Decatur P&Z, council approve mixed-use zoning

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, May 21, 2014
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The city of Decatur is getting a mixed-use zoning corridor – but it may be decades before any changes become evident.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, chaired by Davey Edwards, met jointly with the city council following the council’s regular meeting, for the purpose of directing staff on creating a mixed-use zoning along the U.S. 81/287 corridor from Mulberry Street north to the city limits.

“What precipitated this particular corridor really has to do with the property owner who owns the Eighter From Decatur Motel,” city Planning Director Dedra Ragland told the joint gathering. “They came to talk to staff about demolishing that structure and putting up a new building.

“When we looked at the zoning and the land use, we saw that we weren’t able to rebuild. The property is actually zoned for single-family residential.”

That zoning goes against what is on the ground, Ragland noted. The area is already home to a church, a school, several multi-family residences, an auto repair shop and some home businesses.

And south of Mulberry, very little residential property still exists along the corridor.

“The thinking for that corridor is that probably long-term, it’s not going to be residential,” Ragland said. “If there’s a redevelopment opportunity, you’re probably going to see more commercial, more retail, down the road.”

Changing it, by ordinance, to a mixed-use zone would allow individual property owners to approach the P&Z board and the council with their plans without tying them down to either commercial or residential.

“If we can have a mixed-use land use designation, individual property owners as time goes on can make a determination as to whether they want to rezone their property for something other than residential, or expand their residential use,” Ragland said.

After some discussion about what might go in along the corridor, where the majority of the lots are still residential, Ragland reminded the council that they aren’t limiting the options for the city or the landowners by approving the mixed-use designation.

“Those requests can be dealt with individually because as you remember, zoning is discretionary,” she said. “If someone turns in an application for C2 zoning, and the public comes out in numbers and says ‘We don’t want this,’ you can deny it – even in the mixed-use. They have to come and apply and go through the process.”

City Manager Brett Shannon said mixed-use makes the most sense in the corridor.

“Mixed-use designations are becoming more and more prevalent,” he said. “In the old days, nobody wanted to live where the commercial was, but you go to big cities now, everybody wants to move back downtown. Mixed-use developments are the hot-ticket item.”

He said future development along that corridor is much more likely to be commercial than residential – but the mixed-use designation protects current homeowners and allows them to use their property as they see fit, within the bounds of the city’s zoning master plan.

Ragland said there’s no downside to the change.

“Each individual property owner still has the opportunity to come in and talk to you guys about rezoning,” she said. “Then if you want to, you can put conditions on the rezoning on a case-by-case basis, and still meet the criteria of conforming to your mixed-use designation.”

Since both the council and P&Z had a quorum, both groups voted to start the process, which will still take a couple of readings to get final approval.

“Hopefully it reduces the number of zoning cases you guys have to hear and rule on,” Shannon said. “This will address the majority of concerns.”

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