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Consultants advise opening commercial areas to housing, simplifying Boro’s home zoning
Changes in parking and tree standards also proposed

Consultants working with Statesboro’s city planning and development staff have proposed changing the city’s zoning regulations in certain ways intended to favor the construction of more housing.

Caleb P. Racicot, a principal planner with the architectural and planning consultant firm TSW, spoke to City Council and Mayor Jonathan McCollar during a May 16 work session. It was the second of two updates the elected officials have received this spring as TSW works with city staff members to draft a Unified Development Code, or UDC, for Statesboro. This regulatory rewrite was launched mainly to update the zoning, subdivision and sign regulations.

In a move that illustrates the intent to allow housing in more parts of town, the consultants propose changing Statesboro’s downtown Central Business District so that it is no longer defined as strictly commercial.

“We have done a lot to encourage the creation of compact, walkable development patterns,” Racicot said. “We have created updated standards for downtown, the CBD, to make it easier to do housing here, to make it easier to have housing in commercial here, to make it easier to reuse historic buildings here.”

TSW also proposes replacing at least some of Statesboro’s commercial zoning along major highway corridors with mixed-use zoning.

“You can continue to build commercial, you can continue to build restaurants, but you could also build housing” (in the mixed-use zones), Racicot said. “You could also build mixed-use environments so people don’t have to drive everywhere to get from business to business.”

Similarly, the planning consultants have designed an “overlay” of mixed-use zoning around the planned Creek on the Blue Mile project.

“Mid-rise” residential structures, up to 75 feet tall, would be allowed in a mixed-use district replacing the CR “commercial retail” district near downtown.

The R-3 medium-density multi-family residential district would become a “mixed residential” district for single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, quads, live-work developments and cottage courts.


A right to rebuild

Additionally, the consultants propose replacing rules in Statesboro’s current development laws that restrict what can be built on vacant lots and in older neighborhoods.

“What I’m most excited about is we have proposed several regulations that make it so much easier to build in your existing neighborhoods, especially the neighborhoods that have been disinvested for so long,” Racicot said.

He said the draft of the UDC has ‘‘removed all of the barriers” from building on vacant lots in Statesboro’s currently residential areas.

“As you may know, if a lot does not meet the current zoning requirements today, they need to come in for a variance,” Racicot said. “But this would make rebuilding on those lots a matter of right. Again, it’s just a little thing, but it’s making it that much easier to invest in our historic neighborhoods versus go out on the edge of town and eat up green land.”

The consultants do not recommend mandating the preservation of historic buildings but instead propose “preservation incentives,” such as reduced parking requirements or relaxed zoning standards for projects that preserve older buildings.

These include “allowances that would allow people to convert older houses back to houses,” where these have been zoned for commercial or office use, Racicot said.


Fewer ‘R’ zones

In a move that would simplify some of the zoning regulations but which could also allow smaller houses to be built on smaller lots in some areas, TSW’s planners propose that Statesboro reduce its number of single-family home zoning classifications from five to just two.

On the city’s map, the current zones for stand-alone houses are classified R-6, R-8, R-10, R-15 and R-20.

In an R-8 zone, the minimum lot size for a house is 8,000 square feet, or a little less than a fifth of an acre. In an R-10 zone, the minimum house lot size is 10,000 square feet, and so on for the other categories.

“It’s really unusual for a city of the geographic area of Statesboro to have this many zoning districts,” Racicot told the council during a previous work session, in April.

The consultants propose consolidating those five districts into the R-6 and R-15 classifications, eliminating the other three. In an R-6 zone, the required lot size is 6,000 square feet and larger, or around a seventh of an acre and up. In R-15, the minimum lot size is 15,000 square feet, or a third of an acre.

Home lots in sizes now allowed in the R-8 and R-10 districts would still be allowed in the consolidated R-6 districts, since it establishes only the minimum size, along with other requirements. Home lots of the R-20 size or larger would be allowed in the consolidated R-15 district.


Parking and trees

Because parking lots add to heat and runoff, he said, the UDC draft beefs up environmental standards in regard to parking lots.

The threshold size for parking lots having to meet those standards would be reduced from 50 spaces to 30 spaces. For those lots, the width of the required landscaped border would be increased from the current three feet to five feet, and the size of tree islands from 100 square feet to 200 square feet.

The consultants propose adding a requirement for medium-size to large trees.

Another proposed new requirement is for 20% of parking spaces be “pervious,” allowing rain to soak in.

Proposed new light pollution standards would require parking lot lighting to be directed downward, and also that light spillover to other properties be limited.

Council members offered feedback on proposed “urban forest” standards that would preserve Statesboro’s established requirement for a 35% tree canopy on developments but make some changes in regard to individual trees, tree types and irrigation.

As of last week, public information meetings on the Unified Development Code proposal were slated for June 13 and July 10, with times yet to be announced. A tentative timeline suggested the council could hold a first reading vote on the UDC July 18, followed by final adoption Aug. 1. 

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