Savannah working to update decades old zoning ordinance

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah is working to overhaul its current city-wide zoning ordinance for the first time in nearly 60 years.

The city's current zoning ordinance was adopted in 1960 and has more than 70 zoning districts, making it hard for both those using it and city staff members to figure out what's allowed in certain areas.

"A lot of the challenges come with parking, trying to figure out like what the parking requirements for a specific development, what the setbacks are for a different development," said Bridget Lidy, Director, Planning and Urban Design. "We have to go digging in the code, and it's difficult because we've got different sections of the code focusing on different areas."

The new zoning ordinance or NewZO hopes to streamline the process by cutting the nearly cutting the number of zones in half.

"When you know your zoning district, it's going to be a lot easier to go into that document and find what's permitted, what's not permitted, and how to move forward in reference to making things happen within the context of your development of you're building a fence in your backyard, or what have you," Lidy said. "We want it to be user-friendly for the business community, but we also want to make sure we're respecting our residential neighborhoods as well."

The city is hosting several sessions throughout May for people to learn more about the proposed changes and provide feedback.

Sandy Hollander, a resident and business owner in Savannah, said changes are needed.

"Zoning is critical," he said. "It's past time. It needs to be done. I know they've been working on it for years and years, but it's time to get all the pieces back together and do it, so we don't get overrun by the wrong type of development."

Lidy said elected officials have addressed zoning issues in pieces, like passing ordinances to deal with short-term vacation rentals, blight and overlay districts, and the NewZO will include those.

"Short-term vacation rentals are part of the zoning ordinance, so what we're going to do is take what we currently worked on last year and move it into the ordinance," Lidy said. "The caps will still remain in place. As far as the blight piece, that's a code compliance issue that our new code compliance department is working on, so we worked hand-in-hand with them in reference to issues that we get flagged about complaints or things that we see. We go ahead and ship it on to the code compliance department, and they kind of handle it for us. They have a zoning enforcement team in place. Mayor and council recently approved an alcohol overlay district. they approved a residential zoning piece to increase density downtown, and they also approved a hotel overlay district. All of those pieces will be incorporated into this new zoning ordinance in one chapter called overlay districts, which is great."

Lidy also hopes the NewZO includes plans to increase residential density in downtown, midtown and the Victorian District and facilitating more workforce housing by reducing parking requirements.

She and Hollander hope the new ordinance is stronger than the current one.

"One example is there's an aldermanic district that has a lot of car shops on specific streets where residential homes are, and that's a big no-no in our existing ordinance," she said. "So how do we strengthen that to make sure that that's not a reoccurrence in that particular district?"

As a business owner, Hollander said he wants to be treated fairly, but also wants the city to follow the rules already on the books.

"Less variances," he said. "I think if we have rules and regulations, we should follow them."

There will be a couple of different open house sessions. Walk-in open house sessions will be held at the Metro Planning Commission:

  • Thursday, May 10 and Thursday, May 17 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 16 and Wednesday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The public input meetings will take place at the Arthur Mendonsa Conference Room at 110 East State Street.

Hard copies for the public to review will be available at the following locations by the end of this week:

  • Bull Street Public Library, 2002 Bull St.
  • Carnegie Library, 537 East Henry St.
  • W.W. Law Library, 909 East Bolton St.
  • West Broad Library, 1110 May St.
  • Oglethorpe Mall, 7 Mall Annex
  • Southwest Chatham Library, 14097 Abercorn St.
  • Forest City Library, 1501 Stiles Ave.
  • Metropolitan Planning Commission, 110 E. State St.
  • City Hall, Clerk of Council Office, 2 E. Bay St.

Comments from those meetings will be worked into a future draft of the ordinance, which will Lidy expects to release in August. She hopes to get approval from the Metropolitan Planning Commission in September, have it before council members for a vote in October and implement it in January 2019. Lidy says her office will assess the how the ordinance is working and make necessary changes throughout the year after it's approved.

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