It's been a long haul, but it looks like the Elmwood Planning Commission is ready to unveil its new Zoning Ordinance in two important public meetings this month. This important legislation deserves the support of every segment of the Elmwood community.

The proposed ordinance will be introduced at an open house hosted by the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the Township Fire Station at 7 p.m. A public hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 22nd at 7pm at the Township Hall to collect input from the public.

The zoning ordinance that has emerged is moderate, flexible, accommodates the needs and concerns of a broad range of landowners, and is solidly based on the themes stated in the township master plan.

The Elmwood Planning Commission and its consultants have been careful to pick up the ordinance draft as developed by previous authors, providing for continuity with earlier input. Enhancements in the form of open space development options and mechanisms allowing for the division of several small lots from large properties have served to bring potential rural residential development into line with Elmwood's master plan, along with the ability to create small rural home sites for family and heirs into the ordinance.

Most striking is the contrast between the proposed ordinance and Elmwood's currently enforced zoning ordinance. The law currently on the books was identified as a problem by township government as early as the late '90s, when the township's master planning process began. Several expensive lawsuits and several failed developments have been traced to defects and contradictions found within the outdated and convoluted ordinance in place today.

These events end up costing all of us. Everyone in Elmwood faces potential legal liability at the hands of our current zoning ordinance. The township would find it difficult to properly direct a major development as things stand today, a real risk to everyone that pays taxes in Elmwood. Prompt adoption of the proposed ordinance would put an end to that risk.

An ordinance of this scope, as large and complex as it is, is sure to contain elements that some might challenge. It would be easy to argue, for instance, that the proposed five-acre minimum lot size would be better replaced by a 10-acre minimum, or that the commission hasn't gone far enough in reconciling its zoning map with the master plan's Future Land Use Map. The important point to keep in mind is that the proposed ordinance is structurally sound, is moderate in its approach, and offers positives for everyone in the township.

Learn about the ordinance on Jan. 15. Support it at the public hearing a week later on Jan. 22. Elmwood needs to take this big step forward, but it can't happen without public support.

About the author: Erik Saxon served on the Elmwood Township Planning Commission from 1997 to 2001 as the commission produced Elmwood's Master Plan. He has served on the Board of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth, and contributes articles on planning and zoning in Elmwood to publications of that group.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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