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Form-based ordinance approved
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After two years of study and revising, the Covington City Council approved a new form-based ordinance, which officials hope will guide more smart growth and mixed-use developments to the city in the future.

The new ordinance was approved at a special called meeting of the council Monday night. It replaces an ordinance originally written in the 1970s, which over the years had many modifications and amendments tacked on.

"I am really so excited that it got blessed by mayor [Kim Carter] and council last night," said Covington Planning and Zoning Director Michelle Stiebling. "Now we can move forward and start implementing. It's been needed for quite a while."

The new ordinance eliminates some of the city's more cumbersome zoning districts that did not give much flexibility to developers and replaces them with ones that emphasize density and mixed-use developments wherever possible.

The ordinance also emphasizes urban design elements such as the requirement for more architectural elements and glass windows every 20 feet to break up large expanses of blank walls in buildings.

Another new requirement is that parking spaces for new developments must not come between the front of a building and its sidewalks. Parking lots must now be located to the side of or behind buildings.

"There's been lots of development nationally and in Georgia under these kinds of zoning ordinances," said Aaron Fortner, a principal with the city planning firm Market and Main, which advised the city in overhauling the ordinance. "It doesn't stop development. It just makes it look a little bit different."

The ordinance is based on the results of the Livable Centers Initiative the city commissioned in 2006, with funding provided for by the Atlanta Regional Commission. The LCI emphasized more mixed-uses and greater density among new developments as well as the need for more urban design elements to encourage a greater degree of community connectivity and pedestrian activity.

"It's going to bring good design to development all over Covington, design that's pedestrian-oriented, design that's more reflective of the [Covington] square, than [U.S. Highway] 278," Fortner said.

Fortner said the new zoning districts, which include the districts neighborhood mix, corridor mix and town center mix, should allow residents and businesses to make better decisions in the future in requesting re-zonings and should also aid the city in the making of zoning decisions

"If someone wants a re-zoning between those three (corridor, neighborhood and town center), you're better able to understand the decision you're making," Fortner said.

Industrial zonings were given an especially extensive overhaul in the new ordinance. Stiebling said the new ordinance will stop the number of commercial businesses "piggy backing" into the industrial districts.

"The uses were definitely flushed out in all of the districts," Stiebling said.

Industrial uses such as bio-tech, communication and types of apparel manufacturing are all now specifically listed.

"We really did some major research to get some really new age, new wave industrial uses," Stiebling said. "It just made available a lot of uses that were not available in the old ordinance."

The new ordinance is also now fully up to state zoning standards, according to Stiebling.

"It's been a great experience to see how much input different groups were willing to give," Stiebling said of the collaborative effort that went into developing the ordinance.