North Augusta citizens will have a chance to weigh in on a major revision of the city’s planning and development code.
A public hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 11, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in the Municipal Building.
Tommy Paradise, director of the Planning and Development department, said this revision has been a long time in the making. The work began in 2000.
“We had a task force that helped develop this draft and we went chapter by chapter, page by page from the front to the back,” he said. “Then those changes were shipped back to the consultant, then, went to the Planning Commission. The planning commission had a public hearing at several work sessions, where they let some of the public speak. But I think we’re getting down to the deadline now.”
Paradise said they brought in more than 50 stakeholders with an interest in how the code governs development projects in all areas of North Augusta. Stakeholders included elected officials, economic development professionals, representatives of downtown businesses and neighborhoods along with design professionals. They performed an audit of the code to determine what was good and what wasn’t.
“What they found out was the strength in the current code was in quality of life protections and quality of development standards. So, you wanted to keep those, but how do you make them easier to understand? So, the first thing we looked at, is we reorganized, clarified and streamlined requirements, and who does what, so there’s no ambiguity of what’s required,” Paradise explained.
STREAMLINING THE PLAN
One step was to streamline each chapter and create footnotes with cross-references with additional information. Paradise said the system shows developers how to find detailed specifications before they submit development plans.
“The other thing was we removed the overlay districts and the downtown district. The overlay district was creating some problems in enforcement. So, what we did was replace the downtown overlay with a downtown mixed-use one, which is basically your Georgia Avenue section. And then, you have your downtown use two, which is the remaining of the existing downtown. We split that up because Georgia Avenue is different than West Avenue.”
One thing reviewed was building height limitations, which are set at 35 feet downtown. But that created a difficulty for Riverside Village, which sits along the Savannah River at a lower elevation. The new code sets building heights there up to 70 feet, putting it in line with the Clubhouse and Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The new plan creates a corridor preservation mixed-use, which includes guidelines that are included in the current neighborhood preservation overlay.
The new plan also encourages developers to include undisturbed areas, so-called “green spaces,” in their projects. It encourages developers to, where possible, retain mature trees. It also increases the current 25-foot buffer around lakes and streams to 50 feet.
Paradise said the proposed planning and development code is primarily for new developments submitted after a revised code is adopted.
“You may have heard me use the term fundamental fairness and that’s what the city wants to do is be fair with the developers. You don’t change the rules right at the end,” he said. “If we’ve got plans submitted prior to the adoption of the new ordinance, they stay under the old one.”
That will mean projects already approved by the city council can move forward with their existing plan. That will include the more than 1,300-acre Highland Springs project bounded by Blanchard Road, Ascauga Lake Road, and Palmetto Parkway, along with the 52-acre Bluegrass Place at E. Martintown Road and E. Buena Vista Avenue.
Paradise knows there are also a number of developments, large and small, that businesses have been working on, in the design phase, but not quite ready for submittal to the planning commission and city council. He will ask the council to give his office authority to review those on a case-by-case basis.
Citizens and developers are urged to go to the city’s website and review the proposed new plan before the Sept. 11 public hearing.
Paradise said the proposal is not cast in stone and this is the time for citizens to learn about the changes. This is the time when adjustments can be made based on public input and what council members recommend.
After the first reading on Sept. 11, the ordinance must still be approved on a second reading. That is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Paradise is ready for the final vote, “This is the project that keeps on ticking. It not only survived COVID, it survived a new mayor, a new planning commission, a new administrator, and a new planning director.”