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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts zoning code rewrite

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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts zoning code rewrite

The Avondale Estates City Commission met on Wednesday, July 28, at City Hall to vote on the zoning code rewrite and funding from the CARES Act. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission adopted the update to the city’s zoning code on Wednesday, July 28. The commissioners made one change to the code during the meeting to say that planned unit development zoning will not be allowed in the residential areas.

Residents shared concerns over the that few months leading up to the adoption of the code and many were particularly concerned about the planned unit development zoning being applicable to the residential R-12 and R-24 zoned areas.

“The thought and the recommendation from city staff, who had helped us with the zoning, was that it was a mechanism by which if somebody did try to do something down the road that they could present it and a future board could consider it,” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said.

The planned unit development has been in the city’s zoning code for about five years but is new in its specifics and requirements, Bryant previously told Decaturish. It is a zoning designation that someone can ask for and is not automatically given.

“The purpose of a PUD is to provide the flexibility to consider projects that meet the long-range vision of the city but might not fit well within an existing zoning classification,” City Manager Patrick Bryant previously said.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell made the motion to disallow PUDs in the residential area and said that she does not believe that draft PUD language for the residential areas would put the city at greater risk of harm.

“I’m also not convinced that removing the PUD language from the residential area will be harmful either. In short, I really don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference,” Shortell said. “But what is far more important to me, very important to me, is that our new zoning ordinance be trusted and supported by the community, that our new codified vision be the message that we project and depend on with confidence when developers and builders come calling.”

Zoning codes are meant to put community vision into city code and the previous zoning code had not meet the vision of Avondale’s downtown master plan or comprehensive plan since at least 2014, Shortell said.

The city had consultants audit the zoning code and their suggestions were that the city needed to be more objective, needed to be clear about what it wants, should codify as much of the community’s vision into the actual code as possible, and that the city should incentivize development by right, Shortell said.

“We’ve been working on this new code now for about 18 months,” Shortell said. “There’s been lots of ways for residents and for all of us to give input, and it’s been over an extended period of time. I’ve seen many, many changes made in response to resident input.”

She added that the new zoning is great and she’s proud of the document.

“It contains so much of what we want to see with new development,” Shortell said. “Just to name a few, sustainability requirements, incentives for building streets where we need them, incentives for public art, streetscape details for all street types, accessory dwelling unit adjustments to better protect neighbors, and mass and scale maximums. I feel like we’ve met the goals of the audit.”

Commissioner Dee Merriam also had lingering concerns about community dialogue and the opportunity for residents to be informed of projects.

She made a motion to amend the code to have project applications be posted on the city website for project that require public hearings and that the community would be given notice of the postings.

“I’m asking for the material that is included in a project application that prior to a public hearing that that project application or a summary even of that project application be posted so that citizens can be aware prior to the date of the public hearing of what’s happening and become informed about the projects,” Merriam said.

Bryant explained that the application materials will be posted with agenda packets prior to a public hearing. Merriam said she is concerned that as the process is outlined in the zoning code, she saw no place for the public to become informed about projects prior to the first public hearing.

“So part of feedback that I’ve gotten is that that material is publicly available but if the public has no idea to ask to see that material then it’s not really publicly available,” Merriam said.

The first public hearing, which would be in front of the Planning and Zoning Board, is the first step of the process. Once the board makes a recommendation to the City Commission, the City Commission has to advertise for 15 days before its first public hearing, Shortell said.

Bryant added that the public hearing doesn’t have to be the debut of a project as the current City Commission policy is that each item that will appear at a regular meeting will first be discussed at a work session.

Every item that has a public hearing also appears in the regular business portion of a meeting so there can be two opportunities for public comment on an item during a City Commission meeting.

“I think we need to be clear that the work session, the public hearing and the agenda item are three separate opportunities to engage in dialogue with the public in addition to the hearing and the item being heard by the Planning and Zoning Board,” Bryant said.

Between the City Commission and Planning and Zoning Board, there would be five opportunities to engage with public discourse, Bryant said.

After the process was outlined, Merriam was satisfied with the process in the ordinance and withdrew her motion.

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