Divided council OKs new development regulations
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
September 27, 2012 12:00 AM | 1408 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WOODSTOCK — The Woodstock City Council voted 4-3 with Mayor Donnie Henriques casting the tie-breaking vote Monday to approve the addition of form-based code into the city’s code of ordinances.

Councilmembers Liz Baxter, Bud Leonard and Chris Casdia voted against the measure, with councilmembers Randy Brewer, Bob Mueller, Tessa Bassford voting in support.

The council’s vote approved an amendment to Woodstock’s land development ordinance to add a chapter relating to form-based code, which does not separate land based on use like traditional zoning, but rather serves as a regulatory measure to address appropriate form and scale of development in relation to public spaces.

Additionally, the city adopted a new official zoning map to change the Ridgewalk area to include form-based code, which was previously zoned as a technology park overlay.

Ridgewalk Holdings LLC, the owner of the property now under the zoning change, has opposed the change and appealed to the city by hiring former Gov. Roy Barnes as its attorney.

At this week’s meeting, Barnes spoke on behalf of his client, pointing to various issues he claimed limited his client’s constitutional rights as property owners.

“I would like to point several things out, one is: you cannot unscramble an egg,” Barnes said.

Barnes suggested as a resolution to exclude from the new code 12 acres to the south of the Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta that is under construction and also exclude 32.5 acres that leaders with Canton-based Watermarke Church have been considering for a potential new facility.

“This action, respectfully, is an additional burden,” Barnes said. “There is no question here this puts additional costs and changes additional regulations… this is regulation on top of regulation, let’s not have any qualms about that,” Barnes said. “And it impairs the ability to sell this property and it’s precarious anyway, given the economy.”

Community Development Director Richard McLeod said during his presentation on form-based code at the meeting that city officials looked to the new coding as a remedy to the recent plight of the Ridge walk area, which was originally planned as a technology office park but was never developed.

Last year, the city held several public input meetings to get ideas about what community members and stakeholders wanted to see in the Ridge walk area.

Barnes’ proposed exclusion would have also postponed including the remaining 70 acres under the new code. Additionally, Barnes said his client was willing to do a site-specific plan to incorporate as much of the form-based code as possible, while taking into account the fact that the process of development has already begun.

“We relied upon that zoning, but if we lose pending contracts, then I suggest to you that we’d be entitled to monetary damages,” Barnes said.

He also suggested that it would be “short-sighted” to go forward with the zoning just because the city has spent the money looking into it, but City Attorney Eldon Basham cut Barnes off after he had spoken for several minutes.

McLeod said the compromise would take about 40 percent of the land out of the proposed area, and his professional recommendation was not to implement form-based code if the compromise was considered.

Casdia, Baxter and Leonard seemed to think Barnes’ idea could be taken into consideration, but the proposal was largely ignored and not incorporated into the motion.

Casdia said he was personally opposed to rezoning an area that already has zoning in place and the exclusion “seems like a good compromise.”

Councilman Randy Brewer, whose Ward 1 covers the Ridgewalk area, said he still had issues with form-based code, but felt that it was time to move forward with the vote. After McLeod told council that zoning variance applications would take the exact same amount of time under the new code, Brewer said he didn’t see how Barnes’ proposed exception would help.

“What’s the difference between taking out 30 acres here or 12 acres there?” he asked. “What’s the advantage of having a master plan if you start pulling stuff out?”

Councilwoman Tessa Bassford agreed.

“This is no surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention to what’s been going on,” Bassford said. “And I don’t think we should start taking it apart …”

When contacted Wednesday, Ridgewalk Holdings President and CEO Bill Butler said he had no comment. Barnes was unable to be reached for comment by press time.

In other business, the council:

* Approved 6-0 a sign variance request from His Hands Church to continue using its 8 foot by 50 foot banner sign until it is replaced with a permanent sign of equal size in July 2013;

* Approved 6-0 a contract with Diversified Electronics Inc. for maintenance of the Woodstock Police Departments radio system for $927.50 per month;

* Approved 6-0 an amendment to add an adjacent property to the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village lease;

* Approved 6-0 moving forward with a plan to implement a self-insurance fund for employees health insurance; and

* Met in executive session to discuss personnel, litigation and real estate, but took no action upon returning.
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