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Rezoning Olde Town?
Olde Town Conyers along Commercial Street - photo by Darrell Everidge

A new Olde Town Conyers zoning code in the works tightens historic preservation rules while encouraging some denser “pocket neighborhoods” and urban mini-farms.

Limiting the choice of exterior paint colors on Olde Town buildings is one surely controversial change under consideration. City officials are looking into whether they have the legal power to do so.

“Olde Town’s going to be totally different. I hope you’re all ready for that,” said Marvin Flanigan, the city’s Planning and Inspections director, only half-jokingly while announcing the plan at the city’s annual Winter Retreat last month.

The rezoning would replace a current hodgepodge of zones in the area, as well as the Olde Town Overlay District, which often conflicts with other codes. The area covered is roughly bordered by Green Street to the south and west; N. Main Street and College Avenue to the north; and Milstead Avenue and Pine Street to the east.

The new “Downtown” zoning would simplify things into three sub-sections: a “Central” business district; “Civic” areas for institutional buildings; and residential “Edge” zones. It also would turn some suggestions in today’s code—such as store sign design guidelines—into enforceable rules with “teeth,” Flanigan told the News.

City planners are working with a group of University of Georgia planning students on the rezoning and aim to unveil a draft version in April or May. Extensive review will follow, including several public meetings, notice to all local property owners, and hearings before such groups as the Historic Preservation Commission and Conyers City Council. Zoning changes typically affect only new projects.

The city wants to “make sure we’re very transparent,” Flanigan said.

Flanigan said the rezoning will make the code much easier to understand and enforce. The other big goals are strengthening preservation of the Olde Town Historic District while adding more housing options.

City planner J.P. Alexander pointed to some other Georgia communities as zoning inspirations, including Decatur, Madison and parts of Savannah. 

“This is about preserving a place,” he said, noting that Olde Town’s historic qualities are rare in metro Atlanta.

The new code adds restrictions on the size, materials and lighting of Olde Town commercial signage. Then there’s the paint color proposal, which Alexander acknowledged is “maybe a little controversial.”

The early plan is to limit Olde Town building colors to those considered modest or historic: “beige, brown, dark gray, gray, green, light blue, red, tan, white and yellow.” No fluorescent or neon versions would be allowed.

Alexander even pointed to a current example of a paint job he said is “not so appropriate for Olde Town Conyers”: the bright blue-green attorney’s office building at 915 Commercial St. 

Mayor Randy Mills and City Council members expressed cautious interest in the paint-color plan, though they questioned how various colors could be defined.

“I like the idea. I’m just not sure how to put it into practice,” said Councilman Gerald Hinesley. 

It also may or may not be legal. Flanigan told the News this week that the latest legal interpretation indicates the city might be able to restrict paint colors everywhere except Olde Town. But the legal investigation continues. 

“I’m something we’re still finangling,” he said. “We’re getting confusing information about whether we can do it or not.”

In any case, Flanigan said, the general plan is to make explicit rules for Olde Town, rather than vague suggestions, to make it simpler for everyone. 

“Either allow it or don’t allow it,” he said.

As for housing options, the rezoning would mix things up by allowing single-unit apartments above commercial buildings. 

Then there are the “pocket neighborhoods” allowed in the residential areas. The idea is a small complex of single-family homes on a grid-like layout. A pocket neighborhood would have at least five but no more than 10 homes, on a lot at least 1 acre but no more than 5 acres in size.

Alexander directly likened the idea to the “walkable” and “livable” community planned at the controversial Four A project. Flanigan told the News there are no specific places the city intends to see pocket neighborhoods develop. The idea is that the zoning might encourage private developers to replace existing homes or other buildings with them.

“I don’t know if it will happen,” Flanigan said of pocket neighborhoods.

The permitting of “urban farms”—essentially meaning communal gardening spots—ties into the pocket neighborhood plan. The intent is to encourage neighbors to meet over gardening, and they would be allowed to sell food they grow. The code would ban raising farm animals such as chickens as possible nuisances. It also would ban beekeeping, which might be controversial as that hobby is on the rise locally, as the News previously reported.

The pocket neighborhood concept drew interest from City Council members at the retreat. 

“One of the things that makes Decatur successful is people can walk to wherever they want to go,” said Councilman Vince Evans, noting the plan’s similarities to that city’s housing options.