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Snellville passes senior housing ordinance

SNELLVILLE - Following months of discussion and reworking, Snellville council members adopted the city's first-ever senior housing zoning district designation Monday night .

Spearheaded by councilwoman Kelly Kautz, Snellville's R-HOP (Housing for Older Persons) zoning is "the best for Snellville. It's more unique and specific than others," Kautz said.

Modeled after Gwinnett and Cherokee counties' senior housing zoning, Snellville's text is even more specific. Four sub-categories of senior housing are outlined in the zoning amendment: single-family district (55 and older), villa district and villa cluster district (55 and older), and continuous campus care district (62 and older). Single story, multistory and mixed-use senior housing are all addressed in the final content of the city's ordinance.

Work began on the senior housing zoning specifics in the summer of 2006, with Planning Director Jessica Roth drafting a document much broader than that approved Monday night. The issue was discussed then tabled in November for further research and consideration. A special-called council meeting was held in December, and the item was tabled again for further review and to allow more public input.

The draft presented to the mayor and council Monday afternoon, and made available to the public Monday night, reflected input from the city's planning commission, city staff, council members and residents. About two hours of sometimes contentious discussion took place Monday before Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer and council members voted on the matter.

Councilman Robert Jenkins took issue with the 25 percent open-space requirement stating that "for all attached developments 15 acres or larger, no less than 25 percent of the site acreage shall be set aside as open space." Jenkins contended that an older population does not require open space in a community, as it is not needed for children or recreation.

"It would not be an asset to this type development," Jenkins said.

While several residents disagreed with Jenkins, the open space requirement was ultimately removed from the text. Another point of contention in the document specifics was the sidewalk width requirement. Some residents felt that 6-foot sidewalks were more appropriate for a senior community, but the approved version specifies 5-foot sidewalks.

Oberholtzer took issue with wording in the document that specified where certain types of senior housing could be built, such as villa cluster homes being built only in the town center overlay district.

"Why say 'only in the town center'? You can't bind future councils by stating this," the mayor said.

Councilman Warren Auld pointed out that a developer's request for a zoning variance would address that issue, and the location specifications were kept in the zoning ordinance text amendment.

Other specifics outlined in the document include city review and required approval of the mandatory homeowners' association covenants and restrictions. This requirement is necessary because of the age-specific intent of this zoning designation.

When the discussion was concluded and the item was put to a vote, Oberholtzer stated that he would not vote in favor of the ordinance because of the inadequate sidewalk width and the removal of the open space requirement. He added, "I am not happy with the way this ordinance was handled. This was not open and honest government. I was specifically excluded from most of the correspondence regarding it."

The ordinance passed by a 4-1 vote. Councilwoman Barbara Bender was not present for the vote Monday night. The final version of the R-HOP zoning district ordinance will be available for review on the city Web site within a few weeks.

Mayor delivers State of the City address

Oberholtzer presented his annual State of the City address Monday night. The city's financial state and future plans were among the topics covered by the mayor. Public safety, infrastructure improvements and park improvements are all priorities, according to Oberholtzer's projections for future city projects.

SPLOST funds in the amount of $2 million have been designated for improvements to Briscoe Park. Additional police officers, transportation and sidewalk improvements were also addressed in the mayor's report. "Public safety is still a priority and always will be," Oberholtzer said.

"We're doing great financially and are using taxpayer money effectively," Oberholtzer said when concluding his annual address.

City receives grant

Councilman Bruce Garraway reported Monday night that Snellville will receive a $25,000 Local Assistance Grant from the state. The funds, which will be matched by the city, will be used for mobile speed detection signs, laptops for police cars, picnic tables for parks and other uses.