The highly anticipated St. Marys Planning Commission meeting turned out over 200 residents at City Hall last Thursday over the newly proposed ordinances. Citizens packed the halls and many waited outside watching the meeting on their smartphones.
The meeting lasted nearly 3 hours and over 205 citizens signed up to speak publicly about the ordinances, but the Planning Commission made clear that public comment was not going to be taken.
Former Planning Chair, Mike Rich, resigned just one day before Thursday’s meeting. The new Planning Commission Chair, Kara Roll, stated that recorded public comments sent in by the June 8th deadline would be considered by the Commission to revise some of the ordinances.
Planning member Leslie Warner said, “We set up this meeting to specifically work based on the public hearings that were done. We actually need to work as a committee and I move that we should not have a public comment in this session.”
New Planning Chair, Kara Roll, reminded the public that the newly proposed zoning codes were started in 2015 and received numerous public comments before the November 2017 vote. The Planning Commission voted down the newly proposed zoning codes during that time.
Roll stated that the vote by the Commission in November “did not meet the criteria as required by [the city’s] code.” The City Council then asked the Planning Commission to review the codes once more. Three Planning Commission members resigned or were not re-appointed. Additionally, Jeff Adams resigned as Planning Director for the city in later months. Now, Adams has been hired as a consultant to help facilitate the revision process in the newly proposed zoning ordinances until a final draft is ready for Council’s consideration.
“The goal of this Planning Commission is to make the best possible recommendation to City Council,” said Roll.
Commission member Wiley King stated that many of the public comments addressed stormwater drainage, but King emphasized that the zoning changes deal with land use, not drainage.
“The proper process is in the City of St Marys is when a subdivision, which is taking two or more lots, engineering has to be done to make sure the drainage is done properly. The City engineer reviews the plans for drainage along with other areas in City government,” King stated.
King also mentions that fire and police also review the changes for safety and traffic concerns before a final permit is issued on a structure. King reminded the public that if stormwater becomes an issue before a structure is built in a specific area, the City Planning Director, with the verification of the City engineer, must sign off on that document telling the Planning Commission if a permit can be awarded before building.
Many technical changes were made at Thursday’s meeting. The Planning Commission voted on each change during the 3-hour meeting. Also, many of the changes were tabled for further discussion and review.
At the end of the meeting, Chair Kara Roll stated that the Planning Commission would need to continue their work on revising the proposed zoning code. Roll said another work-session like meeting is needed to create one document for additional public comment before sending to the City Council. The Planning Commission has not set a date for their next meeting to finish their changes.
The Planning Commission has a scheduled meeting for June 29th, according to the City Calendar, but that is not the meeting needed to consider the public comment through June 8th. The Planning Commission is not seeking additional public comments while they decide on the next meeting. Additionally, the Planning Commission is not going to seek public comment until all changes have been made.
Many citizens are planning to organize petitions to educate fellow citizens and send to their elected Councilmembers and the Mayor. The City Council meeting is Monday June 18th at 6 p.m. and some citizens plan to attend to voice concerns during the public comment period of the meeting.
3-hour meeting: What were some of the big changes?
One of the most controversial ordinances dealt with RV storage. The ordinance on storage of no more the one travel trailer or RV’s stored on a residential lot. The ordinance also stated that the RV cannot be hooked to water and electricity in the residential area while stored.
Consultant Jeff Adams advised the Planning Commission to possibly table this specific ordinance to get further discussion. Adams also indicated that many of the residents in the public comment wanted to ability to hook their RV up to their water/electricity in an unlimited capacity. Public comment also suggested there should be guidelines given to this section of the newly proposed ordinance.
“It is very difficult to enforce the way that it is written in two places and somewhat conflicts. One of [the ordinances] has a conflicting setback where the right-of-way is halfway into the yard,” said Adams.
Planning Member Wiley King had concerns that some properties did not have enough setback to store such vehicles and would force residents to store them in the front of their yard. King pointed out the writing of the ordinance suggests that people will not be allowed to “screen” or place a fence in the front yard to conceal the RV.
The discussion of “screening” was also reviewed and Chair Kara Roll suggested that screening could include natural screening other than fencing.
Planning Member Warner said, “As proposed, this ordinance is limiting, but we are looking for a balance here. If we could table this, that would put me in a better position. We do not have enough time in this setting to try to address it.”
Oversized vehicle language was also tabled for a later time.
Allowing RV overnight stay –
Planning Member Warner said that staying on an RV for visiting is not an issue, “but living in the RV that is a different situation.” Warner believed the overall ordinance was “too strenuous.”
The Planning Commission decided to table this ordinance on RV storage and overnight use for further discussion at a later time.
