COVINGTON, Ga. – Covington City Hall’s meeting room was left to standing room only Monday night as the city council worked its way through multiple zoning issues, including the first reading of new multifamily housing standards and a rezoning request for a proposed apartment complex on Highway 36.
The city reportedly received several permit requests for multifamily housing complexes earlier this year and before approving anything the council agreed to a 60-day moratorium on the requests so the ordinances and standards could be reviewed.
“We realized that we had no standards in our ordinance to regulate multifamily housing and so you again charged us about two months ago now with coming up with a proposal for those standards, so what staff went back and prepared was a pretty lengthy detail of what should go into the various corridors,” City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said.
Covington Planning and Zoning Director Scott Gaither brought the proposed standards to the council Monday. The ordinance is broken into two parts – multifamily dwellings less than five acres and multifamily dwellings more than five acres – which would be allowed as uses in the corridor mixed use, town center mixed use and town center residential zones of the city.
The dwellings less than five acres will be permitted within the zoning districts, while the dwellings larger than five acres will require a special use permit and master plan approval by the council within the zoning districts.
The new general standards include:
- Maximum gross density shall not exceed 16 units per acre. Option for bonus density up to 26 units per acre on projects greater than five acres.
- The minimum heated floor area per dwelling unit shall not be less than 600 square feet.
- Multifamily buildings shall contain a minimum of three stories.
- Primary building entrances shall be visibly emphasized and accessible from a street or sidewalk. Entrances that do not face a street shall face a pedestrian path that connects directly to a street, sidewalk, courtyard or plaza. The primary building entrance shall not overlook a designated parking lot. Multifamily buildings constructed as part of a larger mixed use development may front towards designated community courtyards and improved common areas.
- Exterior corridors and stairways that provide access to multiple units and multiple floors are prohibited. All primary entrances into individual units shall be from an air conditioned and heated interior corridor.
- An interior lobby containing a minimum of 300 square feet in size shall be provided at the ground level of each building.
- To reduce the perceived height and bulk, façade walls that exceed 80 continuous horizontal feet shall utilize offsets such as full height projections or recesses a minimum of 20 inches in depth. This adds architectural interest and variety, creates the appearance of separate buildings and shall vary in appearance with different finish colors, architectural features, building materials, etc.
- The minimum distance separating multifamily buildings shall be 20 linear feet from side-to-side and forty 40 linear feet from front-to-front, front-to-rear, and rear-to-rear.
Additional standards were added two each of the two parts of the proposed ordinance.
“I will tell you this, just based on some early discussions with some developers who want to build in our town, they’re not real happy,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “You know why? Because these standards. They think they’re too high, which means we’re hitting the sweet spot.”
Covington Place Resident Mike Hammer told the council this could be one of the most important decision it makes. Hammer said the council’s forethought would help prevent a reaction-based approach seen in most communities that face fast growth.
Following the unanimous approval of the first reading of the proposed ordinance, the council then split its votes on a rezoning request for a $36 million apartment complex project.
The 18-acre parcel has mixed zoning, with seven acres of neighborhood residential 2 and the remaining acreage as corridor mixed use. The applicant was asking to have the NR2 zoning changed to match the rest of the parcel.
Located at 9431 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., the parcel sits adjacent to the Wildwood and Covington Place neighborhoods and several residents expressed their concern about the project, naming increased traffic and density concerns.
Phil Johnson, who represented the applicant, said if approved the complex would be broken down into 40 percent one-bedroom dwellings, 50 percent two-bedroom dwellings and 10 percent three bedroom dwellings.
Johnson also said if the rezoning was not approved, there was a possibility the applicant would take the project to the land across the street which is already zoned corridor mixed use and would not require a zoning change.
Gaither recommended approval of the rezoning request as it fit with the future planned use map of the city and met the standards. He reminded the council and public that because the piece of property was larger than five acres, the applicant would have to bring a master plan back to the city for approval before construction of a multifamily housing complex could begin due to the new proposed ordinances.
Councilman Michael Whatley made the motion to approve the rezoning with Councilman Kenneth Morgan seconded the motion. The motion failed 4-2 with Whatley and Morgan being the only in-favor votes.