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Decatur Diary | July 21, 2014

Finally There: First draft of UDO work-in-progress released

Last Fall, meetings were held to establish and affirm how the Unified Development Ordinance should be approached and structured, and to determine any areas of potential regulation requiring further discussion.

This Spring, “Hack the Code” sessions were held to explore the four identified areas: community character, stormwater, green building, and zoning approaches to expand the City’s allowable housing types. Residents also provided comments and direction here, through

Beginning in May, we assessed the amassed — and diverse — comments; sought direction, areas of agreement or potential compromise; and began work on the comprehensive draft.

That first draft (most of which consists of a “clean-up” of existing regulations, such as the addition of graphics and tables, the use of “plain language,” the use of consistent terms throughout, and the removal of regulations that are unnecessarily repeated) is now complete and is being released for initial public review July 21, 2014 — through this site (below) and in-person via a four-day long series of Q&A open house sessions in locations around the city. These sessions will allow residents to review the code, ask initial questions, and get direct information as it relates to the process.

For example, some have asked if the UDO will institute expanded neighborhood preservation regulations. Though a preservation-lite approach was an early consideration that came out of last Fall’s community input, such broader preservation options have been off the table since March, when they joined no shortage of other discarded ideas that have failed to gain support or be technically feasible.

The draft presented here and in the Q&A sessions reflects a baseline work-in-progress that will now be subject to weeks of community review and revision before its formal submission to the city commission, expected some time in October. Here’s what to expect moving forward (subject to revision as the process drills down):

Residents meet with Decatur planning director Amanda Thompson on day one of the Q&A sessions.

Residents meet with Decatur planning director Amanda Thompson on day one of the Q&A sessions.

July 21:
Draft released via both and a 4-day series of Q&A meetings. Initial public review and comment period begins.

August 15: Initial review and comment period ends. New draft, reflecting input, prepared for second comment and review period, as well as discussion with the city commission in two September public work sessions.

Early to mid September: Draft v.02, reflecting input from the community and from our resident boards and commissions, released. Second public review and comment period begins.

September 22 and 24: Draft v.02 explored by the city commission in two public work sessions.

Early October: Draft v.03 released. At some point thereafter, a final draft will be submitted to the city commission for consideration of adoption. Public will again have opportunity to speak. Stay tuned for more specific dates.

Dig In

The following DRAFT FILES, as of July 21, 2014, are now available for your review:

Summary of Major Changes
A quick-read overview of where significant changes occur in the draft ordinance. (.pdf)

Clarification Notes for High-Performance / Green Building
Details re: community input that any proposed green regulations focus primarily on new development rather than on more typical household improvements, renovations or upgrades. (.pdf)

Draft Articles 1 through 12 of the Unified Development Code, plus Appendix
The full draft, as of July 21, 2014. (16.9mb .pdf)

In the days since these meetings took place, a number of the most common questions have been answered. See the latest here. Or, want your thoughts on the record? Submit them here.

Weigh In | Your Ideas Matter
Join These 8 Contributions
Ground Rules: We encourage respectful community conversation around planning and development issues in the City of Decatur. Participants are asked to login via Facebook, Twitter or Google, or create a user account through Disqus. Profane or abusive contributions may be moderated.


  1. First I want to thank all the individuals involved for all their hard work. Overall it appears the new ordinances have been given much thought and review. The layout and updated of the UDO document itself is a much needed improvement – to say the least!

    I am still concerned about the issue of demolition. I believe the creation of the Conservation Districts is a great step in the reduction of the increasing number of unnecessary demolitions (homes that are still livable and in basic sound condition). I strongly recommend adopting the Conservation Districts. I would like to see the City of Decatur implement an aggressive public awareness program so the citizens know they have this option (if approved and adopted in new UDO). I also would like to see a rate of 45% regarding neighborhood signatures. If this is not possible, the wording now says “more than 50%”, can this be changed to read “50% or more”?

    Demolition of property especially the older homes in the City of Decatur still needs to be more limited in its use and I do not feel the Conservation District alone will take care of this issue. I would like to see the City of Decatur adopt an aggressive public awareness policy regarding the demolition of any existing property. I feel this should be a priority when dealing with sales that will result in demolition with a “commercial interest” (contractors, developers, etc) as one of the parties. I would like to see the new UDO adopt a 60 day awareness and neighborhood approval process anytime a “commercial interest” is involved in a possible sale that may or is definitely for demolition. Included in this would be adopting in the UDO a mandatory disclosure of any proposed demolition by “commercial interest” primarily. I would actually like to see this for all possible sales that will knowingly be a demolition.The time of the actual sale is too late – this needs to be done as soon
    as this possible sale is occurring.
    I would like the new UDO to adopt guidelines/standards in regard to percentage of structure that is rotted and that is still good structurally. If rot exceeds a specified percentage then demolition is allowed.

    Reasons backing the above:

    1) The demolition of the existing “good” homes to many of the individuals who have lived in Decatur for many years is a definite issue – we are not just “some small vocal minority” as I heard the “large number of concerned Decatur long term residence” referred to more than once in a recent meeting.

    2) The Arts & Crafts bungalows are truly an American icon and a part of our history that can never be replaced once they are gone – they are gone! We have lost way too many in Oakhurst in just 5 years. How many more does it take before we look around & none are around?

