Decatur officials respond to UDO questions

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 30, 2014
City Planning Director Amanda Thompson goes over the first draft of the city's Unified Development Ordinance. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Planning Director Amanda Thompson goes over the first draft of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The Decatur interwebs have been on fire this week as residents debated the city’s proposed zoning code overhaul, called a Unified Development Ordinance.

There were several lengthy discussions about the first draft on community email lists and on social media. Residents questioned the amount of power the rewrite gives to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and whether all residents will be affected by the new R-50 zoning designation. The R-50 designation allows for residential development on 5,000 square foot lots, but some residents were concerned it will limit what they can do with their property.

Today the city of Decatur published a lengthy Q&A in response to some of those questions, which you can read by clicking here.

Some of the more interesting tidbits:

The Q&A says no one will be forced into R-50 zoning. Planning Director Amanda Thompson told Decaturish this during an open house on the UDO. “We have created some new zoning districts,” Thompson said. “We are not rezoning any new properties.” The Q&A says the same thing. It says, in bold lettering, “There is no residential rezoning associated with the UDO.” The Q&A says residents can request to be rezoned for R-50, but that is their choice.

The Historic Preservation Commission won’t be in charge of everything, the Q&A says. According to the Q&A, the city’s current laws do not line up with state code, which is required. It says the UDO will close some loopholes (Decaturish has asked what exact loopholes the city is referring to) in the current regulations code. The draft ordinance shows a much more concise “Demolition by Neglect” section, and it says that property owners are supposed to maintain their property so it doesn’t “fall into a state of disrepair.”

The draft also adds rules about “Interim Controls.”

It says, “In order to prohibit demolition during the nomination and designation process, any property nominated individually or as part of an Historic District shall be protected and regulated as if it had already been designated by the City Commission”

It limits the historic designation process to 60 days once a completed application has been submitted, with a possible 30 day extension.

– No, really. The Historic Preservation Commission won’t be in charge of everything, the Q&A says.

In addition, the UDO puts the Historic Preservation Commission in charge of determining whether a builder can increase floor area on a smaller lot. This would give the HPC some authority over buildings outside of historic districts, the Q&A says.

“Currently, the citizen board proposed to conduct (floor area)-increase design reviews is the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC),” the Q&A says. “This is because they are the existing commission most familiar with reviewing things on the basis of scale, mass and physical impact rather than on matters of law (as the Zoning Board of Appeals tends to do).”

The Q&A says that in under the new regulations, the HPC will only have authority over a building’s floor area size. It will have this authority regardless of whether the building is in a historic district.

“They will not have the authority to review style or apply any historic district regulations (unless they otherwise apply),” the Q&A says. “They will also have no control as it relates to the demolition of a house.”

– Delaying demolition for 90 days gives the community more options, according to the Q&A. In addition to the new Historic Preservation rules, the UDO draft also gives the city the ability to delay issuing a demolition permit for up to 90 days.

According to the Q&A, when a property owner files for a permit to demolish the house, the neighbors would be notified. The 90-day delay is supposed to allow time for “an alternate approach to materialize.”

“For example,” the Q&A says. “Maybe someone or some organization that wants to renovate, rather than raze, the house will emerge and make an offer the owner is willing to accept. Or perhaps a design is offered that meets the needs of the property owner while retaining the structure.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the property owner to decide what to do with the property, not the city or the property owner’s neighbors, according to the Q&A.

“Bottom line, unless a property is in a local historic district, the city cannot prevent demolition,” the Q&A says.

Again, those are just the highlights. To read the full thing, click here.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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