After nearly five years of preparation, a first approval in March and four hours of discussion both for and against the , Roswell City Council passed the locally unprecedented ordinance Monday night.
"This is an exciting time. It's a change that will keep Roswell going," said Councilman Jerry Orlans, noting the "sense of place" that will be added to Roswell through the ordinance.
In the end, five of the six council members voted for approval of the ordinance, . Councilman Kent Igleheart voted against the measure, though he assured planners that he was for the idea, but didn't believe its current form was as good as it could be.
"Will we get what we say we want out of this," he asked the council, going over specific changes to the ordinance language. "I'm concerned we do not protect against the 'worst case' here."
Some of the notable changes made to the ordinance Monday night included:
- Height limitations set at four stories (54 feet) permitted on primary streets, with five stories (66 feet) made conditional. Measurements are taken from the base of the building to the eaves.
- Building materials required to be high-qualitity and could not consist of wood siding, except in trim and decorative details.
- Rental units would only be permitted where they currently exist, south of Oak Street, unless granted special conditional usage permits.
- Frontage setbacks are measured from the property line and require eight feet for commercial properties and five feet for residential.
Council chambers were full of those who opposed and were in favor of the zoning form-based code, which focuses more on the look and feeling that should be conveyed within a certain area and less on specific guidelines and uses. The new "live, work, play" zoning overlay in the Groveway portion of the historic district - bordered by Norcross Street, Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road - is said to allow for a mix of uses. It's unlike conventional zoning, which usually only permits a single, specific use and follows the theory "form follows function." A form-based code does the exact opposite, allowing instead for function to follow form.
"You control what it looks like and not how the building is used,” said Planning and Zoning Director Brad Townsend.
Alternately, as a hybrid form-based code, the Groveway ordinance blends form-based code with conventional zoning code through the use of more specific guidelines than are typical of form-based codes. For instance, the ordinance makes certain aspects of use and design conditional, giving city planners and elected boards more oversight as to what will be allowed to be developed.
Sally Johnson, owner of on Canton Street, read a letter to the council from Richard McLeod, a graduate of and current director of community development in Woodstock. McLeod has been influential in the redevelopment of downtown Woodstock, which has thrived under a similar form-based code. In the letter, he told council he believed the innovative approach to planning would benefit historic Roswell, as well.
Even with the freer zoning approach, developers are still required to bring individual proposals to the city for approval.
Those in opposition to the ordinance, were uncomfortable with the idea that thousands more apartments could fill up the area.
"Apartments start out nice, but do not stay nice," said Liberty Lofts condo owner RuthAnn White.
Former Councilwoman Lori Henry similarly cautioned against additional apartments, pointing to a recent discussion in Sandy Springs that advised 58 percent of that city's crime was centered around blighted complexes.
Some worried the area was too small handle the density, or it would become innundated with one use, instead of being mixed use.
But local resident Michael Haddon pointed out redevelopment of the area wouldn't happen overnight.
"What’s going to happen is incremental growth,” he said, noting the council needed to get the ball rolling with the ordinance and turn a place not many want to be, into an area that could extend the thriving parts of the historic district into the Groveway community.
Still, many asked for a deferral of the agenda item in order to add more restrictions to it, hoping to limit the effects of a form-based code. But, because the Roswell Housing Authority is soon to receive a grant to renovate existing under-market rental units in the Groveway area, the city needs to have zoning guidelines in place for developers to follow.
"It's been a long road on this ordinance," said Councilman Rich Dippolito, who found it unfortunate that several speakers indicated they had only just recently heard of it. "We’re creating a future for Roswell."
Dippolito said the potential of the Groveway ordinance would allow for the creation of something that Roswell currently doesn’t have and needs.
"We're taking somewhat of a leap of faith here. [But, I] think we’re doing the right thing,” he concluded.