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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2007
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Decatur could increase zoning oversight power

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

The Decatur Planning Commission is proposing an overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinance that could impose stiffer regulations when building new commercial structures.

If it is approved, the city will gain greater oversight power on commercial construction sites, and more would-be business owners will be required to submit site plans before receiving a building permit.

Building Department Director Jimmy Brothers said most of the requirements are not new, but the proposed amendments constitute the first time in Decatur they have been combined in a comprehensive ordinance.

“The Building Department requires site plan review now, and has for years and years,” he said. “This will formalize what the minimum requirements are for submittal and will evolve to a system with a heightened level of review.”

Brothers said the proposed amendment is at least partially motivated by anticipated commercial and residential growth in the city’s Limestone County annex along Alabama 20.

The city has already invested about $90,000 in studies to help develop the more than 3,000-acre area.

Brothers said the greater oversight capacity provided by the ordinance will help ensure harmonious development between commercial neighbors and even between residential and commercial neighbors. He also said it will ensure smoother traffic flow throughout the city.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to address those kinds of problems in the site-plan phase rather than when it’s too late,” he said.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider the changes during its regular meeting at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23. If approved, the changes will move to the City Council for final approval.

Ordinance specifics

Specifics of the ordinance require business owners to submit 25 copies of their site plans to the Building Department at least 21 days prior to the Planning Commission meeting to consider the matter. Various city departments will review the plans and make recommendations to the Planning Commission prior to the meeting.

It also requires that all site plans be prepared by a licensed engineer and include a boundary survey prepared by a licensed surveyor.

On Beltline Road, the amendments require that business owners post assurance bonds until work is completed, providing ingress and egress access via parallel side roads. The side roads must pass city inspection before the bonds will be released.

Key changes to the ordinance will require that anyone building a non-residential structure on a city collector, arterial or major street — those with heavier levels of through traffic — submit a site plan. Brothers said that will likely force more people to file site plans.

The Decatur Planning Department maintains a list of city street classifications to determine which roads qualify.

Other changes require landscaping in any parking lot with 15 or more spaces, and lighting in any lot with 50 or more spaces.

Brothers said the ordinance is not retroactive, but large-scale changes in the use of a property could force a business owner to bring the property into compliance with the new ordinance.

The ordinance also requires site plans to show traffic circulation, drainage plans, number of parking spaces, loading and unloading zones, and waste-bin locations.

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