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What you need to know about Decatur’s UDO


What you need to know about Decatur’s UDO

City Planning Director Amanda Thompson goes over the first draft of the city's Unified Development Ordinance. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
City Planning Director Amanda Thompson goes over the first draft of the city's Unified Development Ordinance. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Planning Director Amanda Thompson goes over the first draft of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Planning Director Amanda Thompson waited in a room at the Decatur Recreation Center on Tuesday for people interested in the city’s zoning code rewrite, called a Unified Development Ordinance.

The UDO covers a lot of ground, establishing new rules about on tear-downs, outdoor lighting, energy efficiency and even how many farm animals you can keep on your property.

The city of Decatur recently released the first draft of the UDO and is in the process of gathering input from the public. City Commissioners will have their first opportunity to approve the new and revised regulations on Sept. 15.

The UDO mostly clarifies what’s already on the books. Thompson said it’s “95 percent” cleanup. But there are some changes that the city wants the public to be aware of.

One thing that’s not changing, however, is the current zoning of properties in the city.

“We have created some new zoning districts,” Thompson said. “We are not rezoning any new properties.”

Another important point of clarification concerns historic districts. Thompson said historic districts will remain unaffected by the new rules, because they are governed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Here are the big changes proposed in the first draft of the UDO.

1) Properties will have to become more energy efficient and that could cost you. The draft sets new standards that mandate “green buildings” in both residential and commercial areas. The rules apply to new construction and improvements that exceed 50 percent of a property’s appraised market value. That will mean an additional cost to residents and developers because they will have to get an independent certification as part of their building projects. Thompson said the city doesn’t currently have estimates on what the certifications might cost.

“We are requiring a third-party certification and that cost ranges depending on the project,” Thompson said. “One thing, as I’ve been meeting with people, I’m asking them to send me their specific examples so we can do cost comparisons.”

2) There will be zoning that will promote economic diversity in housing. One of the ongoing concerns about development in Decatur is the amount of distance it creates between newer, wealthier residents in bigger houses and older residents with smaller houses on smaller lots. Thompson said there are two zoning classifications intended to promote a more diverse housing stock in the city. The first is R-50 single residential family district, which allows for residential development on 5,000 square foot lots. The second zoning classification is RM-22, which is a middle ground between single family residential and town homes. It would cover things like duplexes and triplexes. The density can not exceed 22 units per acre, according to the draft of the UDO.

3) It would give the city the ability to slow down tear-downs. Infill housing is another hot topic in Decatur. Developers are buying older houses, knocking them down and rebuilding bigger houses on the lots. The city’s UDO will not stop housing demolition, but it will give officials the ability to slow it down. Under the draft, the city can delay a demolition permit for up to 90 days.

“We know residents want to know when a demolition is going to happen,” Thompson said. “They want an opportunity to save historic structures if they can.”

The minimum delay on a demolition permit is 15 days, Thompson said.

4) You can have goats and pigs. Under the draft, you can keep up to two pygmy goats and up to two pot-bellied pigs, or one of each. But you can’t do a Noah’s Ark thing and have two of each animal. You can have as many chickens as your lot size allows, Thompson said.

5) Lighting restrictions are in, but unbundled parking is out. There’s a whole new section addressing light pollution in the city, but the city scrapped plans to require landlords to offer two leases: one that includes parking and one that doesn’t. Thompson said the city learned it could not implement the “unbundled parking” idea without a major overhaul of citywide parking regulations. The new lighting rules, on the other hand, are an expansive attempt to control light pollution in the city. It creates a whole new category of banned lightning including aerial lasers, mercury vapor lamps, searchlight style lights (which means no Bat-Signals), and “other very intense lighting.” It defines this lighting as “exceeding 200,000 lumens.”

The draft UDO is more than 400 pages long, so these summaries barely scratch the surface. You can read the full draft by clicking here.

There will be additional public input “open house” sessions this week. The complete schedule is listed on the Decaturish events calendar, which you can see by clicking here.

We’d also like to hear your thoughts about the first draft of the UDO. Leave your observations in the comments section or drop us a line at [email protected].