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Local Government

Cullman overhauling subdivision regulations, zoning ordinances

The City of Cullman is updating its subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances, originally put in place in the 1980s. (Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN - In October, the City of Cullman undertook a year-long project to make a major update to its subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances, contracting with KPS Group, a Birmingham-based architecture and urban planning firm that provides services to clients across the country.  On Wednesday, The Tribune and other media sat down with KPS Principal Planner Jason Fondren; City Building, Planning, and Zoning Director Rick Fulmer; Deputy Director Brian Lendreth; Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs; Cullman Economic Development Director Dale Greer; and new City Engineer Erica York to talk about the plan.

Fondren said, “We’re updating the subdivision regulations and the zoning ordinance for the city.  They’re getting older. The times have changed, outside of just, you know, city business; the way development happens, the types of businesses that get developed, the way neighborhoods are designed are not exactly the same as they used to be.  And so you have to take a fresh look at your regulations, to see how they need to be changed to accommodate new ways of doing things, while at the same time making sure that those new ways of doing things are consistent with community standards.”

Fondren likened the regulations to a computer operating system that may be fine when it comes out but has to receive periodic updating patches to address one issue or another, until the system reaches a point that it becomes more logical to develop a new system rather than continuing patchwork fixes.

“And so, that’s really what we’re doing,” said Fondren, “is we’ve got two sets of regulations that there have been little tweaks and patches that have been made over time, and there have been city policies and standards and ordinances that have been adopted and put in place outside of that, but have a connection to the subdivision regulations and the zoning ordinance that put us in a place where it’s necessary to just start back at the beginning and build that new operating system.

“We’re not throwing away all of the old stuff.  We’re taking all of that stuff that still works, and that’s going to be the foundation for the new sets of regulations.  But the patches are going to be integral pieces instead of band aids.”

According to Fulmer, the current regulations and ordinances were put into place in the 1980s.  He explained that, when developers look at Cullman’s current development policies, they can’t just look at the basic policy statements, but must also search for more recent ordinances that may override and contradict earlier policies.  The new plan will bring all the pieces into one place to create what Fulmer termed “one-stop shopping” for city planning and development.

The plan will be implemented in three phases, to be completed by fall 2019:

  1. Subdivision regulations will be updated first and are scheduled to be ready for planning commission review in March 2019.
  2. A traditional neighborhood regulation update is scheduled to be presented in April 2019.
  3. Cullman’s new zoning ordinance is scheduled to be presented in October 2019.

The traditional neighborhood regulation update will include recent popular trends in housing development, including accessory dwellings (often called in-law cottages) and “tiny houses.”  The new regulation should provide more flexibility and options for builders and property owners.

Said Fondren, “The traditional neighborhood development is sort of a resurgence of having different types of housing, different densities of housing, all within a well-designed, quality neighborhood that has choices for the types of housing for different needs.”

Public access a big concern

The City’s current regulations are mostly in hard copy form, with many available online as PDFs.  This means that online documents cannot be searched, and that some documents might not even be available. According to Fulmer, the lack of accessibility results in developers having to place call after call to his office, often over the course of several days, tying up department staff to answer multiple questions and cover all the issues that the various patch ordinances can create.

Fondren said that the overhaul in progress will include consolidating all regulations into simpler forms and also digitizing them and making them fully searchable online.  Developers and property owners alike should be able to visit a city website and locate specific zoning and regulation information quickly, with less need for direct assistance from the Building, Planning, and Zoning Department.

Not only will average city residents be able to access the new policies, they should also be able to read and understand them.  

Said Fondren, “They will be able to access it, and one of my goals, every time I work with a city to update their regulations, is we get rid of as much ‘legalese’ as possible while still making it legally sound.  You don’t have to use a lot of Latin words to do that.”

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