The Pending Demise of Downtown Roswell

Our new council seems to feel that they are operating under a mandate to roll back everything in our city to a time when life was better and redevelopment happened ‘the right way.’  On Friday, the city got its first glimpse of the UDC overhauls that this new council is proposing.  They are essentially trying to roll back our zoning to what we had prior to the UDC.  Mind you, there was very little redevelopment going on prior to the UDC due to our antiquated and broken zoning that discouraged redevelopment and encouraged property owners to sit on blighted property and collect income from tenants or depreciate their assets.  I’m not sure that’s the Roswell I’d like to return to.

The proposals that are going before council for the first time this evening are not trivial.  There are suggested edits or changes to about 150 lines across 70 pages of the UDC.  There are several building types and zoning categories that would be completely removed.  Setback and lot coverage requirements are being changed in ways that a) make zero sense in real world application and b) make redevelopment of properties very unlikely.

The kicker is that there is no explanation on why these edits are being made, what the real-world trade-offs are and how they will impact property owners.  The only explanation that I have seen is that the council has a “mandate” from this election to make the changes that their supporters wanted.  Well, if their supporters knew that the changes they are ‘requesting’ will virtually kill quality redevelopment in Roswell, I’m pretty sure they would not support the changes.  (or maybe no redevelopment is what they were actually looking for) The public only became aware of these text edits on Friday when the agenda for the mayor and city council meeting was posted to the city website.

Whether you like the UDC or not, there is no question that the public was aware of the effort (unless they actively chose not to be involved in their city).  There were over 60 meetings that were open to the public over the 18 months that the UDC worked its way through the process. 

What is being suggested by our council is not grounded in reality.  Many of the proposed amendments are based on personal preferences of the new council and an influential few who have their ear.  Many of these edits are not best practices and are just plain unrealistic.  Additionally, many of the edits could be considered downzoning which could require compensation from the city for the taking of property rights.  We need national best practices in our zoning code to attract top developers.  What we don’t need are personal preferences that aren’t grounded in reality.

The UDC was done by a nationally recognized firm that has worked on zoning codes for Asheville, Chattanooga, Los Angeles, Denver, Raleigh, Memphis and more.  They used best practices in building types, zoning districts, lot coverage, setbacks and land use to craft the new UDC.  It is not perfect and does need improvements in certain areas.  However, it is absolutely does NOT need a wholesale rewrite.

We are on the verge of throwing out the work done by Code Studio, our city staff and hundreds of dedicated Roswell citizens and handing over the future of development in our city to our new council, that has alarmingly little real estate and place making experience, and several of their more vocal friends.  This is concerning to say the least.

If these changes pass, our city council is metaphorically encasing our downtown in amber and ensuring that needed redevelopment will not occur.

What just might be the most disappointing thing is not that the proposed changes epically suck but that our new council that ran on a platform of open and transparent government has completely failed on that promise.  It couldn’t resist taking its first shot at rewriting the zoning code by catering to their personal opinions and those of their political allies while giving little notice to impacted property owners and allowing virtually zero public input. 

Below, I have summarized the most egregious of the proposed changes:

  • Elimination of 6000 and 4000 square foot lots in Residential Districts
  • Elimination of Cottage Courts completely from Residential Districts
  • Elimination of Townhouses from Residential Districts
  • Elimination of Carriage House from Residential Lots less than 30,000 square feet
  • Elimination of Attached Houses (i.e. Duplex, Four-Plex)
  • Increase of Setbacks for virtually all development in downtown to 40 feet from 10 feet
  • Reducing Lot Coverage for virtually all development in downtown to a almost universal 40% from 60-75% depending on building type.
  • Addition of maximum density of 5 units per acre for townhomes and cottage courts.
  • Addition of the term density to the document.  Lot size, setbacks and height apparently don’t effectively work.
  • Cottage Courts will be required to have garages.

 

Suggested Changes with Commentary (link to UDC page for reference)

Chapter 2

The changes suggested in this chapter eliminate a housing type.  Mandate that we use the word density in the document. Make some changes to what can/cannot be classified as outdoor amenity space.

2.1 Building Types

C. Attached House add (no new applications for this type will be accepted)

- Why? Does someone just not like this building type? One of the biggest issues in American development is the lack of the middle types of housing. (http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/dan-parolek/17698/missing-middle-housing-responding-demand-urban-living)   We go from single family and townhome straight to multi-story apartments and condos.  This seems to be very short sighted and catering to the preferences of a few.

2.2.3 Density - replace with language about maximum density

- Why? Does someone not understand that limiting lot coverage and height effectively limits density.

