The Flowery Branch City Council Thursday evening voted unanimously to tweak the city’s zoning ordinances amid a 90-day land-use moratorium.
During the voting session portion of the city council meeting, councilmen considered the first reading of Ordinance 694, which was a text amendment that aims to implement several zoning ordinance changes within city limits. This adjustment comes amid a 90-day moratorium the city began in early April.
“It was just a huge influx of development to happen all at once, and our codes weren't really situated to handle that,” Director of Planning and Community Development Rich Atkinson said. “So it was really an update to try to get a different product, a different design, a little less dense, a little more requirements on the road design and on landscaping. So I think it was really council-motivated to try to make it easier for developers to know what the expectations were.”
The old zoning ordinance code of Flowery Branch was plagued by vague language, using phrases like “the council would prefer” and “the council recommends” when it came to land-use requirements, according to Atkinson. That passive language was leading developers into dead-ends that would require multiple variances granted by the council. Atkinson believes the original code was written around 1996, with minor adjustments taking place in 2018.
Another primary motivation stated in the ordinance adjustment proclamation is to enhance the health, safety and overall general welfare of the residents of Flowery Branch.
“[Developers will] know what the expectations are,” Atkinson said. “And I think developers may not really love the requirements, but at least they know what is coming. And like the council said, this is a living document. If this doesn't work, we'll go back to the drawing board.”
Unclear language and a general inability for developers to meet the zoning code as it was written made for a long, drawn-out process for new housing, commercial and industrial developments to be built. Atkinson’s main hope is all parties will now know exactly what is expected of them, and if compromises need to be made, they can submit variance applications with clear, specific requests.
Several articles in the zoning code have been modified, including sections dedicated to agricultural and conventional residential zoning districts and nonresidential districts.
One important aspect of the changes includes a clarified mixed-use (MU) development district, which is intended to outline rules for areas that contain both residential and nonresidential spaces. Several touchpoints for the MU zoning district are as follows, according to the ordinance:
- Allow mixes of land uses that are not elsewhere permitted in conventional zoning districts.
- Permit a broader mix of residential housing types, including detached and attached dwellings, and specific commercial uses to be developed in one cohesive development.
- Allow the development of tracts of land as single developments that are planned neighborhoods or communities, including residential and commercial uses that help to make up a community.
- Preserve the natural amenities of the land through the maintenance of conservation areas and open spaces within developments.
- Provide a more desirable living environment than would be possible through the strict application of conventional residential zoning requirements.
- Ensure that the design of building forms is interrelated and architecturally harmonious.
MU developments are said to differ from traditional residential neighborhoods in that they “provide greater pedestrian access and interconnections between and among units of the neighborhood” and are envisioned for urban and suburban areas of Flowery Branch.
The ordinance also addresses residential street design requirements, shopping districts and open space requirements in both private and public settings.