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Richmond Hill streamlining development regulations
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Over the next 12 months, a planning firm will work with Richmond Hill leaders to streamline the city’s land-development regulations.

Richmond Hill City Council voted unanimously last week to pay LSL Planning $76,730 to create a unified development ordinance for the city.

“It’s definitely needed,” Mayor Harold Fowler said.

Piecemeal additions and revisions have been made to Richmond Hill’s development guidelines in recent years. Creating the unified development ordinance will consolidate the regulations and make them easier to understand, according to city officials.

“It pulls it all together in one place,” city attorney Ray Smith said.

“So if someone came into the city wanting to know what they could do on their property, there is a section of that unified ordinance that will be able to tell them,” said Scott Allison, Richmond Hill’s planning and zoning director. “It’s more than just a zoning ordinance revision.”

An audit last year of the city’s development regulations, such as engineering standards and zoning and subdivision codes, revealed some “deficiencies,” Allison explained. Among them were “some antiquated sections” as well as “other areas where they just didn’t talk to each other,” he said.

LSL Planning – a Michigan-based firm that lists the city of Stone Mountain and the town of Bluffton, South Carolina, among its clients – has been hired to remedy that. LSL representatives will tour Richmond Hill and then meet with city officials throughout the year-long unified development ordinance process.

Input from “key stakeholders” also will be factored into developing the unified ordinance. That group could include land developers, major employers, business owners, neighborhood associations, large landowners, engineers and surveyors, according to LSL’s work plan approved by City Council.

“Contrary to popular perception, developers are not opposed to regulation,” LSL’s proposal states. “In fact, many view it as desirable to protect their investment in the community.”

However, the proposal outlined, developers and engineers also want ordinances that are predictable and are applied fairly and consistently based on specific standards.

“Terms such as ‘suitable landscaping,’ ‘acceptable open space’ or ‘sufficient lighting’ have no place in land-use regulations and only lead to arbitrary, unpredictable and indefensible decisions,” according to the LSL work plan.

Drafts of the unified ordinance will be submitted for the city to review along the way. A public forum to take community comments will be held prior to the ordinance being approved.

Allison referred to developing the ordinance as “textbook planning.”

“The intention would obviously be not to flip everything on its end and go with something far off,” he said. “They would actually come in and clean up what we have and make something that’s a little bit easier, more digestible.”

While the city’s development regulations are being streamlined, they also will be updated as needed. Any further “deficiencies” that are discovered will be amended, according to Allison.

“This is the time to fix it,” he said.

As Richmond Hill has grown, the city has been “playing catch-up” with its development regulations, Councilman Russ Carpenter said. City leaders have discussed developing a unified ordinance for the past few years and decided they couldn’t wait any longer.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait,” Carpenter said prior to the unanimous vote.

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