Land Disturbance Permitting –
According to the consultant, Jeff Adams, the land development use ordinance needed further clarification. Adams stated that the city has a hard time keeping up with those developers coming into the city and getting the required permits to disturb the land. Adams stated that the ordinance must be clear and there should be minimal impact on the character and wetland areas within the city. Adams stated that many developers say they run into different jurisdictions, such as with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Adams stated that the current language is “not strong enough.”
Planning Member King stated that people pay taxes on their marsh property and maintain it for the view, hence “the reason they bought it in the first place.” The current language was amended from previous hearings to where residents could maintain their marshland buffer. Wheeled vehicles and mechanical vehicles in the marsh is prohibited.
The Commission also removed the $75 annual special permit fee to use the land; however, a specialty use permit would remain in place if the land needed additional use and development. These changes mentioned in this section were accepted by the Planning Commission.
Parking ordinances –
During the public comment period, residents were concerned that the City was limiting the number of parking spaces per residents. The Planning Commission clarified the ordinances reflected in Table 6 (page 71).
The header said, “required parking spaces” and was changed to “minimum required parking spaces.” Then, from the crowd, City Councilman Bob Nutter voiced that the word “required” should be removed. A citizen pointed out that nobody should be commenting from the crowd as Chair Roll stated that no public comment was allowed.
The wording was changed to reflect a minimum requirement of parking by the Planning Commission
Downtown Form-Based Districts: Lot sizes and Tiny Homes –
Lots Sizes –
Currently, the lot size requirement in the R-1 Form-Based District is at 9,000 square feet. The newly proposed ordinances call for 5,000 square feet. The discussion then veered to accommodating Tiny Houses on such lots. A decision allowing 8,000 square feet would be the proposed change accepted by the Planning Commission.
Tiny Houses minimum floor area in the Form Based District –
City Planning Director Carter Thompson and consultant Jeff Adams recommended that homes in the newly defined Formed Based Districts have a minimum floor area square footage of 720 square feet. Commission members challenged the logic of such a small footprint that would decrease the value of the homes already in the area. According to Adams, many comments were made from the public that requested these smaller homes and smaller lots to accommodate for more growth in the city. Many of the residents in attendance did not like this recommendation despite the public comment Adams mentioned.
“My concern is we have a number of houses already around the 900 square foot range. The people have struggled to figure out how to expand them to properly meet the standard to get a second bathroom or third bedroom. That is the struggle with the housing stock we have here now. To me, having 720 square feet is probably not a positive for this community in the long run,” said Planning Member Leslie Warner.
Chair Kara Roll said that she thought the idea was to incorporate Tiny Homes in the area base on Georgia’s standard code for Tiny Houses.
“I thought we were using the Georgia residential term [for Tiny Homes]. A non-tiny house would then start at a minimum of 720 sq. feet was how I read this,” said Roll.
Roll wanted to leave the option of the Tiny Home to be placed in the historical area of St. Marys and have the Historic Preservation Board give further recommendations.
“It’s a trend and many communities are shrinking building sizes for retirees; especially the young Millennials who do not want the houses of their parents. They want a different product, and this is not unusual in different communities,” said Planning Director Thompson.
Chair Roll believes adding to the Form-Based codes in this section of St. Marys will protect the values of the home in the newly proposed district. Roll said such homes would need to have certain aesthetic requirements that would fit into the neighborhood.
“You start putting a lot of smaller houses in with the larger houses, what are you going to do to the neighbors that have the larger houses? You are going to devalue their houses. It is going to affect the tax base,” stated Planning Member Wiley King.
The intermixing of Tiny Houses with larger standard homes does not only apply to the Downtown area of St. Marys but could possibly be allowed in other parts of the St. Marys.
“This could apply to Sugarmill, Cumberland Harbor, and Osprey Cove,” said King.
According to Planning Director Carter Thompson, Cumberland Harbor and Osprey Cove subdivisions do not allow for these regulations for Tiny Homes. “That’s a horse of a different color,” said Thompson. According to Thompson, Sugarmill would not be exempt from this regulation to allow for smaller homes among larger established homes.
The Planning Commission accepted to change the minimum floor area of Tiny Houses in the R-1 District of Downtown only to 900 square feet with a minimum lot size of 8,000 square feet. The width of the property will be 60 feet with a depth of 120 feet.
The Planning Commission also changed the Residential-2 and 3 areas to a minimum floor square footage of 900 and a roof pitch to 45 feet. The Commission finally decided to change all residential minimum floor square footage to 900 square feet throughout the city’s residentially classified areas.
All 5-foot lot setbacks were changed to 7.5 feet setbacks and mobile home units were restricted to only 35 roof pitch heights.