2.2.6 Landscaped Open Space Neighborhood compatibility and/or stream buffer does not count old code: “no more than 25% of any lot area in water or flood plain shall be credited as minimum required landscape open space"

- Not a terrible idea.  I'd like to see why this is necessary though.

2.2.7 Outdoor Amenity Space

B.2. remove "other than rooftop areas"

- This is a bad move. The current language actually encourages creative use of rooftops in areas where building is going to be tighter anyway.  I'm not sure why this would need to be removed.

5.b. delete entirely

- Again, this is a bad move.  See above comment.

Do not allow detention ponds to count unless used as accessible amenity

- I totally agree with this one and feel that detention ponds could and should be enhanced. 

2.2.10 Setback Encroachments

remove 11. retaining walls can encroach

- I think this should remain but with exceptions.

12. driveways may encroach only in residential categories RS-9/12/18/30/87/AG

- Why is this an issue?  Has there been conflict with this?

Chapter 3

The changes made to chapter 3, essentially makes a 9000 sq ft lot the smallest that can be built in Roswell

3.1.6 RS-9

Limit within Sub Res. Replace "RS-9 is implements Suburban Residential..." with text from RS-6 "implements the Highway 9/..."

- I assume the author is trying to reduce the amount of RS-9 that can be built.

for all existing: can be rebuilt as originally platted and constructed

- Thanks for the generosity.

3.1.7 RS-6 delete as stand-alone category

- Let's continue to reduce the type and variety of our housing stock.  Will there be any housing that’s affordable to anyone who doesn’t make an above average wage?

3.1.8 RS-4 delete as stand-alone category

- Continuing to reduce the type and varied our our housing stock

R-TH

delete "attached house".

- Again, this is a bad idea. We need affordable housing options and these types of buildings help accomplish that.

Delete "Suburban Residential"

- Oh the irony.  If it were only that easy.

Add "R-TH is only suitable for pre-existing townhome sites".

- First it was no more apartments.  Now it’s no more townhomes.  Are we going to be an exclusively single-family home city?

3.1.11

RM-2 change name to Small Condominiums/Apartments

- This is purely cosmetic but plays to the fears many people have about apartments. 

3.1.12

RM-3 change name to Large Condominiums/Apartments

- Another cosmetic change.

3.2.1

Building Types by District delete Carriage House from RS-18/RS-12

- If you are building on 18000 (.4 acres) and 12000 (.27 acres) sq ft lots, you won't be able to build a carriage house?  Really?  This is a building type that is VERY useful and VERY popular and is a great way to increase walkability. They sell VERY well in Vickery, they are selling well in Alstead.  I'd love to buy a home with a carriage house and alley parking someday but I don’t need .67 acres (apparently I will if I want to build in Roswell).  These lot sizes are VERY compatible with carriage houses.  So, carriage houses (aka accessory dwellings) will only be allowed on lots of .68 acres (30k sq ft) or larger?

 

delete Attached House entirely (allow where currently exist)

- This is discriminatory housing policy in my opinion.  Again, why would we eliminate a housing type from Roswell?  Is there an inherent problem with this type of building or is it a personal preference.

3.2.2

Detached House 43/87/30 Add "Maximum Density" (uses old density/HFA numbers) AG-43 = "0.5", RS-87 = "0.5", RS-30 = "1.45"

- Do we really need to add this language? Seriously.  The lot sizes already dictate density.

Add "Minumum heated floor area per unit SF" AG-43 = "n/a", RS-87 = 1800, RS-30 = 1600

- Is this really necessary? If I want to build a smaller home on a larger lot? Why shouldn't I be allowed to?

3.2.3

Detached House 18/12 Add "Maximum Density" (uses old density/HFA numbers) RS-18 = "2.42", RS-12 =

- Do we really need to add this language? Seriously.  The lot sizes already dictate density.

Initiation of UDC Text

Add "Minumum heated floor area per unit SF"RS-18 = 1500, RS-12 = 1200

- I guess we need to dictate square footage.

3.2.4 Detached House RS-9 Add "Maximum Density"

(density uses standard division of acre) RS-9 = 4.84

(rest of numbers are from old R-3A) Add "Minumum heated floor area per unit SF"

RS-9 = 1000

-          Thank you for letting me know that 9000 square feet fits into 1 acre 4.84 times.

change Lot Parameters

A. Lot width min 60' to 80'

B. Building coverage max 45% to 40%

change Principal Building Setbacks

D. Primary Street 20' to 35'

E. Side street (min) 20' to 30'

F. Side interior (min) 7' to 10'

G. Rear (min) 20' to 30'

- The new coverage and setback proposals are almost universally bad for redevelopment and for walkability.

