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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an overlay district?

An overlay district is a common tool for establishing alternative requirements for land development and construction.  These districts are superimposed over the already existing zoning district for the area in order to address the community's interest that warrants special consideration and/or protection.  Overlay districts are used differently, but they generally are employed to unify design and architecture without repetitiveness, provide control over parking and signage, and provide for open spaces and landscaping.  Overlay districts do not attract development, but they ensure any new construction or renovation that occurs is of a higher quality and standard.

Overlay districts are adopted as part of Columbia's zoning ordinance, and are most commonly seen in for the downtown area, historic neighborhoods, and major corridors.  They are adopted in a manner identical to any other rezoning or ordinance amendment.

 

What can an overlay district do?

This all depends on the intended goal for each overlay district.  Some overlays can regulate the construction and architecture of a building.  Other overlays can modify land requirements such as setbacks, building heights and area, allow for accessory buildings, parking, signage and landscaping.

Each overlay district is specifically written to meet the needs and conditions of the particular area, and to address the issues each area identifies as an aspect needing additional support.

 

What kinds of overlays does Columbia use?

Columbia principally uses three forms of overlays:  an historic preservation overlay, a community character overlay, or an urban design overlay.  As previously mentioned, these would be tailored for each particular area with the understanding that they support the existing neighborhood plan. Each of these overlays has specific ends they are created to achieve.

 

What exactly is a Historic Preservation overlay?

The basic definition of a Historic Preservation overlay is a neighborhood or area that is comprised of a group of properties that relate to one another.  The overlay is meant to provide protection and preserve historic areas of Columbia.

Historic overlays in Columbia can come in two forms:  a protection area or an architectural conservation district.  The stronger of the two historic preservation overlays is the architectural conservation district.  These districts are intended to preserve the form of the neighborhood as well as the general character of its individual structures, including the preservation of historic materials.  Generally, all exterior work, including changes to windows, porch details or other architectural features, is reviewed.  Any materials used on structures in Historic Preservation overlays are typically required to match the original if possible, and modern materials that approximate historic appearance may be used on new construction.

Meanwhile, a protection area is a different form of historic preservation overlay.  Unlike the architectural conservation district, a protection area is intended to protect the general form and character of the district as much of its historic materials have been replaced over the years. For this reason, more emphasis is placed on the district as a whole rather than on individual structures. Generally, review of work in these districts largely is limited to additions, new construction, demolition, and certain site improvements such as fences and driveways.  Additionally, review of individual design features can be included in such a district overlay with allowances made to permit the use of modern materials.

 

How do the Community Character Overlays fit into this?

Both the permanent and interim forms of the Community Character overlay provide only a minimum increase in protection for a community.  The interim form is intended to minimize the possibility that demolition and construction activity within a residential community would drastically or negatively affect the existing character of a community while in the process of pursuing an Historic Preservation overlay.  The permanent Community Character overlay only differs in the fact that this overlay would not expire.

Neither of the Community Character overlays can regulate or provide guidance for new construction on existing lots, ensure renovations are in keeping with the neighborhood's character, or prevent the demolition of properties younger than 50 years old.

 

What is an urban design overlay?

An Urban Design overlay can mimic some of the aspects seen in the two other overlays; however, this one differs principally in the increase of site specific guidance it can provide.  Similar to both the Historic Preservation overlay and Community Character overlay, an Urban Design overlay can provide guidance for renovation, new construction, and demolition; but it also can help guide parking, landscaping, and streetscaping elements.  This overlay either can be created to protect the existing character of a community, or help create a character that would never develop under just the basic zoning requirements. While an overlay establishes certain limits, its purpose is to ensure that design and construction decisions complement each other, and contribute to the quality of place envisioned in a community's planning process.

Typically, these overlays adjust the building placement, size and height, parking, buffering, and signage.  However, they also can alter other aspects that a community feels need more attention.

 

How does the Design/Development Review Commission application for approval process work?

The Design/Development Review Commission meeting is a public hearing, which requires a legal advertisement for public notice The applicant is required to furnish plans, photographs, and other information that communicate what he or she is seeking approval to do. The Commissioners are provided with this information before the meeting to allow them time for a site visit if desired. The applicant should be present at the hearing to answer questions about the request. The Commissioners then vote to approve or deny the request. The Commissioners may also approve the application conditionally. These conditions may deal with the design itself, with the timing of completion, or with future approval of additional design elements. After approval, the applicant can take out zoning and building permits and begin work immediately.

 

If you have further questions, or would like to more information, please contact us.

 
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