Environmental regulations are usually thought to cost builders money, but some changes the Warner Robins City Council is considering may actually make projects cheaper to build.
At its Feb. 6 meeting the council is expecting to consider changes to residential and commercial development regulations that are aimed at make the rules as environmentally friendly as possible. The changes could allow narrower roads in subdivisions, depending on the traffic volume, and fewer parking spaces in commercial developments.
Walter Gray, an engineering consultant for the city, said the city is required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to review how its development rules affect storm-water runoff. The idea mainly is to have less pavement and more earth in order to reduce the amount of runoff and pollution.
“If you can have more grass and areas where water can soak in, you can remove pollutants,” Gray said. “Almost everything you see if you look in (the proposed changes) is related to reducing pavement.”
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The street-width requirements vary depending on the traffic volume. But currently a street that has 350 or fewer vehicles on it per day has to be 23 feet wide. The new ordinance would require only 20 feet, but the developer could still choose the wider width.
One change that could cost developers money is that all subdivisions would need sidewalks. Currently subdivision developers are required to put in sidewalks when a development is within a half-mile of a school, but under the new ordinance all subdivisions must have sidewalks. Gray acknowledged that requiring sidewalks goes against the aim of reducing pavement, but he said the requirement was included in the changes to eliminate confusion over whether a sidewalk has to be put in or not.
Gray is suggesting July 1 as the date the ordinance goes into effect. That is so developers will not have to redo any plans that are already in progress.
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The EPD is charged with ensuring that federal clean water regulations are followed on a local level. When Gray presented the proposed changes to the council Jan. 3, Councilman Chuck Shaheen questioned whether the city needed to do it with the incoming Trump administration advocating fewer environmental regulations. Gray said he was abiding by the current law.
“The current law is probably going to last less than 100 days,” Shaheen said.
Gray said he thinks the changes are good for the city whether required by law or not.
“Everything in the ordinance gives the developer an opportunity to build in a more green-friendly way,” he said. “If they wanted to keep building exactly the way it is today, they have that option. They can actually save money under this (new) design technique.”
Developers are now required to put in curb and gutter along just about all roadways, where the new way would allow drainage ditches. While that might sound cheaper, Gray said, there are requirements that come with that, such as underground drain pipes that could make it more expensive. He didn’t think many developers would take that option unless they really just wanted to be environmentally friendly.
Another change that could reduce pavement, and building costs, is that large commercial developments could make 30 percent of parking spaces for subcompact cars, Gray said. That would mean a smaller parking lot.
Gray went through the city’s regulations with a score sheet from the EPD that grades how well the city’s rules encourage environmentally friendly development. He came up with a score of 63 out of 100. That fell in the range that the EPD says is “inadequate to protect your water resources.”
With the proposed changes the city would rate an 83, which is in a range the EPD states is “pretty good, but could use some tweaking in some areas.”
The council held a first reading on the changes at its Jan. 17 meeting. It is scheduled to vote on the measure at its Feb. 6 meeting.