3.2.5 Detached House CC/TH/RM2/RM3 delete RS-4 (allow where existing)

delete RS-6 (allow where existing)

delete R-TH (allow where existing)

delete R-CC

delete RM-2 (allow where existing)

delete RM-3 (allow where existing)

- This is quite a change and wholly unnecessary.

3.2.6 Carriage House delete RS-12/RS-18

- Why shouldn’t someone with a .4 acre lot or a .27 acre lot be able to build a carriage house? WHY?????

3.2.7 Attached House delete (allow where existing)

- Why?

3.2.8 Cottage Court delete entirely

- Why?

3.2.9 Townhouse delete (allow where existing)

- Why?

3.2.10 Walk-Up Flat delete (allow where existing)

- Why?

3.2.11 Stacked Flat delete (allow where existing)

- Why?

3.3.4 Bulk Plane measure base of 35 feet from existing street grade

- I don’t understand what this is trying to limit?  I’m sure it’s something but I’m just not sure.

3.3.4 B delete "or 150 feet from the protected district property line, whichever is less."

- I don’t understand what this is trying to limit?  I’m sure it’s something but I’m just not sure.

3.5 PRD no new PRD                  

- I guess we won’t have any more Martin’s Landings.  Is this being removed just because people didn’t like Sassafras?

Chapter 4

4.3.2 Detached House add density maximum of 4.84

Min lot size 9,000 SF

delete lot area, alley-loaded and lot width, alley-loaded

Min Building Coverage 40%

Add "Minumum heated floor area per unit SF" of 1,000

- I’m thinking they mean maximum building coverage of 40% given the theme of the rest of the document.  Whole

4.3.3 Carriage House delete entirely

-  No carriage houses allowed on nodes or corridors? Is there any reason for this?

4.3.4 Attached house delete entirely (allow where existing)

add Cottage Court add Cottage Court to Corridor/Node

with 5 unit density max and garage requirement

- Really, they added something?  Unfortunately 5 unit max is probably not going to make a very good cottage court but at least they’ll be required to have garages.

4.3.5 Townhouse add 5 unit density max (old R-THA = 5)

add min heated floor area 1,000

add Common Open Space (Res TH = 20%, 3.2.9)

- Is 5 really a realistic density number to get high quality townhome development?

4.3.5.1 D decrease building coverage max to 40%

- This is INSANE for townhomes

4.3.5.1    E increase unit width minimum to 24 ft

 

-          Where is this coming from?  Again, it limits diversity of housing stock and takes lower price point homes out of the market.  This, in my opinion, is discriminatory.

 

4.3.6 Walk-up Flat rename "Walk-up Condominium/Apartment"

add minimum heated floor area of 1,000 SF

- Cosmetic and wholly unnecessary.  Why the 1000 SF limit?  I’m not sure that is the right number for a 1 BR.  Is this a best practice or just a number pulled out of the air.

4.3.7 Stacked Flat rename "Stacked Condominium/Apartment"

require apts to be in mixed use building? No standard apt complex?

add minimum heated floor area of 1,000 SF

- Cosmetic and wholly unnecessary.  Why the 1000 SF limit?  I’m not sure that is the right number for a 1 BR.  Is this a best practice or just a number pulled out of the air.

4.3.10 Mixed Use Building Require first floor non-residential

- Is there a precedent on this or is it wishful thinking? I would LOVE to see this but I don’t think it’s a realistic requirement.

4.4.4 Bulk Plane measure base of 35 feet from existing street grade

4.4.4 B delete "or 150 feet from the protected district property line, whichever is less."

- I’m not sure what the two items above are trying to limit.

4-32 Use Chart Storage of vehicles - minimum lot size of 3/4 acre

-          I’m not sure what this is trying to limit.

Chapter 5

5.2.3 change to "During review of an application for rezoning or conditional use,

the following must be considered:"

5.2.3 A change "should" to "must"

- You should be kidding.  This is far to limiting cannot be universally applied to all situations.

add C Off Hwy 9: 2 story maximum at the street, additional height stepped back

 

- Why? This is ridiculous.

5.3.1 Building Type chart delete Carriage House from DR and DX

- Carriage house is very appropriate for DR and DX areas.

delete Attached House entirely

- Again, these areas are some of the most appropriate areas for the attached house building type

delete townhome from DH

- There are very appropriate applications of townhomes in the DH area

delete Stacked Flat from DR? (except Hwy 9?)

