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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses corner lot side yard setbacks

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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses corner lot side yard setbacks

The Avondale Estates City Commission met on Aug. 24 at City Hall to discuss the side yard setbacks for corner lots. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission is considering an amendment to the zoning code that would reduce the required street-side side yard setbacks for corner lots for properties zoned R-12 and R-24.

The board held a public hearing and the first reading of the ordinance at its Aug. 24 meeting. The city commission will hold a second reading of the ordinance.

The city’s zoning code establishes a front yard and street side setback of 40 feet for properties zoned R-12 and R-24.

“The goal is to allow people to be able to do things on these properties – renovate them or expand them and hopefully not tear them down, but that some may be appropriate for a teardown, but to not prevent development, but try to make sure that development fits within the character of the city,” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said at the July 13 city commission meeting.

The city commission asked the staff to look at the impact of the dimensions on the development of corner lots with help from Lord Aeck Sargent. The study evaluated existing conditions of corner lots, the ability to build on lots with different street-side setbacks, and the typical widths of lots.

“There are 51 corner lots in the historic district,” a memo of the recommendations states. “The lots are long and narrow, and existing street-side setbacks are generally between 10-20 feet. The width of the front yard influences the appropriate street-side setback. Shorter street-side setbacks are warranted on properties with font yards that are 90 feet are less.”

There are about 50 corner lots that are zoned R-24 and the existing setbacks are typically larger.

“The allowable height in R-24 is 35’. As a result of the existing condition and allowable heights in R-24, larger street-side setbacks are warranted,” the memo from the city staff says. “For homes 28’ high or less, the proposed 20’ street-side setback is appropriate. For taller homes, a 25’ setback is recommended.”

A majority of the commission favored the city staff’s recommendation.

“Essentially we said if the front yard is 90 feet or less, and the height of the house is 28 feet or less, we created a setback that was less restrictive,” Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell said. “Essentially, the bigger the building and the bigger the lot, the bigger the setback.”

A table of the proposed side yard setbacks for corner lots with residential zoning designations in Avondale Estates. Photo courtesy of Avondale Estates.

In the amendment, the residential regulations for the corner lots are set based on if the width of the front yards are 90 feet or less, or greater than 90 feet. The city’s Planning, Architecture and Zoning Board recommended the frontage be reduced to 70 feet to help “further mitigate against tall and massive houses and discourage tear downs throughout the city,” a memo from the PAZB says.

Within the city’s historic district, there are 16 lots with a yard that’s 70 feet or less, and 31 corner lots with a yard that is 90 feet or less, Powell said.

“I think part of what we’ve all be grappling with is where do those lines fall. If you’re trying to discourage tear downs, and you’re trying to mitigate against a great big house against the sidewalk, if you push it back further it’s not quite as impactful,” Powell said.

The PAZB had a long discussion about where that line should be, she added.

“I think we’re trying to balance that between, we also have to implement this code and the more nuances we get within that the more difficult it gets for us to execute it as well,” Powell said.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell favored the recommendation from the PAZB. She said that the board and city staff are balancing three things — ensuring the building envelope is practically buildable, encouraging renovation versus tear down, and staying true to the vision of a cohesive streetscape.

“Now we’re talking about allowing maybe two-story buildings that are 10 feet from the sidewalk,” Shortell said. “Corner lots matter and setbacks matter in terms of the character of our city.”

She added that the amendment could impact how wide a house could be and could lead to wider houses. She wondered if wider homes would affect the character of the city.

“Of course, narrower lots need narrower setbacks, but at what point does that become where it starts to affect character and these other things we have found important,” Shortell said. “Going too far makes me nervous, especially in height, but I’m trying to balance that with this idea that I honestly think making the setbacks less, hopefully would encourage more renovation.”

In other business, Powell gave an update on the North Woods rain garden project. The project has seen some slight changes, but the overall concept of the project has not changed.

“We are moving the path over closer to the road in order to more completely address some of the erosion that was taking place,” Powell said. “We are lifting the curb along that same area, so the curb was only about three inches, we’ll pull it up to six inches. That will help us channelize that water a little more effectively.”

The area between the wooded area and the path will be seeded, and other plants will be added. The city hopes to complete the first phase of the project by the end of September.

“We were planning to start the second phase immediately, which is building those rain gardens, however we really want to see some things settle down and stabilize, particularly along where we’re planting some of that grass before we proceed.”

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