General questions about zoning, Map for Mobile, and common terms
1. What is the Unified Development Code (UDC)? Since the adoption of Map for Mobile, Framework for Growth, the City’s comprehensive plan, in 2015, Mobile has been working hard to implement its exciting vision for preservation, revitalization, and growth. One of the most important steps in bringing the vision to reality is to update the City’s development regulations. The Unified Development Code is an overhaul of the City’s zoning and land development regulations intended to implement the recommendations set forth in Map for Mobile. The UDC sets rules, standards, and procedures to guide new development or redevelopment in Mobile.
2. How is the UDC different from a typical zoning ordinance? A unified development code is a modern approach to regulating development. It is an adopted law of the city that combines the zoning ordinance and other land development regulations into a single document. The zoning ordinance defines different districts that govern the types of uses and the location and size of development in each district. It also includes provisions that establish the procedures for how development proposals are reviewed and approved or denied, and development and form standards such as those covering parking, landscaping, signs, building location and form, and resource protection. The land development regulations, also part of the UDC, regulate the division and platting of land, prior to its development. They include regulations that govern lot division, road layout and standards, and other infrastructure requirements.
3. How does the UDC relate to Map for Mobile? Map for Mobile is the City’s comprehensive plan that provides direction and guidance to improve Mobile and prepare it for the growth on the horizon. The plan presents goals and policies upon which future planning, regulations and decisions can be built. To implement Map for Mobile (the city’s vision), the Future Land Use Plan and Future Land Use Map (FLUM) was adopted to provide more specific guidance on the character of future land use throughout the city. Map for Mobile and the FLUM are policy guides, not legally binding documents. The UDC (as proposed) would be the adopted law of the city that would implement the policies in Map for Mobile and the FLUM.
4. What is the FLUM? The FLUM is the City’s adopted future land use map. It is part of the Future Land Use Plan that was adopted following Map for Mobile and is the primary guide to the future physical development of the City. The map and its corresponding land use designations describe the desired types, intensity, and spatial arrangement of the City’s land uses to achieve the vision described in Map for Mobile. It is not legally binding, but is a policy guide that is used to evaluate potential zoning changes or proposals that require conditional review.
5. How does the UDC make developing in Mobile easier?The UDC includes provisions to streamline project reviews, including an enhanced use table with a majority of uses permitted by right, circumventing the need for time consuming public hearings. Additionally, standards intended to allow flexibility in site design, such as options for meeting code compliance, as well as variable standards dependent upon location within the City, are included in the UDC.
6. How does this code protect my neighborhood from harmful development? The UDC works to ensure the protection of your investments, property values, and quality of life so that our neighborhoods continue to thrive. Design standards for residential areas, commercial districts, and buffer business areas are included that will help to ensure future development reflects the appropriate character of distinct areas throughout the city.
7. What does “permitted by right” mean? Zoning districts typically provide a list of permitted uses that can be located in that particular zone “by right.” The zoning classifications also provide, in many cases, a list of uses that may be approved subject to a special approval process. “Permitted by right” means a type of use is permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by the city. For example, the operation of a bookstore on property zoned for commercial uses would be considered “permitted by right.” A property owner still needs to obtain a zoning permit to ensure compliance with the code, but that permit is usually issued relatively quickly, without going before a planning commission or other board. A use “by right” is distinctly different than a special exception use or conditional use, which is only allowed after a review and approval by the appropriate city board or commission.
8. What is a conditional use? A conditional use is a use that is not “permitted by right” but could be approved subject to a discretionary review process. Specific uses that could be approved conditionally vary by zoning district. Conditional uses are only allowed after a review and approval by the appropriate City board or commission.
9. What does Administrative Review mean? Administrative Review is a process whereby staff members from City departments review and provide comments on certain applications. Once all submittal requirements have been met, and any staff comments have been fully addressed, the Director or their designee will take final action on the requested development approval.
10. What is a form-based code? A form-based code is a relatively modern type of land development regulation that fosters predictable built results by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. Conventional zoning regulations are organized based upon separation of uses rather than physical form and tend to control of development intensity through simple numerical parameters (such as dwellings per acre, height limits, setbacks, or parking ratios). The UDC is a hybrid form of zoning that implements conventional use-based zoning standards for land development, as well as concepts concerning the form or design of development sites and new buildings. The form-based standards in the UDC do not apply universally across the city, but vary by context.
11. What is a planned development? A planned development is a master planned development that cannot feasibly comply with the standards in any of the other zoning districts, and that demonstrates a high degree of design quality or accomplishes an important public purpose. In a planned development, as defined in the UDC, the permitted uses and development standards are defined during the rezoning process and are unique to that development. This type of zoning is sometimes referred to as a “Planned Unit Development”, or PUD.
