Planning Dept pushing for U-M-U zoning in River District

This map of Rome’s River District zonings was used in a PowerPoint presentation by Rome-Floyd County Associate Planner Brice Wood to the Rome City Commission on Monday. Wood stressed the benefits of making zoning for most of the River District parcels Urban Mixed-Use. He’d like to see the city waive the $250 rezoning fee for property owners to encourage them to convert to the higher-density, pedestrian-friendly kinds of developments across the river.

Rome River District developer Thom Holt has been waiting three years for the city of Rome to offer a blanket Urban Mixed-Use rezoning deal that would waive the application fee for his commercial properties there.

Now that he has plans to build a $15 million, 170-unit apartment complex on Avenue A that is “workforce affordable,” he will be required to have the 2 acres of parcels rezoned U-M-U from Office Institutional.

And he was hoping the Rome City Commission would be just a little bit closer to making that blanket deal a reality Monday night after hearing a presentation on the benefits of U-M-U zoning for River District properties by Rome-Floyd County Associate Planner Brice Wood.

“I’m excited about the push for U-M-U by the planning department and the Downtown Development Authority,” said Holt, who also owns smaller commercial parcels on the corner of Avenue A and Fifth Avenue, as well as apartments and other properties throughout Floyd County. “I think the zoning staff thought the city would take action on it that night or at least put it up for a first reading. I did, too.”

The U-M-U category allows high-density residential, commercial and office development with no parking or lot-size requirements. Buildings can be up to 100 feet in height and can be a mixture of loft apartments on top of restaurant or retail space, for instance.

It is said to be more pedestrian-friendly and encourages more in-town activities after 5 p.m. and on weekends, causing more economic growth in the area.

Back in August, the city’s community development committee liked what they heard about U-M-U rezoning for the River District from Rome-Floyd Planning Director Artagus Newell and Wood, and asked them to take their PowerPoint presentation to the full City Commission.

In the meantime, Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson suggested at that committee meeting Newell draft letters advising River District property owners of the city’s rezoning plan and give them an opportunity to opt out if they aren’t interested.

“The letters were never sent out,” Holt said Wednesday. “I like the idea of having property owners opt out, though. It’s better than having them opt in. I’ve told them I’m willing to meet with all of the landowners in this area and talk to them about U-M-U and why it’s a benefit to the city and potentially for some property owners.”

Wood explained Wednesday that U-M-U rezonings in the River District are important for Rome because it would act as a natural extension to “the Broad Street vibe” and help keep more people clustered in the downtown core.

“You want your city center to be vibrant and walkable by offering a mixture of opportunities for people,” Wood said.

He referred to office and retail areas on Turner McCall Boulevard and Shorter Avenue as “dead zones” because they close by 5 p.m.

“I know quite a few property owners are interested in it, but there’s always some hesitancy because they don’t want to be the first one to pull the trigger,” he said.

Wood said he’s noticed when talking to landowners that there’s still quite a bit of misunderstanding about zoning.

“If they already have a tenant, they don’t see the need to bother with rezoning the lot,” he said, adding that those tenants or property owners probably won’t be there forever and they could appeal to a larger market if they go ahead and rezone to U-M-U from O-I or Community Commercial.

Wood reminded city commissioners Monday that when local businessman Kevin Dillmon was attempting to open his new restaurant Aventine at 401 W. Third St. in the River District, his project was delayed months when he was forced to rezone to U-M-U because of issues with parking in a C-C zone.

At the end of Wood’s presentation, he told commissioners he hoped they could offer a one-time rezoning period for free to anyone in the River District who wanted to join in.

Commissioner Wendy Davis asked city officials what the commission needs to do to make that happen.

“From a planning perspective, this is our most lucrative zoning district,” City Manager Sammy Rich said. “It adds value to our real estate. The higher the density, the more we as a city can capitalize on our millions of dollars of infrastructure. When you’ve got bodies and people consuming the services, it drives itself. It becomes a snowball.”

Mayor Bill Collins agreed the plan needs to move forward and suggested maybe the DDA could work with Davis to put something together.

“I think once other property owners understand it, I don’t think they would object,” Holt said Wednesday.

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