Cherokee County: Bells Ferry LCI Study & County Ordinance Audit. Prepared by Atlanta Regional Commission Staff Atlanta Regional Commission

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1 Cherokee County: Bells Ferry LCI Study & County Ordinance Audit Prepared by Atlanta Regional Commission Staff 2006 Atlanta Regional Commission 1

2 Document Review and Recommendations Introduction The objective of the Bells Ferry Corridor Livable Centers Initiative is to create a mixed-use environment, with integrated residential, civic/institutional and commercial development located along this corridor and within the same zoning districts. In addition, the LCI study intends to establish town/activity centers within this study area, and to promote a pedestrian-friendly environment. However, there is little to no supporting text within the ordinance to support these objectives. It is recommended that Cherokee County staff make the necessary changes to their ordinance to allow for these goals to be put into action. The following recommendations are based on a comprehensive review of both the Bells Ferry LCI study and the Cherokee County Code of Ordinances. Special attention was given to the main objectives of the study, and then compared with the county code to discover and expose potential conflicts and elements absent from the ordinance. The following are what was highlighted by ARC staff in their review and evaluation process. The goals outlined in the Bells Ferry LCI study are categorized as follows: Community Character/Urban Design Transportation Land Use Economic Development In order for the objectives of the preceding categories to be satisfied, which would allow the Bells Ferry LCI study to be implemented, it is necessary for Cherokee County to make the following adjustments and additions which are listed in the following sections. 1

3 I. GENERAL ZONING CODE (LCI and existing condition) The intent of the Bells Ferry LCI plan would pursue the commercial characteristics similar to the description of a General Commercial District (GC), which characterizes development within this zoning category to include a wide variety of commercial & service activities which generally serve a wide area (Section ). Upon further review of the existing condition of the zoning ordinance in Article 7, the zoning district that is most applicable to this study area simply in terms of geographic location, would be that of a Highway Commercial District (HC). A Highway Commercial District is described as along an arterial roadway with the district hubs located around major intersections (Sec ). Depending on whether the zoning district in the Bells Ferry LCI corridor is revised by amending the Highway Commercial (HC) description, applying the TND ordinance to this area (though the minimum site area could provide difficulty in application), or zoned by a new category altogether (Mixed-use), the Minimum District Development Standards (Table 7.1A) table will need to make the necessary adjustments with the set requirements. It is recommended that Cherokee County: a) Revise these two zoning districts so that the objective of the LCI plan can be accurately classified in one of the zoning districts; b) A new district be established, through a combination of both objectives a. Greyfield Redevelopment Although one of the primary objectives for the Bells Ferry LCI study is to redevelop deteriorated shopping centers (greyfield redevelopment), there is no mention of this in the zoning code or any supporting ordinances. It is recommended that guidelines be created to allow and encourage the implementation of greyfield redevelopment. II. DEVELOPMENT STANDARDS ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS The additional requirements for development standards that apply to the General Commercial District (GC)maintain this type of development to occur exclusively along the corridor of major streets or highways and at locations that may intersect either of the two. 2

4 It is recommended that the language needs to be altered with language that would encourage and allow more grid development throughout the corridor, while discouraging strip development along the edges (of a corridor). III. SITE PLAN REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTAIN DISTRICTS The Purpose and Intent of the General Site Development and Design Regulations for Commercial and Industrial Developments (Section ), is to improve the aesthetic quality of commercial development. However, upon further review, the language outlined in this section is ambiguous in regard to determining the specific character or design standards. It is recommended that Cherokee County explicitly state what they intend the character of commercial and industrial development to look like. In addition, it is recommended that Cherokee County consider the establishment of a set of design guidelines, which would serve as a blueprint for future development and redevelopment. In the Bells Ferry LCI study, it is recommended that a list of uses not permitted be apart of the zoning code, rather than a list of what is permitted (Table 7.1B). This will alleviate the burden upon the county in having to account for every specific development that is preferred, while allowing them to focus on what types will be prohibited. It also provides for the list of prohibited uses to be more generalized, by grouping uses by type. a. Transportation and Access management The Bells Ferry LCI study is primarily based on the goal of integrated development through activity centers and corridors, and compact neighborhoods which allow for a pedestrian-friendly environment. In order for this to occur, the language in the zoning code should be revised so that it too encourages for more compact development within a grid. The current language fails to do this, encouraging instead strip development solely along the corridor (Section 7.4-9). Linear strip development alongside a corridor fails to promote a pedestrianfriendly environment. In order for the goal of integrated development between activity centers, compact neighborhoods and corridors, while also promoting mixed-use between residential and commercial, it would be of benefit for Cherokee County to add some language to the Access Requirements section of the zoning code, which will encourage (or enforce) additional requirements for all new development/redevelopment as it occurs along the corridor. For example, the 3

