By John Schaffner

The final public meeting on a proposed ordinance to expand the boundaries and update the developmental philosophy for the area traditionally known as the Buckhead Village drew sparse attendance from residents, property owners and developers March 10.

But several of those who attended the meeting at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church had multiple questions about how the proposed changes would affect their plans for development in the SPI-9 Buckhead Village Special Public Interest District.

The proposed ordinance would almost double the size of the district and divide it into four subareas: the core village; the Peachtree/Roswell/Piedmont/West Paces Ferry roads corridors; the extended village, including West Village; and a stand-alone area north along Piedmont Road from the Peachtree/Piedmont intersection that would have a more urban feel.

Most of what was presented at the meeting by consultants — working for at least seven months for the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), Buckhead Alliance, Neighborhood Planning Unit B, Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association (BATMA) and city of Atlanta — was both technical and philosophical in nature. But the bottom line is that the ordinance should set the tone for development within a core area of Buckhead for many years to come.

The seven months of study included three public workshops and five steering committee meetings. The result will be an overlay code that will be completed by the end of March and presented to the Atlanta City Council for its consideration and possible adoption this spring.

The ordinance would expand the overlay district from the traditional village core — bounded by Peachtree Road on the west and north, Pharr Road on the south and Grandview Avenue on the east — to include everything from Andrews on the west and north to Piedmont Road on the east and as far south along Peachtree Road as Sheridan Drive.

The purpose of the overlay zoning district is to encourage more integrated mixed-use development, including retail, office and residential; to improve traffic flow for cars and pedestrians; to create visual interest and design cohesiveness of streetscapes and buildings; to meet the parking needs within the district; and to increase connectivity for all modes of transportation within the district and between the village and other areas.

The district is intended to serve the needs of the Buckhead community, surrounding residential neighborhoods, and specialty shoppers and visitors and to encourage redevelopment of properties consistent with the community’s vision.

To that end, the consultants considered data and recommendations outlined in Atlanta’s Community Development Plan, the 1994 Buckhead Blueprint, the 1999 Vision for Buckhead Village, the 2001 Buckhead LCI Plan, the 2005 Buckhead Village Parking & Circulation Study and the 2007 Piedmont Area Transportation Plan.

One overriding goal was to implement the community vision through specific design guidelines that provide a cohesive aesthetic for the district. Another was to create incentives for the provision of public facilities and functional, publicly accessible open spaces. A third was to reduce auto dependency and create opportunities to expand the use of alternative transportation modes.

The program also would encourage and implement more environmentally responsible development, provide a range of housing types and prices to meet varying needs, and prevent incompatible commercial uses and minimize commercial parking in residential neighborhoods.

The proposed changes are designed to provide appropriate transitions from the high-intensity areas along Peachtree Road to the mixed-use character of the surrounding village areas and then to the lower-density residential neighborhoods that border the district.

For instance, the allowable maximum height for buildings varies from 225 feet along the more urban corridors of Subareas 1 and 4 to 150 feet in the transitional Subareas 2 and 3. To obtain greater height for buildings in Subareas 2 and 3, developers would have to go through the normal city rezoning process.

The plan calls for a special committee to be established to strengthen and expedite the approval process for developments that meet the intent and requirements of the overlay district. The development review committee would be made up of one member each from the Buckhead CID, NPU-B, BATMA and the city Bureau of Planning. The committee’s goal would be to stick to a 30-day review period for projects that meet the overlay requirements.

Interior renovations or exterior repairs that do not increase the floor area would be exempt from compliance with the overlay district requirements, as are renovations or expansions of less than 8,000 square feet or 40 percent of the existing floor space of a building.

The ordinance would establish a number of development controls, including the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) and required open space within each subarea. But there also would be a bonus program and a transfer program by which developers and landowners could “buy” additional density for their projects.

Some of those representing major development companies at the meeting, including John Long of Novare Group, questioned the use of FAR in the planning of residential and commercial buildings.

The ordinance would require 20 percent of the area of new developments to be open space, with 50 percent of that space publicly accessible during normal workday periods. That rule would create the opportunity for pocket parks. But in larger developments, sidewalks would likely meet the requirements.

The streetscape standards of the present SPI-9 overlay district are expanded in the ordinance to apply to the new SPI-9 overlay district.

Connectivity improvements within the district have to be in concert with the Connect Atlanta Plan, which can be changed quarterly by the city. The intent of the ordinance is to keep new streets public in terms of use, even if they are not taken over by the city.

The public had until March 20 to comment on the proposed ordinance. The consultants plan to complete it by March 30 for presentation to the city Bureau of Planning and then the City Council in April.