- Not sure why this is necessary and why the Hwy 9 exception is there as there is virtually no DR along hwy 9

5.3.2 Detached House - Lot add density maximum of 3.63

(all from old R-HIST) increase lot area minimum to 12,000 SF

- DOUBLING the minnimum lot size?  This is downtown.  It is the area where we should have the smallest lots.  We do not need quarter acre lots in our downtown.

decrease lot coverage to 40% (old R-HIST 35-60%)

- This is very bad for diversity of building type. Couple this with the increased lot size requirement and the increased recommended setbacks and you are going to significantly curtail ANY redevelopment in our downtown.

add minimum heated floor area of 1,200 SF

-          So, we have a larger minimum heated floor area in our downtown than we do in the rest of our city?  This makes no sense.

change Principal Building Setbacks

D. Primary Street 10' to 40'

- This is insane!!!!!!!!!  Quadrupling the setback? This is the downtown of our city.  Setbacks in downtowns are NOT and should not be 40 feet.  Small setbacks are one of the primary drivers of walkability.  Aside from the historic homes, not many of our houses in the historc district are 40' or even 30' setbacks.  Research shows that 10' setbacks from property line to front porch correlates to some of the happiest, convivial, most walkable communities.  Using Goulding as an exammple, setbacks are in the 10' to 20' range.

E. Side street (min) 10' to 30'

- See comment on D

F. Side interior (min) 5' to 10'

- See comment on E

G. Rear (min) 15' to 30'

- See comment on F

5.3.4 Carriage House in DH only

- Again, why? This is appropriate where we are zoned for DX and DR currently.

5.3.5 Attached House delete entirely (allow where exist)

- This should not be removed.

5.3.6 Cottage Court add 5 unit density max

- We need examples of successful cottage court style developments and whether 5 units is the appropriate limit.

add garage requirement to each unit

- Why should they be required to have a garage?  Is this personal preference?  Is it an unfounded fear of on-street parking?  Again, what is best practice here?  Also, shouldn't the market determine whether a garage is necessary?

5.3.7 Townhouse add 5 unit density max

- Is this the right number?  It seems that the magic number in these edits is an arbitrarily assigned 5 units which has everything to do with someone’s personal preference and nothing to do with the reality of building a quality product that will enhance our city. 

(all from old R-HIST) add min heated floor area 1,000

- Should this be dictated or should the market determine this?  We wouldn’t want some rogue developer coming in and building 300 square foot townhomes.

add Common Open Space (Res TH = 20%, 3.2.9)

- No real issue with this

5.3.7.1 Lot increase Site area to 12,000 SF

- Already covered this one.  That’s way too much of an increase.

increase site width to 85 FT

- That's a heck of an increase from 55'

5.3.7.1 D decrease building coverage max to 40%

- Significant decrease from 75%.

5.3.7.1 E increase unit width minimum to 24 ft

- 20' unit width can have great floorplans.  Georgetown even has very valuable townhomes that are 16' and that place hasn’t been run over with hoodlums or suffered from some sort of lack of appreciation for its historic architecture.

5.3.7.2 Placement Increase primary street setback 5 to 40 ft

increase side street setback 5 to 20 ft

increase side interior setback 5 to 10 ft

increase rear setback 20 to 30 ft

- These setback increases are insane in a downtown environment.

5.3.8 Walk-Up Condominiums/Apts make all setbacks same as R-HIST (except on Hwy 9)

minimum heated floor area of 1,000 SF

BTZ only applies on Hwy 9

- What are the R-HIST setbacks?  Is this appropriate for a building of this type in a downtown environment

5.3.9 Stacked Flat make all setbacks same as R-HIST (except on Hwy 9)

minimum heated floor area of 1,000 SF

BTZ only applies on Hwy 9

- Same questions as above.

5.3.10 Commercial House same dimensions as R-HIST

- Same questions as above.

5.3.11 Single-story Shopfront make all setbacks same as R-HIST (except on Hwy 9)

BTZ only applies on Hwy 9

- Same questions as above.

5.3.12 Mixed Use Building make all setbacks same as R-HIST (except on Hwy 9)

BTZ only applies on Hwy 9

- Same questions as above.

5.3.13 General Building make all setbacks same as R-HIST (except on Hwy 9)

BTZ only applies on Hwy 9

- Same questions as above.

5.4.4 Bulk Plane measure base of 35 feet from existing street grade

- Still not fully understanding what we are changing on this and why.

5.4.4 B delete "or 150 feet from the protected district property line, whichever is less."

- Still not fully understanding what we are changing and why.

