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Richmond Hill overhauls zoning ordinances
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A two-year process came to a close Tuesday night when the Richmond Hill City Council approved a new “unified development ordinance” that officials say will help guide the city through the expected growth in years to come.

“These changes will give the city better tools in managing growth and addressing traffic issues,” Councilman Russ Carpenter said. “Two criteria to consider will be any future development’s impact on schools and traffic. This is not new, but now we will have the teeth in our ordinances to better deal with these issues.”

Assistant City Manager Scott Allison said the approval puts all of the city’s existing zoning ordinances into one document.

“It will help tremendously from a development and land use perspective,” he said. “This new document is more graphic-oriented and has less ambiguous language, less legalese.”

The UDO divides the city into three districts — residential, business and commercial — and regulates things such as land use, lot size, parking and signage.

The document states that the “keys to successful ordinances” are predictability, flexibility, consistent and fair treatment, clear and concise language and timely decisions.

Allison said the two-year process included public hearings, meetings with land owners, developers and builders and a lot of staff time.

The UDO reduces the number of zoning districts in the city from 15 to 12 and creates a new zoning map.

City Attorney Ray Smith asked Mayor Harold Fowler and the council members to initial and date the new map to ensure that it would be recognized as the official zoning map of the city should it ever be challenged in court.

“I’ve been in that trench before,” Smith said, relating the story of a municipality he once represented that was found to have four different versions of its zoning map when a property owner disagreed with a decision.

City Manager Chris Lovell said the need for the planning and zoning restructuring came about from a 2014 audit of the city’s ordinances.

“It was right around the time we started to look at having the South Bryan Traffic Study done that the county joined in on,” he said. “We’re hearing a lot now about issues dealing with growth, but this was something we started to address on the front end rather than being reactive.”

In addition to the UDO, the council also approved a new ordinance dealing with nuisance regulations such as noise and property maintenance.

“This better defines what are deemed unreasonable actions and allows our nuisance ordinances and code enforcement to speak to each other,” Allison said.

Power tools for landscaping and yard maintenance, for example, now cannot be used between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends. Previously the hours had been 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekends.

The ordinance also allows the city to better deal with what it considers nuisance violations such as overgrown vegetation, abandoned buildings and the storage of vehicles under repair, campers, trailers, boats, salvage materials and broken or neglected appliances that might be seen in driveways, front or side yards.

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