This is my first post to this group *ever* so bear with me as I dive right in...
Our P&Z Commission recently opened up a can of worms (that promptly got routed to me...funny how that goes) about the appropriate zoning district placement of "research laboratories." The gist of the issue is, given the potential that chemical, biological, or radiological hazards may be present in these facilities, should "research labs" be allowed to be placed next to or in the vicinity of residential districts.
There is general agreement by all parties (P&Z, Chamber of Commerce, planning staff, etc) that "medical and dental laboratories" (i.e. those doctor/dentist labs that serve as accessory uses) should continue to be allowed in "office" zoning districts. However, consideration being given to the proposal that more intensive research labs (such as those that might have greater concentrations of or pose a greater risk in the types of chemical, biological, or radiological hazards) be placed in either a "research park" district or an "industrial" district.
While there may be a legitimate need to perhaps move these potentially hazardous labs into a zoning district other than "office," there has been some concern expressed by several labs in our community that they do not wish to be forced into a "general industrial" or even a "light industrial" district. Their reasoning is that their "research" activities are probably more compatible with the activities that occur within a hospital district or "research park," for example, rather than in an area that is doing "heavy manufacturing."
So my questions are these:
1) Has this "research laboratory" issue come up in your community? If so, how did you address this issue? That is, where does your community place labs that work with hazardous biological, chemical or radiological elements? What threshold "triggers" the requirement that a lab be placed in a "research park" or "industrial" zone as opposed to an "office" zone? Feel free to post links to on-line zoning ordinances if you have them. I'd love to have a look!
2.) Does your city or county have a good working definition of "laboratories," "research laboaratories," "process laboratories," etc.? I have a few, including one from the APA's Glossary of Zoning, Development, and Planning Terms (PAS #491/492) but have had little success looking for additional definitions on the Web. I'd really like to avoid getting too technical, but it looks like I may be heading in that direction
Again, internet links to your zoning ordinances would be very helpful!
3) If labs which deal with hazardous materials are placed into a higher zoning district, what is to be done with *existing* labs that fit this definition that are presently located in "office" districts (other than making them non-conforming uses, of course)?
4.) Finally, I am seeking recommendations on how I can differentiate/separate out "photo labs" (i.e. one hour photo labs commonly found as accessory uses in drug stores or Wal-Marts or as "stand alone" businesses) from laboratories that deal with more noxious uses. Right now in our city, theoretically these 1 hour "photo labs" are regulated the same way as a lab that does research on anthrax, or mustard gas or whatever.
Whew! Thanks in advance for the input! I am looking forward to the discussion and will be checking in periodically to add additional information if need be.
Eric the Red