By Julie Sellers, Partner, Pursley Friese Torgrimson
The last time the City of Atlanta rewrote the entire zoning ordinance, the average cost of gas was $1.19 per gallon, CNN aired its first broadcast, and there were about 2.2 million metro-area residents. Fast forward from 1980 to 2018 for a population that has more than doubled and we are ready for a zoning re-write that will bring the regulations in line with modern development needs. On May 7th, the city adopted the first in a series of recommendations. The “Quick Fixes,” as they are called, include several updates to the zoning ordinance that are not overly controversial and may help avoid some variance applications.
Many of the smaller updates simply bring the ordinance into 2018 – increasing the allowed height of accessory structures in side yards from 30 inches to 44 inches to accommodate the size of modern HVAC condensers, for example, and restricting the time that storage pods can sit on residential lots to 60 days in any one year.
Another update allows creative approaches to driveway and alley design by eliminating the previously required independent driveway on conforming lots. One of the updates simply deletes three Midtown zoning districts that were made obsolete by Special Public Interest Districts 10 years ago. Another update will directly impact new office buildings over 50,000 square feet: shower and locker facilities will now be required, not an optional amenity.
Property owners and developers should be aware of the above and upcoming updates that may affect development plans. Many of these updates reflect a focus on promoting good urban design, safety, and convenience. Here are five the updates:
It’s all about the amenities. While the previous ordinance seemed to discourage amenities such as pools, tennis courts, club houses, and common space in residential subdivisions due to stringent lot size requirements, the “Quick Fixes” expand the definition of a lot to include amenity areas. They also provide guidance as to how amenity areas should be positioned in the subdivision and expand the accessory use and structure regulations to include new amenity areas.
Make way for bikes. Responding to the surge in recent years of bicycle use in urban cities, including Atlanta, the “Quick Fixes” address and consolidate what were 18 separate (and often conflicting) sets of bicycle parking standards. Developers will now be required to install bike parking at each building on a site in both residential and nonresidential areas. These facilities must also be publicly accessible without stairs and lit at all times.
Encourage – don’t restrict – housing development. The “Quick Fixes” encourage both single-family and two-family housing development in current multifamily districts. While allowed prior, this development was underutilized because the previous ordinance had large minimum lot size requirements. The new minimum lot size requirements are noticeably smaller and affect both the MR and RG Districts, the two districts that permit multifamily housing.
Watch where you walk, ’cause the sidewalks talk. While many of the newer zoning districts have such requirements in place, the “Quick Fixes” will affect the ground beneath your feet if you’re walking on one of the city’s sidewalks in the future. In new developments that did not have the requirement prior, it will now be required to repair existing sidewalks or build new ones if they don’t exist. Sidewalks on major corridors will total 10 feet, and six-foot sidewalks on all other streets are coming to a roadway near you. If trees and their roots are in the way, the new ordinance allows for three-foot sidewalks in those instances.
Making it (possibly) easier for master planned developments. Under the prior ordinance, each lot in a master-planned development had to comply with all zoning requirements. This discouraged good urban design and made it difficult for master planners to include things like central parking or open space without a variance. The updates to the ordinance allow for “unified development plans” in most districts across the city – essentially a model used well in the Buckhead/Lenox Station district that allows a site to determine conformance with code prior to being subdivided. The expectation is that there will be more creative planning and fewer variances being sought.
Every property and project is different, and while these “Quick Fixes” are straightforward, property owners and developers should always make sure they are reviewing the zoning ordinance carefully and with specificity. These updates to the ordinance are just the tip of the iceberg, as Atlanta will continue to revise the zoning ordinance and adopt “future code changes” over the next three to five years.
Julie Sellers is a partner at the law firm Pursley Friese Torgrimson based in Atlanta. Her practice focuses on advocating zoning and land use requests for owners, builders, and developers in Georgia.
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