5-30 Use Chart Storage of vehicles - minimum lot size of 3/4 acre

- What would qualify as storage of vehicles?

 

Chapter 6

6.3.2 Townhouse add 5 unit density max

- Is this 5 units per acre or is it 5 units in a single building. Either way, it is not necessary.  Lot coverage will dictate this.  Also, where did we land on 5 units?  Is it the right number to ensure coherent development or is it someone's personal preference?

add min heated floor area 1,000

- Why?  Shouldn't the market determine how many square feet buyers want to purchase?

increase unit width minimum to 24 ft

- Is there a need for this?  There are numerous 20' width floorplans for townhomes that are excellent.  A smaller width may be more accessible for lower income home buyers.

6.3.7 Mixed Use Building Require first floor non-residential

- This may be unrealistic.  I think a percentage requirement might be appropriate but there may not be a market for Mixed-Use or street level re

 

6.4.4 Bulk Plane measure base of 35 feet from existing street grade

- What does this mean?

6.4.4          B delete "or 150 feet from the protected district property line, whichever is less."

 

-          I’m not sure what this means?

Chapter 10

10.2.3 Neighborhood Compatibility delete all A buffers

- Why?

10.2.4 Buffers delete Type A buffer

- Why?

Chapter 12

Environmental Protection

12.1.2 A 4 Specimen Trees also include specimen trees on abutting properties with CRZ on property

- How will this be determined?

12.1.3 Tree Removal B.2 b specimen tree value, increase from $100 to amount TBD

- What is best practice here?

B.3 b removed without approval, increase from $1,000 to amount TBD

- What is best practice here?

12.1.6 Tree Replacement B. Calculation of Replacement Tree Density - delete 3" and 4"

- I support this change

C.1 Replacement tree size - replace 3 with 5

- I support this change

C.2 Understory tree size - replace 2 with 3

- I support this change

Chapter 13

13.1 Summary of Review Authority chart Move Preliminary Plat from PC to Council

Make all elements "Yes" on Web public notice

-          I think I’m fine with this but what is the level of effort from city staff?

Make all elements "Yes" on Published

- Where would these be published and what is the LOE from city staff?

13.3.4 A Published Notice notice of all 3 meetings (Neighborhood/PC/Public hearing)

published in Newspaper of Record at least 30 days prior to Neighborhood meeting

-          Is 30 days realistic?  How many have been published within the 15-29 day range?

 

13.3.4 B Web Notice also posted on website at least 30 days prior to Neighborhood meeting

-          Is 30 days realistic?  How many have been published within the 15-29 day range?

13.3.4 D Mailed Notice Increase 300 ft to 1000 ft and include notification of HOA of any subdivision

touched within that 1000 ft

Notice mailed at least 30 days prior to Neighborhood meeting

-          What is the increase in cost and is the 30 day period realistic.  How many have been published within the 15-29 day range?

13.4.6 C Neighborhood Presentation 2 delete "no minutes" - add: Record meeting and make public

add: follow format provided by staff

- This is a good suggestion.

13.4.6 F Council public hearing allow automatic deferral after PC without Council hearing or 65 day clock stops with applicant requested deferral??

- This is a good suggestion.

13.5.11 Preliminary Plat move all from PC to Council

- Why have a Planning Commission?

13.6.8 Notice (Major Design Plan) require notice posted on website (not just current DRB agenda)

-          This is a good suggestion.

13.6.12 A 1 Setback Modification reduce 20% reduction to 10%

- So, you’re increasing the setbacks by up to 300% (10’ to 40’ in some cases) but you’re allowing staff to have discretion on 4’.  As with everything suggested so far related to setbacks this is regressive, and plane insane.

13.7.10 Major Certificate Review HPC - any changes regardless of source or request must be submitted and available online 5 business days before mtg

- Still dealing with fallout from Vickers Village I guess.  I don’t really have a big problem with this suggestion but I’d like to know if other HPCs in the state adhere to this standard.

HPC - in the event of work sessions with applicant, such meetings must be held in a public room, be recorded and such recordings made available online.

- How many work sessions occur? Is this common practice in other HPCs? What is the level of effort for staff to make this happen?  This seems like it’s a bit burdensome.

13.9.2 Administrative Variances change all hard numbers to 10%

- Is 10% the right number?  What types of administrative variances have been historically granted?

13.11.2 A BZA authorized to approve add "up to 10% variance in addition to any variance granted by the Zoning Dir"

- Is 10% the right number?  What types of administrative variances have been historically granted?