A proposed rewrite of Decatur's zoning ordinance places more restrictions on residential developments. It toughens requirements for green spaces and walkways, and would require bicycle parking for new developments in some parts of the city.
Clarion Inc. posted half of the proposed zoning revisions online at onedecatur.org last week. A series of meetings including the City Council, Planning Commission and the public are scheduled for Jan. 21.
The public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers.
The city hired Clarion, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for $195,000 to lead the effort to rewrite the zoning codes as a follow-up to the One Decatur comprehensive plan approved in 2018.
Four of the eight parts of the proposed rewrite will be the focus of the initial review. These parts include general provisions, administration, development standards, and enforcement and definitions.
Unlike the One Decatur plan, Planning Commission Chairman Kent Lawrence said, most of the zoning rewrite is rules and regulations. Still, he said, the public needs to pay attention and know what the city government might change that could impact their lives.
As an example, Lawrence said the proposed zoning rewrite will include more changes to a sign ordinance that was controversial when it was introduced in 2011. At the time, the city banned "floppy man," an inflatable sign designed to draw attention. Local business owners objected to this and other changes, such as banning portable signs.
“I don’t see anything as controversial, but there are changes that make it more restrictive,” Lawrence said.
One area of general interest in the first four sections is development standards. City Planner Karen Smith said development standards set aesthetic appearance requirements in certain areas like downtown.
Some of the standards focus on the appearance and number of exterior lights required, what a crosswalk must look like, and ban the use of metal buildings in certain areas.
The proposed regulations provide for shared parking for businesses that once had to offer separate parking.
"There has to be an agreement beforehand between the two businesses," Smith said.
Smith said the standards are focused on creating a more walkable, safe community. This includes bicycle parking and access, especially in downtown.
“The standards only apply if someone makes a major change or starts a new development,” Smith said.
Under the proposed zoning ordinance, a subdivision developer will be required to include "set-aside space" for a small park. This increases the green space and reduces the heat marker within the subdivision while giving children a place to play and the adults a place to meet, Smith said. Depending on the zoning district, the set-aside space must account for 10-20% of the development area and must meet specific green-space guidelines.
Smith said the One Decatur plan led to one change in the proposed rewrite for new businesses. Builders are now being asked to build closer to the front of the property with only one row of parking along the front and the rest of the parking in the rear of the business.
“It’s a different look that we’re not used to, but it’s a good thing,” Smith said.