By John Schaffner

A small but vocal group of stakeholders demanded and have received changes to a new zoning ordinance that would regulate all development in the Buckhead Village Special Public Interest (SPI-9) District.

The changes are expected to ensure that all present zoning conditions will remain intact unless changed by the mayor and City Council.

Neighborhood representatives and property owners feared the new draft ordinance, presented at a final public review Dec. 8 at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead, left vague what happens to existing zoning conditions—those that had previously been approved with public input and approval—and that it limits future public input into zoning decisions in the SPI-9 District.

The new district zoning regulations are the result of an 18-month process that began in August of 2008 as an “overlay” for SPI-9 and now, at the request of the city, has been altered to become a “stand-alone” zoning district, explained Eric Bosman, of Urban Collage, Inc. consulting firm, who has worked on the project from the beginning.

The focus remains to promote development regulations that will encourage more complete mixed-use development, improve traffic flow, create visual interest and design cohesiveness of streetscapes and buildings throughout the district, meet parking needs and provide appropriate transitions from high intensity areas to the surrounding village and adjacent neighborhoods.

The change to a “stand-alone” district has required some changes to the draft ordinance, which was originally sent to the city for review and approval last spring. However, Bosman told the group of about 20 property owners, neighborhood representatives and developers, “The zoning ordinance will not change anything that is on the ground today.”

Several of those attending the meeting, however, said the ordinance does not specifically state that present existing legal zoning conditions will remain intact and not be changed through administrative review by the city’s director of planning or his designate or by a three-person panel established by the ordinance. Some feel the three-member panel that advises the director of planning will exclude neighborhood participation and input in the zoning process.

More than one person at the meeting demanded that the consultants write into the ordinance “that all approved existing conditions trump anything in the SPI-9 ordinance.”

On Dec. 14, an email was distributed by SPI-9 project manager Denise Starling, who also is executive director of the Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association (BATMA) with a change to the ordinance that reflects the assurances requested at the Dec. 8 meeting.

The main change sent to stakeholders by Starling states: “All valid conditions of rezoning approval in effect as of enactment of this chapter for parcels within the SPI-9 District shall remain in effect unless modified by action by the mayor and City Council pursuant to the procedures provided. Wherever regulations are at variance with said conditions of rezoning approval, the conditions of rezoning approval shall apply.”

Bosman told the group attending the rainy night meeting Dec. 8 that there have been four plans developed over the years for the Buckhead Village, This one was developed initially as an overlay over current zoning regulations. That focus changed this summer when the city decided it wants to do away with zoning overlays, which it believes simply confuses the process for property owners and developers.

Indications are that the city will use this new ordinance, which is scheduled to be submitted to the city for approval in January, as a format for all Special Public Interest Districts in the future.

Some significant changes from the draft overlay to the stand-alone district have been:

–Underlying zoning is removed,

–Maximum “floor area ratios” (FAR) currently permitted governs development intensity,

–FAR amendment process has been added,

–Permitted uses have been added with a few adjustments, and

–Parking requirements added..

Some defining elements that have been retained from the original draft overlay are:

–SPI-9 boundaries and sub-areas are unchanged.

–Special administrative permit approval process eliminates the old rezoning process.

–Retained transitional height planes and yards between the Village and existing neighborhoods.

–Design and streetscape requirements are unchanged.