Council contemplating update to 74-year-old zoning code

City Manager Sam Sutherland (left) is asking Portsmouth City Council to revise the city’s 74-year-old zoning code ordinance. Photo by Patrick Keck.

PORTSMOUTH- In the last 74 years, there have been 13 U.S. presidents, the Soviet Union fell, and America put a man on the moon. Perhaps on a smaller scale, there has only been one zoning plan for Portsmouth during that span.

That matter, discussed during the City Managers’ session, could be resolved pending how Portsmouth City Council takes on legislation requested by City Manager Sam Sutherland. Following deliberation, Council moved to adapt legislation which would authorize $100,000 from the General Fund to update the city’s zoning ordinances if passed.

The specific ordinance was not mentioned in the written request, but would likely focus on Part 11, Title 3 of the codified ordinances, which refers to Ordinance 1946-47 as the “Zoning Code” passed on Aug. 7, 1946. The code sets definitions of terms and districts, established the Board of Zoning Appeals in 1971, and created penalties for noncompliant owners, ranging between $10 and $100 per violation.

“Maybe in hindsight or arm-chair quarterbacking, we shouldn’t have waited this long,” said Sutherland on Monday, Nov. 23. “But now it’s time.”

5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell, who described himself as a fairly new resident of the city, asked why it had taken so long for this change. A local for the past six years, he understood that other municipalities make it an emphasis to regularly review and update its zoning codes.

“To me, it seems like this is something that is so out-of-date,” he said, Mayor Kevin Johnson in agreement.

An exact answer couldn’t be given to his question, but Sutherland said the need became apparent recently following Council’s adoption of a moratorium on new Health Care, medical, rehabilitation, and mental health facilities. The moratorium will give the city one year to determine whether new facilities or regulations are needed.

It is likely that the code will need multiple rounds of revisions, the selected firm being chosen in the next one-to-two months, said Sutherland, who sits on Planning Commission meetings.

“The farther you go out, the more likely it is that it’ll be challenged,” said City Solicitor John Haas, who set the deadline for within the next year.

Facilitation of the updates is projected to take between nine to 12 months, the $100,000 going towards a firm who will review strengths and weaknesses in how the city uses its land while proposing strategies to increase growth. Only $75,000 of the city’s money will go into the project, as a $25,000 grant from 2019 will also be used.

Giving property owners and investors a more accurate picture of how the land is used in the city is vital, said Sutherland, especially considering the changes over that course of time. When this code was enacted, industry and the population were booming in Portsmouth, where over 40,000 people resided in 1940.

As of the latest U.S. Census figures, the Ohio Development Services Agency reports that 20,909 lived in the city in 2010, a decrease by nearly 20,000 in the last 80 years.

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.