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The Unified Development Code - What is it and why does Cobb need it?

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picture of a zoning map
November 23, 2021

December 3, 2021 - Cobb County commissioners have recently received a series of emails about the proposed use of a “Unified Development Code” (UDC) to guide the county in future zoning and land use issues.  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.  “Many of these regulations were written decades ago.  It is time to take a fresh look at our standards and to streamline and improve the process.”

Many of the emails received by commissioners have misrepresented or misinterpreted the UDC’s function in county government.  Chairwoman Lisa Cupid wanted a forum to address some of these issues and answer questions about the Unified Development Code and how it will be used in Cobb.

“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 will have an opportunity to submit questions on this topic by emailing them to [email protected] or submitting them during the live stream on the county’s Facebook page.  An informational video and “Frequently Asked Questions” article have already been posted on the Cobb County website at www.cobbcounty.org/UDC.  Please review this information before submitting your 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.

Cobb County Code Update
Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Community Meeting #1
January 13, 2022
6-8 pm

Windy Hill Community Center
1885 Roswell Street
Smyrna, GA 30080

Community Meeting #2
January 24, 2022
6-8 pm

Mountain View Regional Library
3320 Sandy Plains Road
Marietta, GA 30066

Community Meeting #3
February 3, 2022
6-8 pm

South Cobb Community Center
640 Lions Club Drive
Mableton, GA 30126

Community Meeting #4
February 17, 2022
6-8 pm

West Cobb Senior Center
4915 Dallas Highway
Powder Springs, GA 30127

Open House
March 10, 2022
6-8 pm

Hudgins Hall (Cobb County Civic Center)
548 South Marietta Parkway SE
Marietta, GA 30060

Virtual Community Meeting
Date and Time TBD
Online Event

A project website is live and will be updated as new information and meeting dates are added.

www.cobbcounty.org/comp-plan

The Comprehensive Plan Update will eventually come before the Board of Commissioners for approval, following the required public hearings, with the final adoption of the five-year Comprehensive Plan Update scheduled for Fall 2022.