By Katie Fallon
It may have taken four meetings and three nights of voting, but the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) for the Comprehensive Plan finally finished voting on more than 40 proposed changes to the Sandy Springs land use plan.
The voting was completed during an April 3 meeting that had to be specially scheduled to accommodate the committee’s slow progress during three previous multi-hour sessions.
One of the proposed changes that caused the most discussion and that will have a noticeable effect on the look of Sandy Springs was Item 33. The recommended change, which was previously approved by the CAC’s land use subcommittee on March 12 by a seven to four vote, was to take the zoning classification of the Roswell Road corridor and downtown Sandy Springs south of Cromwell Road to I-285 from Living Working Neighborhood and Living Working Community to Living Working Regional.
The neighborhood classification calls for the lowest density of the three live-work categories while the community classification includes medium density and the regional classification high density.
At the April 3 meeting, the CAC denied the change in a 13 to 1 vote and passed two substitute motions in its place. First, the committee approved a townhome distinction, which is a residential classification of five to eight units per acre, for the east side of Boylston Drive from Mount Vernon Highway to Hammond Drive. The area was previously classified as Living Working Neighborhood.
The second motion was to establish the borders of the Central Business District (CBD), which was renamed Town Center, as Cromwell Road to the north, Cliftwood Drive to the south, Sandy Springs Circle to the west and Boyleston Drive to the east.
The public was visibly absent from the April 3 meeting after large showings at the previous two voting sessions. The relative lack of public comment, however, did not deter the CAC from discussing the future of the Roswell Road corridor at length.
Cheri Morris, who is also a member of the land use subcommittee, was one of the most vocal proponents of higher density along Roswell Road. She recommended guidelines very similar to those of the Living Working Regional parameters, which include a residential density of more than 20 units per acre, commercial/office density at more than 25,000 square feet per acre, an eight story height limit and 15 percent greenspace.
“You need to be able to build more density than is there and you need to be able to build to the density of the existing land price,” Morris said.
While admitting that sprawl has had a positive effect on Sandy Springs, CAC member Charlie Roberts spoke against higher density on Roswell Road.
“There’s no market for this kind of density anyway,” Roberts said.
Sandy Springs resident and business owner Mark Sampl, who spoke at all three voting meetings, has argued against higher density along Roswell Road. He said the corridor’s traffic woes would increase further.
“The infrastructure can’t support 450 acres of buildings up to eight, or even 20 stories or higher,” Sampl said. “Transportation consultants indicated that this kind of density would generate about 60,000 additional cars, many of those trying to drive on Roswell Road with the 43,000 currently there.”
According to the city’s Interim Comprehensive Plan, the Neighborhood classification is a low density residential and mixed-use land use intended to serve a single neighborhood or small group of adjacent neighborhoods. The Community classification is a medium density residential and mixed-use label used along corridors and nodes intended to serve a group of adjacent neighborhoods. Finally, the Regional classification has the highest density of the trio. It is used along major transportation corridors and/or rail transit stations intended to serve larger area and provide larger commercial uses with a significant employment concentration.
All Living Working projects must be include 15 to 20 percent of open space, of which community gathering space is a part. Projects that are 15 acres or less must have two uses, of which residential is one. Projects that are more than 15 acres must have three uses, also including residential. Each live-work classification brings with it specific requirements for residential areas, commercial areas, total square footage per tenant, height limits and open space components.
The full CAC began voting at its March 26 meeting, but only got slightly more than halfway through the items before having to open the floor for public comment and then adjourn for the evening.
While many residents, as well as members of the CAC’s land use subcommittee, decried that the action was actually a re-vote after receiving an unfavorable response from the city council, Community Development director Nancy Leathers said that was not the case. She said the previous action taken on March 12 was done so by the land use and community facilities subcommittee, while the voting that began on March 26 was made by the full CAC.
Community Development deputy director Vann McNeill, who is the project manager for the Comprehensive Plan’s planning team, said the standard practice for the CAC since it began in July, 2006 has been to have three subcommittees work on specific issues related to the Comprehensive Plan.
“Each subcommittee has reported back to the full committee on several occasions on the work that has been accomplished in subcommittees,” McNeill said. “The full committee then reviews and discusses this work.”
Of the approximately 42 votes cast by the subcommittee, 14 decisions were reversed by the full CAC by the end of voting on April 3. Of those, five decisions represented a change from a formerly unanimous vote by the subcommittee.
The deputy director said second round of votes did not constitute re-voting, but rather the consideration of the subcommittee’s recommendation on the proposed changes to the future land use map by the full CAC.
Nonetheless, some CAC members who are also on the land use subcommittee still tried to delay to voting. Wanda Buckley, for instance, asked that the voting be postponed so other CAC members could familiarize themselves with the proposed changes, but Leathers insisted the city had to keep a timeline in order to get the land use plan approved within state guidelines.
Morris said after the subcommittee originally voted on March 12, they thought those votes would be passed on as recommendations to the Planning Commission. Instead, she said members were told immediately following the votes that they would be thrown out because they weren’t balanced.
“This feels like a new action to use,” Morris said. “There were indications on two occasions the vote was being recalled first because it was out of balance and then it didn’t take into account the will of the people.”
Morris said she was not opposed to the second voting because she thought other CAC members would reverse decisions made by the subcommittee, but because the other members had not been studying the ramifications of the proposed changes as much.
“They’ve not had the benefit of our discussions,” Morris said.
The CAC’s votes now become the full committee’s recommendation to the Planning Commission and city council. A public hearing on the changes to the land use map will be held before the Planning Commission on May 24 and before the city council on June 19.