Cobb County to host forum on Unified Development Code

Cobb County government building in article about rental assistanceCobb County government building (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

After the Cobb County Board of Commissioners received a series of emails that the county states misrepresents or misinterprets the Unified Development Code that is under discussion by the BOC, so the county scheduled a live-streamed Q&A forum for Wednesday, December 8 at 6:30 p.m.

The county website has the following description of the UDC posted on its website in the announcement for the forum:

The UDC is a common tool used by governments across the country to bring various regulations into one master document to streamline procedures and avoid overlapping regulations.  To answer many questions raised by the potential use of a Unified Development Code in Cobb, there will be a live-streamed Q&A event on Wednesday, December 8 at 6:30 p.m.

“Currently the county has hundreds of pages of documents that regulate development in the county,” said Jessica Guinn, Cobb’s Community Development Director in the news release.  “Many of these regulations were written decades ago.  It is time to really take a fresh look at our standards and to streamline and improve the process.”

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“We have heard so many different views from our residents about what this is and what this means,” Chairwoman Cupid said.  “So we wanted to provide an opportunity for residents to hear exactly what this process is all about and the benefits it will have for taxpayers.”

Residents can email questions to comments@cobbcounty.org or submit them during the live stream on the county’s Facebook page. 

The county posted an informational video and “Frequently Asked Questions” article on the Cobb County website at www.cobbcounty.org/UDC and asks that county residents please review this information before submitting their questions.

The live-streamed Q&A session can be viewed by watching the county’s YouTube Channel or on our Facebook page.  No registration is required.

The Frequently Asked Questions on the UDC

The county posted the following FAQ on its website:

What is a unified development code (UDC)?

A unified development code is a single regulatory document that guides development within a jurisdiction. This may include zoning and subdivision regulations, infrastructure requirements, design guidelines, landscaping standards, sign regulations, etc.

Why does Cobb County need a unified development code?

Cobb County currently has two primary documents that regulate development: the County Code of Ordinance and the Cobb County Development Standards. In addition to these regulatory documents, the County has also adopted design guidelines to offer additional standards for design, architecture, landscape, etc. in targeted areas of the County. In their entirety, these documents consist of several hundred pages, which are often overlapping and sometimes inconsistent. A unified development code would streamline these documents into one combined document that would be more easily accessible to the public, designers, and County staff reviewers.

Why is Cobb County considering moving to a UDC now?

When Cobb County’s zoning ordinance was drafted decades ago, Cobb County was quite different than it is today. Over the years, Cobb County has transitioned from a bedroom community into a metropolitan county of nearly 800,000 residents. Cobb County offers a broad range of lifestyle options, from large-lot residential and suburban neighborhoods to bustling activity centers. The County boasts tremendous natural and historic resources, as well as regional employment hubs. There is truly something for everyone in Cobb, and it is important that the County’s development regulations are up to date to preserve the character of Cobb’s rural and suburban neighborhoods, protect natural and historic resources, provide a variety of housing options, as well as to encourage appropriate economic development and redevelopment in corridors and centers where the infrastructure is in place for business to thrive.

The unified development code is not intended as a wholesale rewrite of the County’s zoning and development regulations and it is not an effort to rezone any part of the County. Through this effort, the County’s current zoning and development regulations will be reviewed to reflect new uses and technologies that were not contemplated when the code was initially drafted decades ago, as well as pare down uses and zoning districts that are no longer utilized. It will also include an examination of requirements such as parking standards, landscaping standards, infrastructure standards, among others. These regulations will be updated as appropriate and incorporated into the UDC in a manner that is streamlined and user-friendly.

Will the UDC impact my neighborhood or change zoning across the county?

Just as the current County Code and Development Standards regulate the development of all unincorporated areas of Cobb County, the UDC will provide the requirements for development throughout unincorporated Cobb. It will not, however, change the use of any piece of property.

The County’s Code and Development Standards are just one piece of the planning and development equation. Another key component is the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is the long-range policy document that shapes the current and future development of the County for a twenty-year planning period. As required by the State of Georgia, the Comprehensive Plan is updated every 5 years and includes a Future Land Use Map that provides the basis for what type of development is best suited in each area of the County.

The Comprehensive Plan is the policy document that directs land use, and this document is referred to in informing zoning decisions. County Codes and Development Standards, along with the Design Guidelines, are the regulatory tools for the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan. Upon completion, the UDC will become the one-stop-shop for the County’s zoning and development regulations, and thereby become the regulatory tool for plan implementation.

Why can’t the codes be amended in-house through the typical code amendment process?

The County’s Code and Development Standards have been amended several times over the years to address immediate concerns; however, after several decades it is time to take a more comprehensive look at these regulations. There is a broad range of uses and technologies today that were not contemplated previously, such as short-term rentals, food truck parks, tiny houses, coworking spaces, e-fulfillment centers, and online retailers, rideshare, and drive-thru COVID testing, just to name a few. Similarly, the way we shop and do business is changing. With more Cobb residents shopping and doing business online, it is appropriate to look at the requirements for parking and infrastructure to ensure that the requirements are adequate without requiring more pavement than necessary. It will also be critical to look at the commercial centers throughout the County, including two major regional malls, and to make sure that the right tools are in place to allow for appropriate reuse or redevelopment of those centers so that those sites can be an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods rather than underutilized and potentially blighted properties.

With so much to consider, it will be crucial to have dedicated resources with the right expertise to ensure that the resulting UDC will be adequate to shape development in Cobb for the next several decades. This cannot be done without robust public outreach and feedback from Cobb’s residents and businesses. Cobb County’s Community Development Agency, which includes Planning, Zoning, Development and Inspections, Erosion and Sediment Control, Code Enforcement, and Business License, is a lean organization with a mission of substantial significance to all residents and businesses in the County. To do this work to the degree of thoroughness that is warranted, including significant community engagement, the County would need additional seasoned, professional-level staff, which would require a long-term commitment of the County’s budgetary resources.

What is the timeline for the project and how can I be involved?

Once a consultant is selected and approved by the Board of Commissioners, the project will begin in earnest and is expected to take approximately 18-24 months to complete. The selected consultant will be charged with planning and executing a community engagement process that will provide numerous opportunities for residents, homeowners, and civic associations, and businesses and business organizations to be informed and to provide feedback into the process, as well as to review and comment on draft work products throughout this initiative. In addition to town hall meetings, public hearings, and focus groups, there will be opportunities for online engagement, as well as a project website, with the goal being to provide ample opportunities for all of Cobb County’s stakeholders to be involved and provide meaningful input.

How can I participate in the Comprehensive Plan update to share my thoughts on future land use in my community?

The five-year update to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the policy guide that directs land use, is underway. In early-2022, there will be a series of community meetings to gather feedback that will be used in updating the future land use map and land use policy goals.

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