The minimum square footage for the cottage cluster homes, duplexes, and townhomes were changed from 720 square feet to 900 square feet with all side yard setbacks changed from 5 feet to 7.5 feet.
Tiny Houses/Cottage Clusters in the Cottage Court –
The building code for building Tiny Homes has been given state guidelines for construction according to the consultant, Jeff Adams. For the Downtown Form-Based Cottage Clusters, there was a proposal to keep the minimum floor square footage at 240. Many citizens in the crowd voiced displeasure throughout the chambers on the size of those Cottage Clusters.
Planning Member Leslie Warner stated he liked the idea of the Cottage Court, but 240 square feet was too small. “I would not support that.”
Chair Kara Roll believes the way the current code is written, it would thwart off any abuse to creating a large-scale 240 square foot Cottage Cluster homes. Jeff Adams said that the Cottage Cluster lots would require 22,000 square foot lot for the clusters to be built, but there are very few lots in the Downtown that would house such a development.
Roll said several people, naming local builders, that said they Cottage Cluster would add value to the community.
“It is something that people are looking for. Everyone is learning about it on HGTV. It’s like this national thing that is happening. There is an interest from residents that live here now. Because this is something that is highly regulated, I feel like this is a very controlled way of making that an option,” said Roll.
Planning Member Lloyd Streit, who owns a local real estate firm, said the cost to build the Cottage Cluster to a minimum of 550 square feet and anything more would be cost prohibitive. “The product could be unmarketable.”
Chair Kara Roll said that the Cottage Clusters would create “the kind of neighbor we are looking for” which means they would be “financially responsible, have disposable income, and be eco-friendly.” Roll also said that many people could use the clusters as accessory dwelling units and it would help retirees “age in place.”
Currently, 60 percent of the city’s population is under the age of 40, according to the city’s master plan research. Jeff Adams asked for a size that the Commission would agree to at that meeting but could revise later.
The Planning Commission decided to do more research on a reasonable number of minimum floor square footage for Cottage Clusters along with leaving the 240 square feet minimum in place to review later.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) –
The current code reads as follows: An Accessory Dwelling Unit shall have a minimum of two hundred and forty (240) square feet on one level and shall not exceed seven hundred and twenty (720) square feet or fifty percent (50%) of the Ground Story area of the Principal Dwelling, whichever is less.
Planning Member Lloyd Streit had concerns over the how the code would be enforced between ADUs and Tiny Houses. Planning Development Director Carter Thompson said the ADUs must be built to Form-Based District standards and not exceed 50 percent of the lot’s square footage area.
Outdoor Displays –
The current Outdoor Displays ordinance, according to Jeff Adams, is unenforceable. The newly proposed ordinance would restrict displays to 5 feet in proximity to the business. The goal, according to Adams, is to keep it from entering the street and confine displays into an area.
“So, if I was a vendor has a special sale and they put stuff in my parking lot that is beyond the 5-foot perimeter. Then what happens?” asked Warner. The individual would have to apply for an assembly permit which is a current procedure that is already in place, according to Adams.
Screening of Outdoor Displays –
For those businesses that do not place their product back into their building, screening is required in the new codes. The code is as follows:
Outdoor display shall be limited to store hours and removed and placed inside a fully-enclosed building or behind a six-foot privacy fence, behind the front building line, each day; b. Outdoor display shall be confined to within five (5) feet of the Principal Structure’s front Building Facade, shall not occupy more than thirty percent (30%) of the horizontal width of the front Building Facade or twenty (20) feet, whichever is less; and, 61 5. Standards for Specific Uses and Activities c. Outdoor display shall not impair the ability of pedestrians to use the sidewalk or parking areas and shall comply with ADA clearance and accessibility.
The Planning Commission voted to pass this section of the code because they cited it would be more enforceable.
Lawful Nonconforming Structures – Structured that would be grandfathered in for further redevelopment.
The code is as follows: This section addresses uses, structures, and lots that lawfully existed prior to the adoption of this Zoning Ordinance or a subsequent amendment, but no longer conform to the provisions of this Zoning Ordinance.
If over 50 percent of the structure is destroyed, the structure would have to be built to new zoning standards. If less than 50 percent, it could still be built under the grandfather clause – basically keep it like it was originally.
Below are the proposed areas of the city color coded as R-1,R-2, R-3, C-1, and PD.
Video of 3 hour – June 15th Planning Commission Meeting –
St Marys Planning Board Special Called Meeting Starts @ 5:30 pm | Agenda is to vote up or down the HOA-like ordinances. If passed, the ordinances go to Council.
Posted by All On Georgia – Camden on Thursday, June 14, 2018
Recently revised ordinances as of June 14, 2018.
Related article –