    3) Direct link to #2, we are losing Oakhurst and its true character!

    4) Decatur has become such a strong city and community because it has always known when to say “No”. Keep that lesson alive – new is not always better. Be bold-be progressive-Be Decatur – Say No to unnecessary demolition.
    Thank you for the opportunity to give my feedback. Once again thank you for all your hard work and time you have dedicated to this project.

    • Wylie Roberts says

      What section has the language requiring neighborhood signatures that you want re-worded to be “more than 50%”? Is this something already in the proposed language or something you wish was added? I did a search on “signatures” and could not find what you are talking about.

      • Hi,
        I saw a video presentation while researching the new UDO from the company helping with Decatur’s UDO. I have been trying to “re-find” the presentation and have had no luck. I believe it may have been shown at one of the planning meetings. I would actually like the percentage of signatures from residents in the designated area (if it is part of the UDO) to be 45% or to read no more than 50%. If it is adopted as written it looks like a neighborhood would have to get 51% minimum of the residents to agree. AMANDA – DO YOU REMEMBER THIS PRESENTATION? DO YOU REMEMBER ANY TALK OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS VS HISTORICAL DISTRICTS? THANKS! Debbie

  2. Wylie Roberts says

    Article 11 makes the Historical Preservation Commission the review body for all of Decatur.

    Is this a stepping stone to making all of Decatur a Historical District? These people are aligned with the Historical Movement and giving them to power to approve or reject Design Plans for all of Decatur just does not make sense. They are beholden to the Historical Areas and have no familiarity with the existing character or interests of other areas of Decatur.

    It should be the ZBA that has the power to approve requests for variances from the FAR. In addition, the wording of the language granting powers and requirements for the HPC would have to be re-visited. It would be better and simpler to just grant this power to the ZBA, by adding one sentence to their powers granting the ability to asses requests for FAR variances.
    Also, what happened to the idea supported by many at the UDO planning sessions of setting the FAR ratio to be equal to the allowed lot coverage ratio. This would still be 40% for almost everyone, but those few homes that qualify for the sliding scale on the lot coverage would get the same percent increase for FAR as well, which is simple and makes sense. These homes are already in historically denser areas. The other limits on Height, setbacks, etc. sufficiently protect everyone and FAR does not necessarily equate to “Mass” or “Scale”. This could be a simple one sentence clause added to section 2-2 (“The Floor Area Ratio will be equal to the permissible Lot Coverage Ratio for all districts”), and you could then simplify even further ( the intent of the UDO I understand) and remove the FAR language that is repeated in each District Type.

    • Mr. Wylie – Why do you have a fear of “these people” on the Historic Preservation Commission? Do you know “these people?”

      “These people” are citizens of the Decatur, by the way. They are the ones you see walking their kids to school and having beers at Steinbecks. Have you ever been to a meeting with “these people” or talked them? What does “aligned with the Historical Movement” mean? Is that a good thing or a bad thing and how will it impact decisions they make? What makes you think that “these people” have no familiarity with the existing character or interests of other areas of Decatur?” Where do you suppose they live? If a commissioner has lived, just for the sake of argument, down the street from you in, say, Winnona Park, for say, 10 years, and also, just throwing out hypotheticals, in the Glennwood neighborhood for a year, would you say they might have some sort of familiarity with the existing interests of areas other than the historical districts?

      “These people” have to apply for a spot on the HPC and be approved by the city commission based on their qualifications as architects, attorneys, real estate professionals, etc. The current group is an interesting and friendly bunch. You should try to get to know them. You might learn something from them (and them from you).

  3. Wylie Roberts says

    I’d like to see language added to section 11 recognizing that the City should strive to maximize the freedoms and property rights of its residents, so long as it can be demonstrated that no harm would come to nearby neighbors. In other words, the City should be allowing as much freedom as possible while preventing unreasonable harm coming to adjacent properties (which can be demonstrated by letters from the adjacent property owners that they have no objections to the plans) — not oppressing Property Rights as much as they think they can get away with. The bias should be to allowing what is wanted by property owners, unless harm can be demonstrated to an adjacent property owner. Property Rights are not some mythical thing from the past, they are real and a large part of what makes America the country people risk their lives to come to, and casually infringing on them is illiberal and immoral.

  4. I’m concerned about the maximum height of R-50 lots, which in the current draft is 1.5 stories. I fail to see why the maximum should be 1.5 instead of 2 stories? Under this restriction, my current home (as well as most of the homes on my street) could not be built. This seems overly restrictive, and I would like to see the maximium height returned to 2 stories. Thank you.

    • Hi, Kris. Here’s a number of clarifications that might help address your concerns: First, there will be no residential rezonings associated with the UDO process. If you are R-60 today, you will remain so thereafter. Second, nothing specific to R-60 or R-85 is changing. What you can build by-right today is identical to what you’ll be able to build under the proposed updates. Finally, the R-50 designation is being included primarily as a new, by-request option for developers with multiple acres looking to build at a density and scale consistent with our historic neighborhoods. It will also be available to individual homeowners seeking options best suited to building a little house, but only at their request.

      Hope this helps. More answers to our FAQs here:

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