Politics & Government

Warner Robins proposes zoning law rewrite

WARNER ROBINS -- Five-and-dime stores have long since given way to dollar stores in almost every place except Warner Robins’ zoning laws.

That could change beginning Tuesday night when the city holds a public hearing on the first full rewrite of its zoning ordinances in decades.

“We’re just trying to update some of the terminology,” said Sherri Windham, director of community development for the city.

But the proposal, scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. Tuesday public hearing before the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, does offer substantive changes. The Planning & Zoning Commission will make a recommendation on the revised ordinances to the Warner Robins City Council, which could accept the new version within the next month.

Windham said that in some cases the changes adapt the city’s code to longstanding reality, such as specifying that group homes are acceptable in most of the city’s residential areas. Those weren’t discussed in any length before, she said.

It also would clear the way for mixed-use buildings in the city’s C-3 areas, such as the city’s downtown redevelopment area. For the first time, someone would be able to build a storefront on the first floor, with residential units above that.

“I think that’s really, really going to benefit the city as a whole and for the redevelopment district,” Windham said.

In some ways, the rewrite will streamline some operations. For example, if someone wants to put a storage building a few inches too close to their back yard’s property line, staff members could approve a variance.

But other operations would slow down. For example, City Attorney Jim Elliott has said he interprets court rulings to require the City Council to approve home-based businesses, which now will have to go to both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council.

To apply for zoning changes or annexation, applications would have to be filed 45 days before a planning and zoning meeting, instead of 25 days. That gives staff time to work up a report and make a recommendation, Windham said.

“Hopefully everyone will be better informed and have adequate information to make their decisions,” Windham said.

Other changes could have affected recent decisions. For example, the number of required parking spaces is slashed for grocery stores, so Wal-Mart would not have had to get special permission for two stores it plans to build.

Windham said the City Council can change any recommendation made by the Planning & Zoning Commission, and amend the code later. City Council could, for example, require crematories to be located farther from residential property lines. Just such a crematory, part of a funeral home being built along U.S. 41 near a subdivision, was the subject of protests last year.

The rewriting of the zoning ordinances was aided by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission and took about a year and a half to complete.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.