By John Schffner

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods created a Development & Infrastructure Committee in reaction to a zoning ordinance now headed to the city for the Buckhead Village area and the Buckhead Community Improvement District’s possible expansion further south along Peachtree Road to Brookhaven.

The special committee is charged with finding ways to ensure that neighborhood voices are heard when proposals are made for changes in community infrastructure or zoning for developments.

The action came to a head with a lively discussion of the new ordinance that is being prepared for submission to the city regarding changes in the Special Public Interest (SPI-9) ordinance, which would create a stand-alone zoning district for an expanded area of the old Buckhead Village.

The proposed ordinance sets forth zoning requirements, density and development standards for Buckhead Village and some fringe expansion areas to encourage more mixed-use development, improve walkability, provide for better streetscapes and parking opportunities and foster better transitions from the commercial districts to residential neighborhoods.

The development of the plan, which was sponsored by the CID, went through a year of study and formation before being submitted as an “overlay district” on top of the current city zoning for the area. But in October the city decided it should be altered to become a stand-alone zoning district rather than an overlay of special development parameters.

That new 42-page zoning ordinance had a public hearing on Dec. 8 at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead. Buckhead Forest representative Kim Kahwach expressed concern that the neighborhoods had little to no voice in what developments might be approved in their backyard under the new ordinance.

Under the new ordinance, most development permits would be reviewed and approved as executive orders by the director of the Department of Planning or his designate. Issues would be reviewed by a three-person panel, but there would not necessarily be neighborhood representation on those panels, according to Kahwach. She felt the neighborhood voice could be lost in the process.

Amy Hillman, a commercial real estate attorney and resident of Buckhead Forest who was on the steering committee for SPI-9, shared her concerns as a BCN guest. “All of the commercial things surrounding my neighborhood that are C1 conditional or C3 conditional all have hard-fought conditions that neighborhoods that border this SPI have accomplished over the years, whether it’s buffers, setbacks or whatever. Those are gone,” according to her reading of the SPI document, she told the group.

BCN member Bob Stasiowski, representing Peachtree Park, also was part of the SPI-9 steering committee. He said, “I disagree with that generalization because the SPI by ordinance cannot affect the neighborhoods directly.” But Hillman said there are no guarantees written into the ordinance she reviewed.