Despite the potential costs to land developers and homebuilders should the Richmond Hill City Council adopt a landscape ordinance, fewer than 10 real estate professionals attended a town hall meeting Thursday at City Hall.
The majority of those attending the meeting, hosted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Department, were city staffers and elected officials, including Mayor Harold Fowler and Councilman John Fesperman.
City Planning Director Scott Allison told those gathered that the city had evolved to a point where an ordinance governing commercial street yard buffers, expanded parking lot standards for landscaping, foundation guidelines and requirements to screen storage, service and dumpster areas was needed.
“It’s really a matter of aesthetics. We don’t have standards currently that govern landscaping in these areas. This will enhance the look of the city,” Allison said.
“This will make the Highway 144 corridor, in particular, more attractive.”
If adopted, the ordinance would require a 25-foot buffer along the entire front portion of the property on main roads and a 15-foot buffer along the entire front portion of the property on side streets.
It would also require landscaping every 10 parking spaces in new commercial parking lots, as well as landscape planting along the front of each new commercial building, and screening dumpsters and other service areas with plantings or other approved screening material.
“There is a possibility that the area of a parcel of property would be less with the proposed landscaping requirements and that a smaller building would have to be built than is currently allowed,” Allison said. “But we would work with the applicant. It’s not our intent to limit the development of any property in the city.”
Developer John Mowry with Homes of Integrity told Allison that if a developer or builder had to make due with a smaller building footprint, the city ran the risk of commercial projects being built higher and higher, something he termed “highrisers.”
The planning director acknowledged that was a possibility but noted the current zoning ordinance places a height limit on new buildings of 35 feet.
Allison said that Parker’s Convenience Store on Highway 144, Ella’s and the CVS at the Crossroads are examples of past developments that significantly enhanced the look of the city, while Walgreen’s was an example of one that would not be allowed under the proposed ordinance.
The proposal would also affect multi-family developments and entrances to single-family developments.
One area that brought the most discussion was that of maintenance and performance bonds. One attendee said it needed more study.
The proposed ordinance would require the posting of a bond if the landscaping wasn’t complete and a maintenance bond to cover any landscaping issues within the first two years.
“I think we need to look at that closely. It needs to be spelled out,” Meagan Mowry, also with Homes of Integrity, said.
Allison said he would schedule a future meeting to address the concerns voiced about posting performance and maintenance bonds and how they were administered.
Thursday’s meeting was the first public unveiling of the proposed ordinance and Allison said more public meetings would be held. If everything goes according to schedule, the ordinance could be adopted by the council in February, he said.
“It’s time for this ordinance. We are going to work with people who want to develop property in the city,” Fowler said.