12. What is a conservation subdivision? A development option included in the UDC that preserves open space, natural resources, and rural character. The standards provide for low development impacts, while providing design flexibility and eliminating standards requiring unnecessary consumption of land.
13. What is a neighborhood conservation overlay district? A neighborhood conservation overlay is a provision in the UDC that can be applied to neighborhood areas to address unique considerations of neighborhoods areas with additional design standards beyond those contained in the underlying zoning. The neighborhood conservation overlays generally include standards intended to preserve the unique existing characteristics of an existing established neighborhood. Initially, neighborhood conservation overlays are defined for Africatown, the Peninsula, and Spring Hill, but additional areas could be added to the code in the future.
14. How will the City consider other potential neighborhood conservation overlay districts? Other existing neighborhoods could be considered for overlay districts in the future. The City has prepared a toolkit for neighborhood planning that can be used by neighborhood groups to help the city understand their needs and priorities. Plans prepared through this process could recommend new overlay districts or other zoning adjustments.
15. What is a riparian buffer? A riparian buffer, also called a stream buffer, is a vegetated area near a stream, usually forested or left in a natural state, which helps shade and partially protect the stream from the impact of adjacent land uses. The vegetative area serves as a buffer to pollutants entering a stream from runoff, controls erosion, and provides habitat and nutrient input into the stream.
Specifics about the new code
16. Why has the city moved away from the traditional zoning model(R-1, R-2, B-1, B-2)? The UDC is a ‘hybrid’ zoning code, in that it offers traditional regulations which separate specific land uses, as well as including ‘form-based’ regulations which govern the appearance, scale, and site design elements within future development projects. This hybrid code represents a modern regulatory tool, as a best practice in the field of land use planning, to foster an improved economy and a more livable city. As allowed by the form-based elements, many of the new zoning districts within the UDC encourage a mixture of uses, such as residential and commercial, within the same development site, optimizing future opportunity.
17. What is the new process for rezoning a parcel? The process for seeking a rezoning starts with the submittal of a complete application to the Planning Department. If the application is deemed complete, public notices will be published, advertising a public hearing before the Mobile City Planning Commission. Subsequently, the Mobile City Council will consider the recommendation of the Planning Commission, and consider the rezoning request during a public hearing. In addition to these steps, a proposed rezoning within certain areas of the City requires the applicant to host a neighborhood meeting in advance of application submittal.
18. The code references Neighborhood Meetings. What does that mean exactly? Neighborhood Meetings will be required for certain types of projects, or for projects located in designated areas of the City. The project applicant will be required to schedule, advertise, and host these meetings, and provide project related information to attendees. These meetings are informational, intended to let a neighborhood know what new projects are being proposed in advance of public hearings before the Mobile City Planning Commission.
19. Why is civic space included in the new code? Where does it apply or not apply? Civic space is intended to provide for enhanced landscaping, outdoor art, or special hardscape features within a development site, which may be enjoyed by site occupants or the public, as an amenity. Civic spaces are required to be included on development sites occurring within Transitional Business, Historic Business, General Business and Maritime Mixed zoning districts.
20. How do you access the new requirements for trees? The landscaping and tree preservation regulations pertaining to certain new development activities, as well as to existing developed sites within the City, are described in Article IV of the UDC.
21. Are there new stormwater regulations included in the draft UDC? The UDC does not include new stormwater management regulations, except for specific Low Impact Development provisions applicable in the Peninsula Overlay, as described in the UDC Appendix A. The City of Mobile was awarded a RESTORE Act grant of $3 million by the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, for completing an inventory and mapping of the City’s stormwater infrastructure. The information to be collected may be used to support future updates to existing stormwater regulations.
22. How do you view the FEMA flood zone designation for my property? The City’s GIS mapping contains an overlay of the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map designations for the City. To access and view the flood zone designation mapping, visit https://maps.cityofmobile.org/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=29dd9da2bfa34338b884fc216ada0999&level=2 and click on the map.
About the update process
23. What was the process to prepare the UDC? The UDC process began with the creation of the Future Land Use Plan, which involved several community workshops during 2017. Following the Future Land Use Plan’s adoption, the City worked with a consultant team and a Technical Advisory Committee to draft the regulations. An initial draft of the code articles was released for public comment in late 2017 and early 2018. Since that time, the code team has been refining the regulations and preparing an updated draft UDC.
24. What is the Zoning Technical Advisory Committee? The Technical Advisory Committee consists of 15 members appointed by the Mayor that has been responsible for providing review and comment to the City and its planning consultants regarding the zoning code as drafts are prepared. The Committee includes local design professionals, representatives from major stakeholder groups (including corporate, environmental, academic communities, and neighborhood and civic groups), and users of the code.
25. How can I share my comments or concerns regarding my property’s zoning designation? Visit www.MapforMobile.org/udc/ and click on the map icon.