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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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