In an unexpected turn of events, the Coweta County Commissioners voted Tuesday to allow residential development at four units per acre on land that adjoins a municipality.
The developments allowed under the change will have no required minimum lot size, lot dimensions or required setbacks, though homes must comply with fire code rules that houses can't be less than 10 feet apart unless there are fire-rated walls.
Any of these higher-density developments would have to be approved by the commissioners through a rezoning to an overlay district.
The proposed "planned development project" ordinance has gone through significant changes every time it has come before the commissioners. Last year, when directing staff to begin crafting the ordinance, the commissioners voted to recommend a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet, 0.22 acres.
Members of the development community said that was too big, and recommended a lot size of 7,500 square feet, 0.17 acres.
When the PDP ordinance was first presented in June, the recommendation was for an overall density of 3.5 units per acre. On July 13, that was changed to three. Tuesday night, Community Development Director Jon Amason presented a plan with four units per acre.
Giving developers flexibility for a better product
But Tuesday night, Commissioner John Reidelbach said he wanted to do away with lot size requirements altogether and go with a flat requirement of no more than four units per acre.
"Once again, we’re limiting these lot sizes to be cookie cutter," he said. "A developer is not going to spend that kind of money to build a bad development. So if you let them pick those lot widths and stick to four per acre, overall I think you’ll get a better product because the builder is going to build what is going to maximize his profitability," he said.
The draft presented to the commissioners had the developers proffering lot dimensions, but retained the 7,500 square foot minimum lot size.
PDP developments can be built on a parcel as small as five acres.
The latest versions give developers some flexibility, said Commissioner Tim Lassetter, but plans would still have to be approved by staff.
"I like being able to give the developer the ability to do what is best for that particular piece of property as long as it doesn't go over the four per acre," Lassetter told Amason. "I've got a lot of confidence in your ability and your staff's ability to ensure that we are getting the type product that we are expecting and desire," he said. "I think what you all have done in the last two weeks is extraordinary, and I appreciate all of the effort y'all have put into it."
When a proposed development is submitted, the community development staff reviews it and will assign it a score based on transportation infrastructure and compliance with the comp plan.
Developments with entrances onto four-lane roads or major roads will score higher points. There will also be points awarded if the developer plans to do transportation projects to mitigate the development's traffic impact.
The scoring methodology is an attempt to help guide developments to areas where adequate transportation infrastructure is present, or may be improved, Amason said.
All proposals will go before the commissioners regardless of score, but the score is intended to help guide decision making.
Commissioner Al Smith said he wanted to be sure that homes wouldn't be just 5 feet apart from each other, and Commissioner Paul Poole said he wouldn't want to see any closer than 10 feet.
Reidelbach asked if it should be up to the commissioners whether they want to "tell them what to build, or should we let developers build what the public wants."
“Developers want to put the most houses on an acre to make the most money,” Poole said. “I'm representing the people who buy these houses and live here."
Where should these developments go?
The Community Development Staff recommended that a PDP development be considered only on land that either adjoins a municipality or in the "growth priority map" that is part of the proposed comprehensive plan update.
That map shows growth priority in a ring around the city of Newnan, as well as adjacent to the city of Senoia. That map, however, hasn't been approved yet.
The new comprehensive plan will come before the commissioners in August, and then will be forwarded to the state for review. Once the state completes the review, it will come back to the commissioners for final approval.
Amason said his proposal is for the commissioners to allow staff to finalize the PDP ordinance and make its adoption concurrent with the comprehensive plan adoption, which will likely take place in October.
“Let’s get this going”
During public comment, local attorney George Rosenzweig, who last year presented his own "Newnan Ring" plan for increased density around the city of Newnan, said he could understand the need to wait on the comprehensive plan to be approved before setting the growth priority map.
However, he asked if the commissioners could go ahead and approve the higher density for property that touches the cities.
"This has been going on for a long, long time," he said. “Waiting to approve it for land adjacent to the city just seems like it stretches out something that has been stretched out a long time already."
Realtor Craig Jackson thanked the commissioners for all their efforts.
"Coweta needs this," Jackson said. "We have a shortage of homes, and people like this product."
Reidelbach made a motion to strike the lot size requirement and implement the change.
"Let's get this going," he said.
There was discussion about the changes being in conflict with the current comp plan. Lassetter asked if the commissioners could go ahead and approve the change for properties adjacent to municipalities, and put it in place for the entire growth priority area later.
County Administrator Michael Fouts said that could be done. Then, once the comp plan is approved, a new public hearing could be held on implementing the higher density development in the growth priority area.
The ordinance doesn't require a certain amount of green space, and that concerns Commissioner Paul Poole.
However, developers typically prefer to use smaller lots, which cost less to develop, and set aside open space. During public meetings on the proposal, several members of the development community asked for the smaller, cheaper-to-develop lots to be allowed.
If a developer comes in and doesn’t proffer any greenspace, that could be voted down, said Lassetter. However, "I don't ever see that happening," he said.
County staff is now working on incorporating the decisions into the ordinance.