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Decatur Planning Commission recommends approval of downtown master plan

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Decatur Planning Commission recommends approval of downtown master plan

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Planning Commission, at its June 13 meeting, recommended approval of the downtown master plan.

The commission’s recommendation will go to the Decatur City Commission for their consideration on June 20. The planning commission considers matters related to land use and zoning. The board does not make final decisions on agenda items, but makes recommendations for the Decatur City Commission to consider.

The downtown master plan was first adopted in 1982, and this is the first comprehensive look at downtown Decatur since then. The city is working with MKSK, Inc. to develop the downtown master plan.

Luis Calvo, senior associate at MKSK, said the Town Center 2.0 plan is a fresh look at downtown Decatur. The plan thinks through the next 10–15 years.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect, think through the many successes of downtown Decatur in the last 40 years and think through how the community perceives that success, what it wants to take forward and what new things and ideas are needed to bring a fresh perspective into downtown,” Calvo said.

The master plan outlines seven goals, each with objectives and action items.

One of the goals is to create welcoming and vibrant open spaces, parks, and plazas.

“For that, our plan focuses on one, improving the Square, making sure that what works well today is maintained but also improving the things that are not quite working as well,” Calvo said. “Then extending this energy and activity that happens in the Square to surrounding streets and areas of downtown and making sure that open spaces in the future continue to be designed in a way that makes them meaningful not just to future residents but to existing residents.”

The plan also outlines concept designs for redesigning the Decatur Square. Ideas include relocating the gazebo bandstand, opening up the center portion of the Square, creating a new stage and pavilion, redesigning the MARTA bus terminal to be a front door for the Square, adding a standalone pavilion, adding greenspace and a water feature, and adding a play area.

“Things to make the Square a little bit more fun, energetic [are] adding elements like greenspace, trees, water through a water feature and bringing all the activity together, opening it up, making a more functional Square for events but also a more welcoming and usable Square on a daily basis,” Calvo said.

Another goal is to improve the quality of the downtown experience.

“From the very beginning, we heard in our stakeholder sessions with, especially business owners right around the Square and people who like to come to visit downtown that there are key things that would make the experience of coming downtown a lot better. Things like beautification, making sure that the sidewalks are well maintained, making sure that it looks clean, welcoming and beautiful and that it feels safe.”

Other goals of the plan are to balance land use patterns with human-centered design and stimulate economic growth in the downtown area.

“This chapter really looks at growth, economic development, and opportunities as something that’s more focused on particular sub-areas within downtown,” Calvo said. “That chapter has economic strategies for that to think through how to support existing businesses, how to bring new businesses, how to think though economic development and development opportunities as they arise and how will that fit within the existing context of their surroundings.”

Related to land use, he added that this section looks at potential future updates to the unified development ordinance to create a vision for growth and new development that responds to its surroundings while adding people and density and supporting expected growth.

Promoting mobility enhancements that improve connectivity is also a goal in the plan. This goal includes ideas for improving the streets around downtown, as well as maintaining and improving the walkability of downtown Decatur.

“Even though people told us that downtown’s walkability is one of its greatest assets, the gaps in walkability were also highlighted as one of the greatest challenges,” Calvo said. “That walkability falls apart in certain areas in certain blocks as you move away from the core of downtown.”

The mobility chapter of the plan focuses on improving Ponce de Leon Avenue to make it a consistent walkable spine through downtown. Recommendations include improving crosswalks, extending sidewalk planters, focusing on consolidating curb cuts and extending the Commerce Drive complete streets project.

The final goal of the plan is to support a resilient and environmentally sustainable downtown. Some of the action items include improving and enhancing the downtown tree canopy, and creating pedestrian-friendly and sustainable street design standards like cooler pavements, permeable pavement, better tree planters, bioswales, and parklets.

Here are the six key items highlighted in the plan:

– Beginning process of updating the UDO

– Working with potential hotel developers to bring an additional hotel to downtown

– Advancing the transformation of the Square

– Updating streetscape standards to be more environmentally resilient

– Making improvements to local preservation tools to help enhance the preservation of local assets

– Creating the downtown ambassador program

Planning Commission Chair Harold Buckley Jr., raised some concerns about the proposed water feature and the city’s ability to maintain it.

“If we push forward with that, I would strongly recommend that it only be done if we have a strong, written maintenance program that goes along with it. Otherwise, it’s going to be just as dry as the rest,” Buckley said.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Mike Travis added that he liked the proposed changes to the Square but was concerned about the modification to the circulation in the streets.

“I know that in three of the locations where you’re talking about going from the…pedestrian-first streets, like in front of McDonough, on East Court Square, down near the breweries and little shops. Restaurants are destinations,” Travis said.

He noted that customers would need to be able to run into a business, like Little Shop of Stories or Squash Blossom, and grab something, so parking would be needed in some areas.

“I think parking in those areas is critical for those types of businesses to be sustainable long term,” Travis said.

In other business, the planning commission recommended approval of an amendment to the zoning map from R-85 – Single Family Residential to R-60 – Single Family Residential for the properties located at 121 Kirk Crossing and 526 Kirk Road.

The property of 526 Kirk Road backs up to 121 Kirk Crossing Drive. The property owners are negotiating the sale of 0.07 acres of the property. Erich Dawson, the property owner of 121 Kirk Crossing Drive, said that in order to combine the properties, they have to be the same zoning.

“I’m proposing that the back part of the 526 Kirk Road, which is currently zoned at R-85, be changed to R-60 so that we can replat the 0.07 acres and combine it into 121 Kirk Crossing Drive,” Dawson said.

Dawson is also seeking to replat the properties to consolidate the lots. Threadgill said the replat would be handled administratively by city staff.

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