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Statesboro council unanimously approves townhomes ordinance
Developers’ plans for 370-plus units now in process
Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny

Statesboro City Council by a 5-0 vote Tuesday morning enacted a new city law regulating the development of townhouses, which have suddenly become popular with local developers as a way to create more family-style housing on less ground.

A townhouse is defined as a building containing three or more homes that share a side wall between each two. Under the new ordinance, each building is limited to a maximum of six units, and although there can be two or more stories up to a height limit, each unit must have a ground floor, with “stacked” or upstairs units prohibited.

Two townhouse projects, which together could contain up to 220 home units, then returned to the city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday evening where they received unanimous recommendations for rezoning into the new R-2 Townhouse Residential classification.

Meanwhile, another development for up to 151 units is in the process for a planning board recommendation in September. Property owners and developers have made inquiries for six or eight more townhouse developments, according to city officials.

“We currently have about nine townhome developments that are waiting the adoption of this ordinance, and so this this is really critical for our community, and it also shows that Statesboro still is growing,” City Manager Charles Penny told the mayor and council.


Council questions

City Council members had sent the ordinance forward from the first reading by a 4-0 vote July 19. At that meeting, Penny had suggested that council might waive the requirement for a second reading and enact the ordinance immediately. But District 1 Councilmember Phil Boyum, who usually insists on following the procedural rules he helped create several years ago, said he would not vote to waive the second reading, and a unanimous vote would have been required to do so.

But he then made the motion for the first-reading approval. Boyum was one of two council members who asked questions about the townhouse rules Tuesday before they joined in the unanimous vote, on a motion by District 2’s Paulette Chavers seconded by District 3’s Venus Mack.

District 5 Councilmember Shari Barr asked if the council would still have “opportunities to impose more green space, more amenities” on particular developments. Penny said there would be “approximately seven or eight more months” as proposals move through the process, and noted that the ordinance could be amended later.

Boyum asked if the ordinance contained provisions to ensure that the townhome neighborhoods don’t simply become more rental apartment complexes by a different name. He said he wants to avoid the townhomes becoming the next phase in a cycle where the newest apartment complexes draw the latest renters, especially university students, and older complexes go into decline.

“You get no argument from me.  We need to increase our home ownership,” Penny said.

Noting that Statesboro’s housing supply is more than 70% “tenant occupied,” he said he would be even more concerned if it wasn’t a university town. However, the city manager also said he doesn’t think the city government legally can “legislate whether it’s a rental or an owner-occupied building” through zoning.

“But if we’re setting our standards right, the costs of the units are significant,” Penny said. “Then I think you will see more people owning those units.”

In other words, one way the city is attempting to encourage owner-occupancy is by setting requirements that could make townhomes more expensive to build and maintain than simpler kinds of apartments.


Citywide standards

The density standards are similar to those for the older R-3 multifamily residential classification. A minimum 8,000-square-foot site is required for a townhouse building, and the maximum number of home units per acre is 12.

But townhouse developers must devote at least 5% of each site to “amenity space,” or outdoor open space for use by residents and their guests.  This can include playgrounds, pool areas, sports courts, community gardens, shared lawns or walkable areas.

A homeowner association that charges owners a fee for maintaining the common areas is also required.

Each townhouse unit must have at least a one-car garage, plus two parking spaces and access to guest parking. Sidewalks are required, as are “street trees” at certain intervals.

To promote selling townhouse units to people who will live there, the ordinance also requires each unit to have its own separate meters for water, electricity, and if connected, natural gas. Rental complexes of the kind where utility costs are included in rent typically would not be designed with separate meters.


Thorough rewrite

TSW, the Atlanta-based planning firm working on a thorough rewrite of Statesboro’s zoning and related city laws as a new Unified Development Code, or UDC, pushed a draft of the townhouse ordinance forward to completion first, as the city’s Planning and Development Director Kathy Field had requested.

“We never had a townhome ordinance, and so I had to fast-track that to get that going, and I had our consultants do it – luckily they were on board – and so we fast-tracked that through quickly because I’ve got this backlog of all these townhomes that want to come in and I needed some standards,” Field said after Tuesday’s council meeting.

She expects the overall UDC to be complete in about a year.  Open to everyone, a community input meeting, where drafts of other regulations will be made available for public comment, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 6 p.m. in the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall at 101 South Main St.

A later story will note the developers and locations of townhome projects now headed toward approval.



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