By Amy Wenk
“How much control does the Design Review Board want to have?” Sandy Springs Deputy Director of Community Development Chris Miller asked the seven-member board July 28.
Miller was referring to the board’s level of input on development along Roswell Road, the primary commercial corridor. If the city consolidates four overlay districts into two as staff suggests, the DRB could have more oversight of future construction in the city.
“It would be a way to eliminate some of the confusion,” said Miller, noting the proposed changes better align the zoning ordinance with the comprehensive plan. “Right now, we have four overlay districts on Roswell Road, so those are four different streetscape standards. This would be a way to create more harmony.”
If approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council this fall, the overlay changes could offer the DRB more say in applications that come its way.
The elimination of the urban and village overlay districts would put additional parcels along Roswell Road into the main street and suburban classifications.
The main street zone imposes more stringent restrictions on sidewalks, building design and screening materials, among others.
For instance, sidewalks must be 9 feet wide in the main street district but only 6 feet wide in the urban district. Certain businesses are prohibited, such as automotive garages, plant nurseries and funeral homes. The maximum building height is six floors (90 feet), and some building materials are forbidden, such as smooth concrete masonry.
“The Design Review Board has the greatest amount of oversight for developments in the main street district,” Miller said.
Any new construction or redevelopment costing more than 40 percent of the structure’s appraised value (including all renovations made within seven years) in an overlay district must meet the standards to receive building, land disturbance or sign permits.
While the main street district covers downtown Sandy Springs around I-285 and Roswell Road, the proposed changes would apply the standards to denser or more intense areas of the city as defined in the comprehensive plan. Those include “our gateway areas,” Miller said.
In the north, it would cover properties on the northeast corner of the Roswell Road-Dunwoody Place intersection, an area characterized by disjointed commercial and multifamily residential development.
In the south, it would add the Windsor Parkway area, which runs from Hedden Street on the east side of Roswell Road south to Atlanta. Fronting Roswell Road are old apartments, shopping centers and narrow lots that abut single-family neighborhoods.
Also new to main street standards would be Roswell Road from south of Lake Placid Drive to the north side of Glenridge Drive and the area from the north side of Sandy Springs Circle to the intersection of Abernathy and Roswell roads.
Some DRB members expressed concern about imposing too many criteria for developers.
“We don’t want to make it completely punitive so nobody can get anything built,” Van Westmoreland said.
Vice Chairman Andy Porter said design standards should cover only the look of the building, signage and parking. “I do better in a world that’s black and white,” he said. “I don’t want to deal with a lot of hardship cases.”
G. Melton Mobley said he would “hate to lose” artistic or aesthetic opinions and only use mathematical equations.
“We need clear, concise code,” Eric Gregory said. “On the other hand, we need reason. Ultimately, we can create good results.”
Other considerations Miller posed to the DRB included reviewing main street standards and requiring applicants to submit elevations to the board.
“By having elevations as part of the requirements, it would give the Design Review Board an early opportunity to look at what is being proposed and then provide some guidance to the developer and then hopefully provide a series of recommendations on those rezonings to the mayor and council,” Miller said.
Conversations about the overlay districts and the board’s role will continue at the next DRB meeting Aug. 11.
“They are going to bring in examples of designs they think the city should promote through the overlay district standards,” Miller said. “We’re trying to ensure that the process isn’t something that is cumbersome or difficult for a developer or an applicant to work through.”