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County moves ahead with new zoning ordinance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After two years of planning, and several extensions of a county-wide zoning moratorium, a massive overhaul of the county's outdated zoning ordinance went into effect late last month.

While many existing properties in Clayton will be exempt, new development will be held to a higher standard by the new ordinance, according to county officials.

Drafted by the Collaborative Firm -- a land-use and development consulting company hired to overhaul the county's zoning rules -- the ordinance includes new incentives for planned growth, simplified variance procedures, stricter rules for warning citizens of new development, and new signage requirements to reduce the number of billboards along major corridors.

Kc Krzic, manager of land-use planning services for the firm, said the ordinance also includes several new enforcement tools to preserve existing green space and "create a sense of place" throughout the various sections of the county.

"I'm hoping it will create a true identity for Clayton County," said Krzic. "If you live in an area, you should be able to do your errands and quick shopping within 3 to 5 miles of where you live."

Krzic said the new ordinance "will economically stimulate the county, and it will provide for cohesive neighborhood development."

At the center of the ordinance are six new overlay districts, each created for conservation or development reasons. Those six districts are Cherry Hill (northwest Clayton), Highway 42, Highway 54, Highway 138, the Panhandle, and Tara Boulevard.

"For Cherry Hill and Tara Boulevard, it's redevelopment of the property," said Krzic. "For [Highways] 54, 42, and 138, it's to create a sense of place for the new development that will be coming in. In the Panhandle, it's to really preserve all of the natural features."

"The overlay district places additional development standards in regards to landscaping, architecture, signage, pedestrian connectivity and access management," Krzic said. "Anything new would meet that standard."

Krzic said the new ordinance will also create "density bonuses" for the Cherry Hill, Tara Boulevard and Highway 138 overlay districts. Those incentives will allow developers to "increase the number of residential dwelling units" and "increase the square footage of commercial [space] and overall height of many buildings," she said.

Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Board of Commissioners chairman, said the density bonuses will bring "executive development to our county" and compliment plans to make the northern portion of the county an "aerotropolis."

"Creating overlay districts will help us significantly in bringing in quality businesses," said Bell. "The density bonuses will attract high-rise businesses and executive business structures.

"We only have so much land left," in Clayton County, Bell continued. "Quality growth is what we are looking for, and we are willing to give those incentives to get us there."

The county has also added the Medical Mixed Use District (MMX) to its land-use classifications. Krzic said the zoning will "create a true campus atmosphere" for any new medical facility coming to the county, allowing banks, pharmacies, and restaurants to locate within the property.

To preserve the county's existing tree line, particularly in the Panhandle, the ordinance also creates a position for a "county arborist" as well as a "tree fund."

The county arborist will review and approve all county landscaping plans and enforce the county's tree protection ordinance by making site visits. The tree fund will allow developers, who cannot plant the required amount of trees in a new development, to contribute to a fund which can be used to "put trees where they are needed, such as parks or streets," said Krzic.

Among many other improvements, she said, is the creation of "performance bonds," which allow the county to take over bonds and finish projects developers walk away from. It also requires those requesting zoning variances to inform adjoining property owners by mail, hold informational meetings, post notices in the newspaper, and post visible signage informing those in the area of the dates and locations of informational meetings.

"The delays turned out, in my view, to be a blessing in disguise," said Bell. "This ordinance will revolutionize the direction that the county will go in, in reference to zoning."