New businesses at two heavily traveled intersections in Martinez could be getting a whole new look if county officials have their way.
Columbia County Planning Commission gave its blessings Thursday to additional aesthetic standards for new commercial construction that could soon be implemented at the intersections of Belair and Columbia roads and Evans to Locks and Furys Ferry roads.
The standards, called design overlays, would apply when developers or businesses seek building permits for new developments or substantial renovations. The rules would dictate a specific architectural style; setbacks from the street; and streetscape, landscape and parking lot design and would require developers to bury utilities.
"We're dealing with trying to retrofit new design standards through commercial renovation and construction," county Planning Director Jeff Browning said. He said two sets of distinctive but uniform design standards for the intersections were sought by the county commission.
The standards for the Belair and Columbia intersection would make new construction conform to a style identified as "traditional Southern vernacular," which Browning said is similar to the look of main streets in small to medium-size Southeastern cities such as Augusta and Athens.
The style features narrow building fronts; nonmetal roofs with parapet walls; varied exterior finishes including brick, stucco and stone; earth-tone colors; columns; awnings; and staggered facade setbacks at specific increments to make large buildings such as grocery stores and strip shopping centers appear to be separate buildings, Browning said.
At Evans to Locks and Furys Ferry, design overlay planners EDAW Consultants, who devised the county's latest growth management plan, specify a "neoclassical" look.
These standards, seen locally at the Evans courthouse and library, stress symmetry, with brick, stone and or stucco facades and staggered facade changes every 40 feet to create the illusion of individual buildings. Among numerous other regulations, this design would also mandate a streetscape and landscape design and multiple story construction, with pitched roofs and positioning of buildings on a tract so they face each other, creating a main street.
Streetscape regulations in both designs will encourage customers to park and walk to shop, Browning said.
Mark Senn, a commercial developer who was on the steering committee for one of the design overlays, said that though such regulations are generally effective at gradually improving the look of a developed area, the plans presented Thursday step on the rights of property owners.
"Where does it stop?" he asked, saying developers would have their hands tied by the architectural standards and that function should dictate a building's design.
He also said the regulations would be too costly.
"I'm putting my money out there. I'm the one paying the debt," he said.
Gloria Russell, a Jones Creek resident, said the Belair Road area is "crying out" for help and that the other overlay would prevent strip malls from developing near her home.
Browning said the overlay standards would go above and beyond the requirements of the Evans Towne Center and the Corridor Protection Overlay Districts, which in the past year have been applied to Washington Road, Furys Ferry Road, Baston Road, Columbia Road from Washington to just past Belair Road and South Belair Road from the Richmond County line to Owens Road.
These requirements prohibit the use of metal exterior paneling and overhead loading doors on the front of commercial buildings and flat roofs on town homes and apartments. They also restrict building materials on facades to stucco, brick, stone, wood shingles or siding.
The planning commission approved each design overlay Thursday by a 3-1 vote, with commissioner Tony Atkins against and Chairman Tom Sprague absent.
County planning staff also plan to unveil overlay standards for the intersection of Washington Road and William Few Parkway, Browning said.
Pending review by the county attorney, the design overlays could move to the county commission for the first of two required readings as early as Aug. 1.
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