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Decatur Diary | November 17, 2013

Residents Gather to Launch UDO: First step, identify the disconnects

Decatur’s 2010 Strategic Plan doesn’t stop at the Big Picture level. It filters down, from guiding principles to broad goals to specific tasks.

One of those tasks is a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that pulls most of the City’s growth-guiding documents, including zoning, subdivision and environmental regulations, into a package that is: cohesive and consistent throughout; easy to understand and administer; and aligned with goals in the updated Strategic Plan.

Achieving cohesion and consistency is a research, writing and editing task that will comprise most of the project’s 10-month timeline. Call it a clean-up job, making existing policies more clear and more consistent from section to section. But within that task we’ll also be ensuring that the regulations themselves are aligned with our vision for the future. And that requires a community conversation.

On the evening of November 14th, that conversation got started as over 50 residents gathered to consider disconnects in existing regulations — areas where our requirements seem out of sync with our goals — and then propose revisions to correct them.

Zoning, said coding consultant Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio, “is the allocation of opportunity.” In our Plan, we assert ambitious goals for that allocation. We envision an environmentally responsible community that assures housing and lifestyle opportunities for people with broad ranges of incomes and at different life stages. Reaching some of those goals may mean changes in the ways we’ve approached zoning up until this point.

To demonstrate, the team laid out some probing questions for residents and for real estate development professionals. For example:

Are we ready to build into the UDO opportunities for the “missing middle” of Decatur housing — small lot/small house clusters, town homes, duplexes and other, more affordable options for sale and rent? And since those new options would have to be introduced next to or within existing neighborhoods, how do we do that without violating community character?

Is there a better way to manage parking in mixed-use districts that accommodate both the patrons of retail and restaurants and the residents of adjoining neighborhoods? How about the way we regulate storm water management? Can the UDO achieve a better thought-out balance between the responsibilities of property owners and the City? The same goes for other rules aimed at strengthening Decatur’s already strong position as a model of environmental responsibility in the Atlanta region.

City goals in five areas — housing, transportation, preservation, lifelong community, and sustainability — were presented on large wall posters for review (1.9mb .pdf), together with questions for consideration. Using Idea Cards provided by the session organizers, residents were then tasked with two questions:

  1. In what way do you feel our existing development regulations fail to support the goals of the Strategic Plan?
  2. What revision or new regulation would perform better? Should it be required? Or encouraged with incentives?

The team is compiling those responses now and will provide a summary on this website. But it’s not too late to make your own contributions as well. Review the posters and provide your own answers and recommendations in the comments section below. Or, submit more general comments and questions directly to the city here.

Check back with us regularly for updates of progress.

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  1. gary garrett says

    Related to UDO: Transportation. Goal Inter-parcel connectivity
    1. Zoning to encourage ‘corner stores’ 2. pathways connecting neighborhoods or streets (e.g. Olympic Place to Ansley) 3. Pedestrian pathways can help break up blcoks

  2. gary garrett says

    UDO: Transportation: complete streets standards.
    1. Slower speed limits throughout city 2. All-way / 4 way stops at many intersections (versus lights) 3. all types of users should have access to streets; 4. education campaign such as the ME ‘Stop/Wave/Walk’ campaign posted on the roadway; see other BMPs from other cities

  3. gary garrett says

    Public Art:
    1. Public art should be required in new development (>5000 sf) OR could pool funds for alternative site project; 2. Use local universities as incubators of ideas both for art ideas and specific projects. 3. Offer matching grants through Allied Arts, National Endowment for Arts Our Town Grant, Artspace, and others 4. Partner with EyeDrum, Goat Farm, Beltline arts, others, for project concepts and funding; 5. utilize competitive process with seniors, students, professionals for design of /development of public art (Chattanooga, e.g., held competition for brick bench installations a number of years back resulting in very creative and pleasing public art)

  4. Wylie Roberts says

    Concerning the UDO: Current Floor Area Ratios need to be either doubled or eliminated entirely, and unconditioned garage space should not count toward the floor area.
    Why? The current rules constrain improving ones home excessively, and the FAR does not have any positive impact to the Environmental goal of limiting impervious areas.
    For example, a typical one story on an R-60 lot takes up about 30% of the lot. Adding a second story would take the FAR to 60% which the FAR does not allow. This forces home owners to only build a “hump” over a part of the first floor that is not aesthetically pleasing, nor fair to the home owner.
    In addition, why should we not be able to improve our homes to levels comparable to those renovated prior to 2008 when the FAR was newly implemented? It is an arbitrary and unreasonable infringement on property rights, without any compelling benefit to the city since adding a second story does not increase the amount of impervious land area or harm the environment in any way.
    Simply put, the current setbacks, lot coverage ratios, height, and story limits already prevent over building.
    In fact, there are people who have been arbitrarily told they can’t floor their attic, simply because of the FAR, even though their is no possible benefit to the City by preventing this.
    The Commissioners were bombarded by the same 30 people at every meeting for a long time pushing an anti-development agenda, but the silent majority of Decatur residents are awakening, and will replace the commissioners who don’t respect property rights in the next election. We are getting organized now. The commissioners have gone way too far, and I don’t think the Mayor will end up being reelected because of this, now that the ire of the silent majority has been raised.

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