Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ guide is designed to answer questions that are likely to be asked about the zoning update process. If your question is not listed and/or you need additional assistance, please contact us.



Background

The Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) is in the process of preparing an updated zoning ordinance for the city of Savannah. This process is the second phase of the Tri-centennial Plan. The first phase was to prepare a unified comprehensive plan for the city of Savannah and unincorporated Chatham County (Chatham County-Savannah Comprehensive Plan). The plan was adopted by the City Mayor and Aldermen and Board of County Commissioners in November 2006 and updated by both, respectively, in 2016 and 2017. Click here for a presentation on the history of the NewZO (formerly the Unified Zoning Ordinance or UZO).

Why Has the Name Changed from Unified Zoning Ordinance to New Zoning Ordinance?

The change in the name of the process is the result of the decision made in 2013 to retain separate zoning ordinances for the City of Savannah and unincorporated Chatham County. However, since that time, Chatham County no longer seeks to update its own zoning ordinance. Any changes to the County’s zoning ordinance will occur as individual amendments to the ordinance. Therefore, NewZO will be an updated zoning ordinance for only the city of Savannah.

What is the Relationship of the Comprehensive Plan and NewZO?

A comprehensive plan is a guiding document that: 1) Determines the long range vision for a variety of community elements such as land use, economic development, housing, historic and cultural resources, natural resources, and transportation; 2) Lists goals and strategies related to achieving the overall community vision and for each element; and, 3) Develops a work program for the implementation of the goals. The NewZO helps to implement the Comprehensive Plan in a number of ways, including:

  1. Identifying the future land use for all land within the city limits, which helps to guide the zoning for all properties;
  2. Establishing a variety of housing types, taking into account economic and multi-generational needs;
  3. Preserving historic structures and helping to maintain or re-establish the physical and architectural integrity of historic neighborhoods through overlay districts;
  4. Assisting with the protection of natural resources, including marshes and wetlands; and,
  5. Improving site development standards such as buffering, lighting, parking and signage.

What is Zoning?

Zoning was established in the early 20th century as a mechanism to protect and improve health, safety, and welfare. Establishing building setbacks, for example, ensured that air flow and light would not be restricted. Over time zoning was expanded to regulate how land is used (through zoning districts) and height and bulk standards such as lot size, lot width, and building setbacks. Zoning also regulates other aspects of site development, such as off-street parking, screening buffers, lighting, and signage. It also promotes the preservation of historic neighborhoods and structures, as well as natural resources.

The zoning ordinance includes two components: 1) The zoning text providing the standards; and 2) The zoning map showing the zoning district in which a property is located. Both the text and the map are in the process of being revised. In Georgia “The Zoning Procedures Law” (O.C.G.A Title 36, Chapter 66) provides local governments with the power to exercise zoning provided that there is compliance with minimum procedures of the Law.

What is the NewZO and Why is it Important?

The City’s zoning ordinance was adopted in 1960 and has been amended numerous times over the decades. It has never been “overhauled” to reflect the numerous changes that have occurred in 57 years, and there are many.

Savannah has grown from a small town into a city that has one of the largest ports in the country and a tourism industry that attracts millions of visitors each year. Physically, the city has expanded. Technology has evolved. Generational needs have changed. Laws have been adopted, repealed and amended. Historic and natural resources are increasingly at risk. These are just some of the reasons why the zoning ordinance is being updated in its entirety rather than through individual amendments.

The current zoning ordinance can be inefficient, redundant, confusing and contradictory among other concerns. A comprehensive evaluation of the ordinance can be found in the Zoning Assessment Report. One finding of the report is that the existing zoning ordinance does not always reflect best zoning and planning practices. Through this process, the following will be possible:

  1. Implementation of the Comprehensive Plan. As mentioned in the Background section, the NewZO will serve as a vital tool to implement the Chatham County-Savannah Comprehensive Plan, including the Future Development Map which will provide guidance for future rezoning.
  2. Modernization: Numerous amendments have occurred since 1960, and this has led to formatting and process issues, contradictions, and multiple zoning districts. Furthermore, as the ordinance reflects a suburban approach to development, suburban standards have been imposed on some urban neighborhoods, which has led to some inappropriate uses being allowed (and some appropriate uses not allowed). It has also forced many landowners to obtain one or more variances to develop or make improvements to their property.
  3. Increased Efficiency: Improved formatting, fewer zoning districts, consistent standards and streamlined review processes will make zoning more efficient and save time and money for all users.

What is the Zoning Assessment Report?

Prior to the ordinance drafting process, MPC staff prepared a Zoning Assessment Report, an informative educational tool regarding zoning. The report evaluated the existing zoning ordinance, including its format, administrative processes, districts, uses, and standards. These various areas of a zoning ordinance are explained and suggestions are offered as to how each area could be improved. The report was written for a unified zoning ordinance, so references to Chatham County are included.

Why is the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) Responsible for the Update?

Since 1956 the MPC has served as the land planning and zoning agency for the city of Savannah and unincorporated Chatham County. While the MPC prepares amendments to the zoning ordinances for each jurisdiction and makes recommendations, each governing body remains responsible for the adoption and enforcement of their individual zoning ordinances. The MPC is working with a number of city departments to develop the NewZO.

How is the NewZO Process Structured?

Executive Committee

The Executive Committee consists of the Planning Commission, a 14-member board that includes six volunteer county representatives, six volunteer city representatives and two ex-officio members (i.e., County Manager and City Manager). The Executive Committee is responsible for overseeing the NewZO process and serves in an advisory role with regard to the draft zoning ordinance and zoning map. The Commission will review the draft at a public meeting and make a recommendation to the Mayor and Aldermen.

Technical Committee

Technical Committee consisted of approximately 30 private and local government professionals who worked with MPC staff to develop the first draft of the zoning ordinance, which was a unified zoning ordinance at that time. Work product from this group was reviewed by the Advisory Committee. The Technical Committee met 2007-2010.

Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committee consisted of approximately 75 community and neighborhood leaders, building and design-related professionals, as well as focus group members. Focus groups were created based on specific areas of interest, such as a particular use and signage. The Advisory Committee reviewed the draft prepared by MPC staff and the Technical Committee prior to the initial public comment period. This group met 12 times from April - June of 2010, and twice more in April - May 2011.

Stakeholder Groups

In addition to committees, work with a number of stakeholders groups has occurred and will continue, as necessary. Stakeholders can be neighborhoods, business associations and other interested groups. A list of stakeholder meetings is available [here].

What is the Timeline?

Draft 4 is anticipated to be released Spring, 2017. A public comment period will follow the draft release. At the close of the public comment period, the Planning Commission will review the NewZO and provide a recommendation to the Mayor and Aldermen. If approved by City Council, the effective date may differ to allow the staff to prepare for the transition to the new zoning ordinance. The Mayor and Aldermen seek to have the NewZO adopted in 2017.

Where Can I View the Existing City of Savannah Zoning Ordinance?

The official City zoning ordinance is located in the City Code. The City Code is maintained by MuniCode, an outside code codification company. Updates to the City Code are published, typically, once or twice yearly. Amendments that have not yet been codified are posted on the City’s website after they have been approved by City Council.

The official City zoning ordinance can be viewed online at the below link. Approved amendments that have not yet been codified can also be viewed using the same link. The MPC also maintains an unofficial version of the zoning ordinance that is updated as text amendments are approved by City Council. This version is intended to be used for information only. Should you need an official zoning interpretation or letter, contact the Zoning Administrator at (912) 651-6530.

  1. City Code
  2. Unofficial Version of the City Zoning Ordinance

Additional Questions?

If you have questions or comments, please contact us.