5 zoning code currently states that the County Engineer may require an access plan as part of a plan for the substantial improvement of a site that may not meet the curb cut and access specifications (Section a.). An addition to this requirement might be that all mixed-use development along major corridors requires an access plan. Another example within this section states where possible and practical, new development and substantial improvements to existing developments shall provide for pedestrian and automobile access connections between adjacent properties under different ownership when the uses of the properties are of such compatibility that patrons may frequent both buildings or uses in the same vehicle trip (Section b.). This could be amended to require such pedestrian connections in mixed-use developments as well as for compact neighborhoods and activity centers. Because it is intended for these three major types of development to occur within the Bells Ferry LCI study area, it is essential that wherever possible, the regulations require and enforce steps be taken to ensure the objectives set forth in the study are accomplished. By including this language in the current regulations, it non-arbitrarily ensures that all new development/redevelopment occurring along the Bells Ferry Corridor (as well as other major corridors) will not be allowed without a plan that encourages smooth, transitional access and the encouragement of a pedestrianfriendly environment. In addition, it will allow for the developer to create development that enhances and adheres to a pedestrian access. IV. PERMITTED USES/ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS An additional suggestion is that the Highway Commercial (HC) zoning district be revised to allow for residential development (i.e. compact neighborhoods) as well, which will link the different uses together, satisfying the main priority of the LCI study. To encourage the integrated development between neighborhoods and activity centers within the LCI study area, it is recommended that Community or Neighborhood centers be allowed within the Highway Commercial (HC) zoning district. Currently, Section of the zoning code allows for Neighborhood or Community centers to be developed in a General Commercial (GC) district only. An alternative to this is to either amend the current language of the zoning district that currently exists in this area, or change the zoning along this corridor to a district that will allow for Community or Neighborhood Centers to exist within and/or adjacent to commercial development. 4

6 Similarly, Schools and Daycare Centers may also help sustain or stabilize an Activity Center by serving as an anchor by which other development may feed off (of). In addition, these developments can also provide assistance with establishing pedestrian walkways and/or trails that were a main focus of the LCI study. It is recommended that Cherokee County reevaluate the section of the zoning ordinance (Section ) that establishes a minimum of five (5) acres in area to be permitted ( (a)). This section does not explicitly state whether or not addition uses may be permitted upon the same five acre area, but it seems to suggest that for a Private/Parochial and/or Daycare Center to be built, it will need to be the only use upon a minimum of five acres. When interpreted this way, this section conflicts with the County s wishes to promote integrated, mixed-use development. The County may want to consider a revision of the Buffer Requirements section (Article 10) of the zoning ordinance. As it currently stands, the purpose of this article is to require natural/planted buffers between dissimilar uses (Section 10.1; 10.5). A provision should be included for sites that contain a mix of multiple, dissimilar uses. IV. OFF STREET PARKING REQUIREMENTS Transportation plays an integral role in establishing a pedestrian-friendly environment, as well as keeping the Bells Ferry Corridor vibrant. In working to maintain both of these objectives, combined with the goal of an integrated mixeduse environment, addressing this corridor s parking issues is essential. Adequate, shared parking is essential to creating quality access management both in and around the Bells Ferry corridor. However, the current language established in the Off-Street Regulations for the Cherokee County Zoning Ordinance (Section 12.1) does not adequately address the steps that need to be taken to ensure for adequate parking. For the integrated, mixed-use development that is intended to be developed within the LCI study area, there currently are no specific provisions for parking requirements that fall into this category. It is recommended that Cherokee County staff develop appropriate off-street parking requirements that establish and promote shared parking for the various uses within this corridor. While the subsequent parking requirements section does speak to situations of mixed uses (Section ), it states that the amount parking spaces required shall equal the sum of the requirements of the various uses computed separately. This does not encourage shared parking among different uses, thus diverging from the principles of a mixed-use environment. It is suggested that 5

7 the parking requirements for mixed-use developments be reevaluated so that fewer parking spaces be required, thus conserving land space and encouraging other modes of transportation. While Section allows for a certain percentage of parking spaces to be jointly used, it requires that the two developments sharing the parking spaces cannot be in operation during the same hours. It is recommended that uses such as retail and offices be allowed to share parking during the same operating hours. This will help contribute to need for concentrated parking spaces in a singular location (or a few multiple locations), thus creating the density to support a mixed-use activity center that the LCI study wishes to establish. It is also encouraged that Cherokee County look into language that would concentrate parking in defined locations, preferably adjacent to activity centers, transit facilities, pedestrian walkways and bike trails. This will help in providing quality access management in areas that will see a large influx of automobiles, pedestrians and bicycles. In addition, this will maximize the density of the land that lies within the study area. Suggestions While there are a number of various zoning districts, they remain segregated by either being residential or commercial. There is no true mix of uses within a singular zoning district/category. Unless a new zoning category is introduced, one that mixes both uses and types within the same district, the goal of a mixeduse live/work/play environment cannot exist. One suggestion is to create a new zoning district that is intended to comply with the needs along the Bells Ferry Corridor (Disadvantage may be burdensome, not applicable to other areas, thus hard to justify for such a small area unless other corridors within Cherokee County are facing a similar situation). A second suggestion is that the Highway Commercial (HC) zoning district be amended to include the requirements set forth in this document (see above). A disadvantage in taking this alternative is that it will also allow other areas within Cherokee County to adhere to the same guidelines, where the zoning district exists. This may or may not reflect the intentions of the Cherokee County Planning & Zoning department, by having these guidelines applied to all other areas zoned Highway Commercial (HC). A third suggestion is to create an overlay district within the Bells Ferry LCI. This would give this corridor the extra regulations it needs in order to satisfy the LCI objectives, while keeping the zoning classifications the same. An overlay could be easily defined in this area, and despite the various zoning classifications that currently exist, an overlay can require a special set of regulations for the defined area. In addition, an overlay district is currently located along this corridor in 6

8 Woodstock, illustrating the need for additional regulations that are sensitive to the needs of this area. A fourth suggestion is that the TND ordinance be applied to this corridor, because its objectives and guidelines promote similar goals and objectives of the Bells Ferry LCI plan. (Disadvantage currently there are developments with no residential component, and for all future development to occur; it will need to be necessary to include a residential component to the development). Another problem with this alternative is that the minimum site requirements of this district are at least 20 acres. This prohibits the regulations from being applied to smaller parcels along the Bells Ferry corridor. 7

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