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BOC extends zoning moratorium, again

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners extended the county's long-standing zoning moratorium this week in preparation for adopting a new, beefed-up zoning ordinance.

The revisions, which will be adopted on July 23, aim at cleaning up the major corridors of the county by greatly limiting the height and volume of posted signs, creating new overlay districts, and removing certain building limitations to allow the county to build upwards, instead of out.

In a special called meeting this week, the BOC unanimously passed four resolutions, effectively extending the moratorium and denying the acceptance of zoning applications along Highway 138, Tara Boulevard, and all existing or proposed residential properties -- until the new ordinance can take affect.

Beverly Ramsey, Clayton County interim zoning director, said the new ordinance includes measures which preserve green space, limit visual clutter along major corridors, and promote mixed-used communities.

"Our old ordinance was weak," in addressing signage, said Ramsey. With the new ordinance, "You won't see so many poll signs versus monument signs ... the signage will constrict more to the building."

Ramsey said the old zoning ordinance was not "development-friendly when it came to mixed-use," primarily because of height limitations, which required that no building in the county be taller than 75 feet. In the new ordinance, buildings will be able to reach as tall as 186 feet in certain zoning districts.

"Just about every aspect of the ordinance has changed a little bit, if not completely," said Ramsey. "Our goal is to clean up the area, and I think this ordinance will do that with better development. It's going to allow for a lot of different types of development that we didn't have before."

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said the county's old zoning ordinance created a "hodgepodge effect" and contributed to development with "no order" or "synergy." He believes the new ordinance will give Clayton County a more seamless look and will give new developers more options.

"There has been a proliferation of signs in our county and the citizens have been enormously bothered by them," said Bell. "The advertising industry has a right to market their product, but we just want an orderly way of having it done."

Bell expects the new ordinance to "provide a chance for redevelopment in the county" and allow the county to "develop transportation as a part of our overall strategy."

Prior to the special meeting, CH2M Hill, the engineering consulting firm charged with guiding the county's construction projects, introduced a pilot program to help more local, minority contracting businesses to receive contracts from the county.

The SDBE (small/disadvantaged business enterprise) Pilot Program, guided by CH2M Hill, will take local contracting firms through a six-week course aimed at guiding them through the bidding process. It will also create a mentor-protégé relationship between smaller firms and more successful ones.

"We want to increase the small/disadvantaged business participation in the county, particularly in the [Special Local Option Sales Tax] program," said Greg Wilson, program director for CH2M Hill. "Many businesses are not successful with getting work in Clayton because they don't understand the procurement process. They may submit documents that result in a non-responsive bid.

"We want to take time and make sure that they understand the procurement process," said Wilson. He said the program will require participating businesses to pay a nominal participation fee and to be established for at least two years.

"Primarily we want to work with businesses that are in Clayton County ... so we can link that back to the economic development of the county," said Wilson.

"For years, we have sent out 30, 40, 50 applications, but we only get one or two back," said Bell. "I suspect that these people had the talent to do it, but they didn't completely understand what was required. We believe that this will go a long way towards giving disadvantaged businesses in the county a jump start."