By John Schaffner
Consultants working on an update to the DeKalb County zoning code — to make it more user-friendly and design-oriented and to conform to the county’s comprehensive plan for development — rolled out their preliminary recommendations for Round 2 of public input forums April 21 at Montgomery Elementary School on Ashford-Dunwoody Road.
The zoning code update is needed largely because the code is 10 years old and much has changed in the county in that decade, including an emphasis on mixed-use developments.
About 70 residents, but no DeKalb elected officials, attended the meeting and commented throughout the PowerPoint presentation by meeting facilitator Inga Kennedy and Michele Alexander, Pond & Co.’s prime consultant on the project.
The meeting was the last of three in the second round of community workshops being throughout the county on the zoning update. There will be a third round of community workshops before the update goes before the county Board of Commissioners in the fall for approval.
Kennedy pointed out that the intent of the zoning code update is to define districts for what now is on the ground. She said those creating the document are trying to make sure there are protections in place and are looking at how the update will affect current residents.
Emphasizing that the meeting was a community workshop at which they were seeking input on the “preliminary” document, Kennedy said they had gathered close to 30 pages of comments from citizens at the previous community workshops.
Before those workshops, the county had stakeholder meetings and a task force representing a variety of interests within the county.
The goals of the zoning code update are to:
• Implement the policies of the comprehensive plan.
• Promote mixed-use, live-work-and-play districts.
• Incorporate design-oriented regulations.
• Propose regulations.
• Address development issues.
• Improve user-friendliness and code structure.
• Review existing ordinances and procedures.
• Propose new criteria and processes.
• Provide comprehensive training.
There is nothing like a zoning code discussion for catching the attention of longtime and new residents because zoning can preserve natural features of the community, preserve and protect single-family neighborhoods, promote compatible infill and mixed-use development, impose design standards, ensure communities reach land-use goals established in the comprehensive plan, invite or create barriers to new businesses, and give incentives to better building practices.
Some of the hot buttons at the meeting were the protection of parks and green spaces, the preservation of single-family neighborhoods, defining and regulating compatible infill and mixed-use developments, and setting design and materials standards for development.
Kennedy said the county has several overlay districts that were put in place because the zoning code was not current and there was a desire to impose development or design restrictions in specified locations.
Some of those at the meeting had a problem with the suburban character areas established by the comprehensive plan — especially because it allows development of up to eight units per acre. Some thought the plan was encouraging eight units per acre rather than encouraging fewer units while allowing up to eight.
Some residents also expressed confusion regarding the differentiation between redevelopment corridors, neighborhood center character areas and town center character areas, trying to get a fix on where in Brookhaven each might fit.
The zoning update proposal has implementation measures for the town center and neighborhood center character areas, including access controls and parking, accessory housing units, compact development, gray field redevelopment (dormant retail developments), transit-oriented development, greenway trail networks, walkable design and mixed-use zoning.
Design elements mandated by the comprehensive plan include greater setbacks when adjacent to single-family development, enhanced buffers to protect single-family development and height restrictions to protect the single-family homes.
Kennedy noted a lot of interest in the design and materials regulations — designs that make things look good and materials that will last and weather well. “People are very concerned about design ordinances, and this will play a key role in this zoning code update and rewrite.”
Although the zoning code update appears to provide many protections to sustain the character of existing neighborhoods and subdivisions, one gentleman took his few minutes on the floor to talk about how the older neighborhoods, with their smaller lots and homes, add character to the close-in metro area that he said is often lost in newer neighborhoods and infill development.