County sets moratorium on high-density developments

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Following a contentious rezoning request for a higher density subdivision in unincorporated Coweta, the Coweta County Board of Commissioners decided to take another look at the section of the county’s zoning ordinance that allows for lots as small as one-fifth an acre.

The commissioners voted this week to put a moratorium in place on applications for rezoning to the RI-B zoning district.

RI-B is one of two “residential infill” zoning districts. RI-B is considered “medium density” while RI-A is considered low density, with a maximum density of one unit per acre and minimum lots as small as a half-acre. Individual building lots can be smaller than the maximum density because of allowances for greenspace and amenity areas.

RI-B has a base density of 2.3 units per acre, but that can go up to three units per acre with density bonuses. RI-B developments must be served by public sewer.

Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn added the issue to the agenda at Tuesday’s county commission meeting. He made a motion that the moratorium be in place until Aug. 19, and the motion was approved with no discussion.

After the meeting, Blackburn feels the regulations on the zoning category need a “good look-over.” He added there is plenty of time to do that by Aug. 19.

The RI-B and RI-A zoning districts, as well as several others, came out of the county’s 2006 update to the comprehensive plan, dubbed “Be Something Different.” There were public meetings and surveys held, asking residents what they wanted to see Coweta become in the future.

In the final plan, most of Coweta was divided into three future zoning areas – rural conservation, infill neighborhood low density, and infill neighborhood medium density.

The infill zoning is designed to allow new development to be compatible with what is already there – to “infill” around existing development. A large swath of the county is marked as infill low density on the future development map.

The area covered by medium density infill is smaller, and includes land bordering Newnan, Sharpsburg, Turin, Arnco and Sargent.

A request to rezone property on Greentop Road to RI-B was heard by the commissioners in late May, and was continued until June 3, when it was denied. Though the property was not shown in the RI-B area on the future development map, the county’s Planning and Zoning Department recommended approval. The vote by the commissioners to deny was unanimous.

During the public hearing on the matter, Robert Ziifle said both the request and recommendation were “a misrepresentation … of the whole infill area concept.”

Gwen Watson brought up the comprehensive plan during the public hearing. Based on survey results, 73 percent of Cowetans “wished for a plan that would slow population growth,” Watson said. “While a whopping 82 percent of the respondents wanted lot sizes to be 1.6 acres or larger.”

Even though the zoning category has been around since 2007, no property has ever been zoned RI-B.

The Greentop Road project was the second request for RI-B. In 2010, owners of property along Ga. Hwy. 16 East and Hwy. 54 near Sharpsburg submitted plans for a mixed use development with shopping and a residential component. The property did not have sewer service, but plans were to build a wastewater treatment system to serve it. The rezoning was denied by the commissioners. The applicants, Thompson Lewis/Oakhall Properties/ Frank and John Nelly, later sued over the denial.

In 2011, the town of Sharpsburg annexed some of the property and rezoned it for a mixed use development. The property has yet to be developed.

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