Petersburg’s South Harbor waterfront and runway (Photo courtesy of Cindi Lagoudakis)

Local property owners convinced the Petersburg borough government Monday to take another look at changes to industrial zoning under a development code approved by the borough assembly in December. The assembly directed Petersburg’s planning commission to revisit their recommendation on what’s allowed and what not on industrial property.

The assembly approved a sweeping revision of borough code on zoning, construction and subdivisions in December and they were scheduled to vote on a map implementing that new zoning this spring. Some property owners have been surprised by and opposed to changes to what would be allowed on their land in the future under that new proposed map.

Amber Burrell represented a group of property owners asking the borough to take another look at the code for industrial land.

“There’s a lot of confusion under that industrial code and there’s a lot of people that bought industrial land with the express purpose of doing things with it,” Burrell told the assembly. “Many people in this room have really great ideas, growth opportunities or maybe just building a home with a home business. Those are really being limited right now.”

The development code created three classifications for industrial land, limiting some residential uses on some of that property. One new category, light industrial, allows more residential uses but would prohibit things like asphalt plants, sawmills or other heavy industrial uses. The intent was to limit future conflicts between heavy industry and homes.

Harold Medalen, who was on the planning commission when it drafted the 1985 code, has lobbied to keep that language and the zoning approved at that time.

“What seems to have been misunderstood by the planning and zoning commission is where the zoning came from in this town and the philosophy behind,” Medalen said, reading from a letter to the assembly. “The zoning code we have came from the property owners. It wasn’t imposed on them by the planning and zoning commission, its staff or the city council. I was on planning and zoning during the process and we had massive outreach to property owners to find out what zoning they desired. Many of them didn’t really care to have any zoning but accepted industrial zoning because it gave them complete freedom to use their land for everything from single family residential, to commercial to full on industrial.”

Some property owners have sought changes to the proposed zoning map for their land. Others have felt like they’ve been forced to choose new zoning on short notice. And still others have asked for the borough to dump the entire new code and map and start again.

Three members of the planning commission attended the assembly meeting. One of them, Dave Kensinger, spoke during public comments but not on behalf of the commission.

“I get it that people weren’t paying attention to this process,” Kensinger said. “It wasn’t something that we did in the dark. You guys had three meetings. We had two years of meetings. But I get it. I get it that people, until they get a letter in the mail saying guess what we might be changing your zoning you might wanna take a look at this, this makes people excited. So in fairness to that and what Mr. Medalen said, we do need more time for this process I think to work the way everybody in the community wants it to work.”

The outcry from last week’s planning commission meeting and this week’s assembly meeting was enough to convince assembly members. Brandi Marohl asked to revisit the issue.

“So I think that we need to kick it back to the staff and have them relook at it and listen to the citizens and more closely align with our new code what it was with our old code and what the citizens want and the land owners want,” Marohl said.

The assembly clarified that they were asking the planning commission to revisit the language in the approved code for industrial land and come back with a recommendation. That discussion could push back approval of the new zoning map, which was scheduled to start assembly review April 1st. The final vote was 6-0 in favor of sending the issue back to the planning commission, with mayor Mark Jensen not at the meeting and Jeff Meucci and Taylor Norheim attending by phone.