Court Street during the afternoon
Looking south on Court Street in Uptown Athens, Ohio. [Joel Prince | WOUB]

Zoning rules for businesses in Athens may soon change

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — City officials may consider changes to a zoning code prohibiting restaurants from operating within 200 feet of a residential area.

But the code is routinely waived because many of the best locations in town for a restaurant are close to neighborhoods.

The way the process works is the proposed restaurant gets denied because the location violates the code, and then the people behind the proposal have to seek a variance from the city’s zoning appeals board.

These variances are frequently granted given the number of restaurants in Athens that are well within 200 feet of a residential area.

This has some city officials wondering why entrepreneurs have to go through this extra step in order to open their business.

According to David Riggs, who enforces the city’s zoning codes, this particular code was passed in the ’80s. It applies to restaurants and drive-thrus identified as an eating and drinking establishments. 

Since then many restaurants have had to go through the process of getting a variance because of this code. 

In order to obtain a variance, a business owner must pay a fee to apply for it and then make their case to the Board of Zoning Appeals. If the variance is approved they can move forward with the location. However this process has become a formality for entrepreneurs because the board approves the variance in many cases. 

Kiser's BBQ coming soon sign
[Jada Respress | WOUB]
Kiser’s BBQ recently jumped through this hoop successfully with no issues from the city. Owner Sean Kiser said that the code is a way for residents to have a voice and creates an open dialogue between business owners and the community.   

“I didn’t really know it existed until we obviously went off looking for a new place and found that we had to kind off jump over a proverbial hurdle of sorts,” Kiser said.

That hurdle did prevent Kiser’s from opening sooner in another location. The Kiser family was first looking at a location on West Union Street, but the owner of that property didn’t want the city entangled with his business affairs.

“Some owners have had some issues in the past with different issues with code and he didn’t wanna open a can of worms he thought might be possible,” Kiser said.

So Kiser had to relocate to where he is now on East State Street. 

There has been talk about revisiting the code and changing the language. Kiser had mixed views about what the impact of changing the code would be. 

“It’ll probably help small businesses for sure but … you’re trying to do something like this within a residential area, I think the residents should have some rights in which to voice their opinions,” Kiser said. 

Riggs said there “really should be a change in the code,” so that it would not apply to **all restaurants but just those with a drive thru** 

Riggs plans to talk to the Planning Commission about proposed changes before addressing the City Council after their recess. He wants to “get started this year.” 

City Council President Christine Knisely said that she’s not aware of anyone ever bringing this issue to council before.