,000 to translate the plan into code. Sellman said the 2030 plan the city adopted in 2010 wasn't incorporated into the zoning code.
"We didn't have the money to do it," she said.
Sellman said the zoning code hasn't been reworked since the long-range plan adopted in 1997 was codified in 2003.
"That was the last major look at the code as a whole," she said.
Camiros' emphasis on a user-friendly code, with more diagrams and illustrations, is one of the high points of the report, Sellman said.
"This should make it possible for everyday people to get what's going on there," she said. "The ability to know information ahead of time helps people to comply and avoid the unnecessary expense of redoing things."
As part of that simplification, Camiros recommended broader land use categories over the more specific ones listed in the city's table of permitted and conditional uses. There's more than 130.
"We have four different ways to say fortune teller as a use," Sellman said. "We don't have any place that allows retail as a general use. It never mentions retail."
Camiros said combining specific uses into broader categories gives cities more flexibility to respond to new uses, or ones that weren't anticipated when codes were developed and adopted. It said the table should also address uses incidental to primary uses, specifically accessory dwelling units.
Camiros said ADUs, or residences detached from a single-family home but on the same lot, can add to a city's housing stock.
"We've allowed those in the past, but we haven't made it easy to do," Sellman said. "We require the accessory unit be totally subordinate to the primary unit. That means only one utility hookup going through the primary unit and connecting to the smaller unit.
"This would change that and allow each unit to have their own utilities and give us clear standards for what an accessory dwelling unit can be or look like. It ties in with the housing strategy the board is working on. We have an obvious shortage of safe, sanitary, decent, desirable housing. This is one way to add to that supply."
Camiros recommended incorporating the sign code into the zoning code but said vacation rental regulations should remain as a standalone chapter under the planning and zoning section of the city code.
"I foresee a big change in how the code is organized and presented," Sellman said. "I foresee some changes that may be perceived as big changes with regard to parking requirements and probably regarding lot sizes."
Camiros noted many single-family lots are smaller than the minimum size allowed in their zoning district. Sellman said they are the product of land subdivided prior to the city adopting a zoning code. The smaller lots would conform to the standards in the residential neighborhood 3, or RN-3, district Camiros proposed.
One of four new residential districts the report recommended, RN-3 would be a small lot single-family district. RN-4 would be a mix of single-family and two-family dwellings, along with small townhouse developments. RN-6 would be a townhouse and multi-family district.
Camiros said the code's medium/high density residential zone, or R-4, is too broad. It's the only one of the five current residential zones where single-family homes, duplexes and apartments are a permitted use.
"Which means the density is not concentrated in the way that it would be in a townhouse multi-family district," the report said.