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Social Circle approves new zoning ordinance
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Social Circle's city council voted Tuesday to adopt a new version of the town's planning and zoning ordinance, which City Attorney Joe Reitman said will help ensure property values along commercial corridors are maintained and that the design of new developments are "harmonious" with the appearance of existing historical architecture.

Approval of the ordinance came after a detailed presentation to Social Circle's Planning and Zoning Commission in June and three brief public hearings Tuesday to discuss the procedures and policies regarding public hearings and action pertaining to the ordinance, standards and criteria as well as the actual wording of the ordinance.

"Although much of the provisions are carry forward," Reitman said, "it is a significantly updated ordinance."

For instance, the definitions proceeding the ordinance have been clarified and shortened and others have been added.

"We've tried to beef that up substantially to make sure there was no confusion about the terms used," Reitman said.

One of the more notable changes to the ordinance was the article describing the type and specifics of permitted and prohibited signs, which Reitman said was all new.

"The reason behind the changes is to make signs more user-friendly... When there's too much signage, they begin to compete with one another and become distracting rather than helpful."

Signs must not only "be compatible with the area's visual character," but must also follow several new criteria involving the placement, material and dimensions of them.

Freestanding signs must face traffic flow. Signs attached to buildings must be proportional to the structure, not cover architectural features and be aligned as much as possible with signs of properties nearby. Only signs made of wood or metal are allowed. Plastic, vinyl, lexan or metal box cabinets are prohibited. Signs with internal illumination are prohibited and all external lighting shall be downward facing and have an intensity that maintains the city's rural character.

Ground signs can be no larger than 6 feet high and 12 feet wide, and cannot be placed more than 20 high for single tenet developments or 35 feet for multiple tenet developments. Signs exempt from these dimensional requirements must still meet their own individual height and setback requirements.

 Permanent and temporary signs erected, enlarged, relocated and improved to more than 50 percent of its total replacement value can only be placed upon issuance of a permit from the city.

 All non-conforming signs placed legally before the effective date of the new ordinance, must be brought into compliance within 30 days of the effective date.

 Reitman said the changes to the sign ordinance were borrowed from the city of Madison. He also encouraged the council to periodically revisit the ordinance as Social Circle continues to grow.

 Another change in the ordinance is language added to the article relating to variances and conditional uses. Parties receiving permits for conditional uses will still have to meet previous requirements showing evidence of things such as reduction of adverse environmental impacts, the proposed use would not lead to traffic congestion, noise or hazards and that the facilities are capable of serving the proposed use.

 The requirements for additional conditional use permits have changed to include a number of factors which also must be met including adequacy of size of site as well as the public street where it is located.

 "At that point the candidate has to come before the mayor and council to ensure all those requirements are met," Reitman said.

  Other significant changes to the ordinance include requirements for telecommunications towers-which may not be located in residential or agricultural zoning districts-when traffic studies are required for rezoning, conditional use permits or preliminary plat review applications; buffer requirements between dissimilar districts; and specifications for inert, construction and demolition landfills.

 Reitman also outlined the new charts developed to make it easier to discern what buildings may be constructed and what requires a conditional, accessory or temporary use permit in each of the zoning categories. He added the requirements are meant to preserve the town's aesthetic integrity especially as the commercial corridor along Ga. Highway 11 extends with developments such as the Blue Willow Village.

 "All frontage lots will be subject to pretty stringent requirements so you don't see that sea of asphalt like you saw with developments in the '70s and '80s," Reitman said.

 The council also approved the renaming of the heavy industrial zoning district to industrial.

 "When one hears the term heavy industrial, one thinks of lumber mills, power plants, paper plants and things of that nature," said Reitman, adding those were not developments the mayor and council envisioned in Social Circle.

 Mayor Jim Burgess commended the Planning and Zoning Commission for the many hours of effort it took to amend and add to the city's ordinance.

 "Great job," Burgess said.

 The last time Social Circle's zoning ordinance was amended was in 1998.

In other news from Tuesday's Social Circle City Council meeting:

• The city signed a $19,091 a year contract for the maintenance of the million-gallon water tank on Alcova Road. The contract is a three-year agreement and is represented in the city's budget.

• At the city's next meeting, three proposals for downtown planning will be examined. "This is quite an exciting undertaking - one to save our downtown and keep it attractive and competitive and keep all the business from moving out," Burgess said.

• Bids for the extension of Memorial Drive with wider sidewalks will likely be accepted in September. The Army Corp of Engineers holds the job application for a maximum period of 45 days before issuing a permit, during which time the municipality may accept bids for construction.

• The council approved a beer and wine pouring application for Los Gallos, a new Mexican restaurant located in the former location of Brenda's Restaurant on South Cherokee Road.