Proposed Cartersville zoning changes provide flexibility for developers
by Brande Poulnot
Sep 07, 2010 | 1695 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After months of work by city staff, the planning commission, municipal leaders and a group of stakeholders, the Cartersville council at its public meeting Thursday took a first official look at implementing several changes to the city's Zoning Ordinance.

"The purpose of revising the Zoning Ordinance, aside from the fact that it hasn't been fully revised in 14 years, is that Cartersville is a progressive town that is trying to provide flexibility, work with developers on future projects while at the same time providing quality standards for design and aesthetics on construction," City Planner Richard Osborne said. "Staff has been working with a variety of folks for the last year to modify the document. We started in house with our Code Enforcement, our city attorney's office, with staff looking at our Comprehensive Plan, researching other comparable Georgia cities."

Leaders are considering instituting an optional density bonus in several residential districts that would provide developers with incentives -- lower lot size requirements in exchange for certain architectural or environmental standards, including EarthCraft, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and masonry, or land donation for public parks or greenspace.

"The purpose is to give developers credit for going above and beyond the traditional standard in housing," Osborne said. "[The lot size] would not be cut down to where if it were a half acre size standard, it would not be a tiny postage stamp size lot, but it would go down enough to where it may be a worthwhile credit for a developer.

"It's just optional and we've got some good folks that either may develop in the near future or some folks that we don't even know of that may come in and complete a good product, whether it's residential or non-residential, and in the past we haven't had a lot of incentives, credits to help them. We want to work with them in that aspect. I think the goal was not to gut the ordinance and just take out all progressive quality standards just so that we could get something that would not fit the already quality, positive community that Cartersville is."

Two new districts are also in the proposal -- Planned Commercial Development and Neighborhood Commercial.

"Neighborhood Commercial is particularly something that staff would like to see as an option going forward. As with all properties, whether it's with a new zoning district or an existing zoning district, the proposal as it stands now is that no private properties would be rezoned based on Zoning Ordinance revisions, the re-adoption of the Zoning Map so this is all optional. But no matter what type of property owner they were -- speculative or a definite development coming in -- if there were a proposed rezoning from residential to a light commercial, then Neighborhood Commercial would fit the idea of something that would be adjacent to residential but would not be overbearing or heavy in the sense of general commercial and it just wouldn't fit adjacent to residential heavy use.

"Adding an option does provide for working better with possible new commercial that for rezoning and development purposes might be light footprint-wise and light in terms of impact and how it would affect adjacent residential. Right now the only significant light commercial zoning district that is available is professional services. That is office only. This option would be more than office but would still be less intrusive for adjacent residential."

Also on the table is a measure that would improve the quality of multi-family exteriors, such as apartment buildings, townhouses and condos. The outer surfaces of those structures would be required to be a minimum of 50 percent brick, stone, hard-coat stucco or fiber cement siding.

"Our fire department has recommended that staff look at ways of cutting down full vinyl siding on multi-family because based on public safety and the potential for future fires, structures that are within just a very few feet of each other or multi-family complexes of lots of buildings can cause a problem," Osborne said. "The fire department really recommends a masonry type of product."

Additional proposed changes to the city's zoning ordinance included in the city's agenda for the Thursday public meeting, are:

* Revising the Purpose to better state that the Zoning Ordinance is designed to implement the provisions of the Comprehensive Plan for the development and use of land.

* Adding or revising certain definitions for clarification and better enforcement. Newly defined terms include berm, EarthCraft House certification, infill development, LEED, street connectivity and sustainable development.

* Revising the accessory structures section for better enforcement and allowing by right certain cases, such as ATMs and service stations in front yards of commercial properties, structures for corner lot residential properties and amenities.

* Revising the fences and walls section for quality development standards. For commercial districts, chain-link fencing would not be allowed in the front yard without obtaining a variance. For commercial districts, razor wire would not be allowed and a retaining wall could not have exposed concrete block.

* Revising the outdoor storage section to allow for greater flexibility for industrial use and for quality commercial development. Industries in the Heavy Industrial district would now be allowed to have outdoor storage in the front, side and/or rear yards. Outdoor storage of tires in the General Commercial district would not be allowed -- they must be stored in a building or garage.

* Adding a new section to address movable modular storage units or storage pods designed to regulate storage pods as allowed temporary structures. The proposal gives location and time limit standards.

* Revising the amateur radio transmitter standards based on the request of the local amateur radio group, which provided data from national standards.

* Deleting kennels as an allowed use in residential areas.

* Adding design standards for planned development district, including trash bin location and screening as well as light pole standards for commercial properties, and fencing requirements for all uses. All multi-family units would be required to have a minimum of 50 percent finished product on the exterior walls of the buildings consisting of brick, stone, hard-coat stucco or fiber cement siding.

* Deleting cemetery district and incorporating the standards into the public-institutional district.

* Special exceptions would now be known as special uses and the process by which to apply would change. Applications would be reviewed by Planning Commission and decided by city council.

* Adding or revising special use standards for clarification and design standards. Additions include proposed new standards for retirement centers and salvage yards.

* Revising the ordinance based on various legal comments of the city attorney.

* Adding legal exhibit maps, including Main Street Overlay and Business Park Overlay districts and the Etowah Valley Historic District.

* Adding a supplemental section for design examples for illustration only. These examples, from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs only serve as possibilities based on Planning concepts, such as infill development, form compatibility, street connectivity and traditional neighborhood development.

The council held its first reading of the ordinance amendments at the first public meeting of September, and is expected to vote on the measure at the next public meeting set for Sept. 16.

"I think the whole process has been one of trying to balance the desire to be progressive with the desire to be realistic and working with a variety of stakeholders really helped and we have appreciated and relied on their information," Osborne said, adding that group consisted of architects, engineers, real estate agents, attorneys, property owners and representatives of Keep Bartow Beautiful and Cartersville Downtown Development Authority.