By John Schaffner

A two-year odyssey of creating a new development vision for an expanded Buckhead Village area finally passed its first public vote Sept, 7 in an approval process that is expected to culminate in the final approval of the plan by the Atlanta City Council in October.

What started out to be an overlay update for the Special Public Interest District 9 (SPI-9) area, better known as the Buckhead Village area of Buckhead, transformed into new zoning and development regulations that will shape what the area will look like in the future.

That plan was passed unanimously Sept. 7 by members of the Neighborhood Planning Unit B Zoning Committee, the Development and Transportation Committee and the full NPU board, but not without a very critical review of the documents at an Aug. 31 meeting and some last-minute clarifications and changes.

The documents next were to go before the city’s Zoning Review Board for consideration on Sept. 9 and then to the City Council’s Zoning Committee on Sept. 29. If approved by those bodies, it will go to City Council on Oct. 4 for final approval. Those meetings are all open to the public and are held on the second floor of Atlanta City Hall.

Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), in cooperation with the Buckhead Action Committee, NPU-B, BATMA (Buckhead Area Transportation Management Administration), and the City of Atlanta spearheaded the study to update, and potentially extend zoning and development regulations in the greater Buckhead Village area to ensure quality future development and a more walkable community.

While existing development is grandfathered in and stays under the SPI-9 plan, it is designed to reshape the original direction of development in the area to encourage mixed-use development, centralized parking, more green space, wider sidewalks and uniformed signage with new ventures. It also encourages environmentally friendly “green” construction.

The update focused on the West Village, Peachtree Corridor and Piedmont Corridor to build consensus toward desired future public space and development characteristics.

The SPI-9 update has been funded principally by the Buckhead CID and the Atlanta Regional Commission as part of its Livable Centers Initiative Program.

At the Aug. 31 joint meeting of NPU-B’s Zoning and Development & Transportation committees, former Atlanta Planning Director and Director of Buildings Department Norman Koplan made a rare appearance and had a number of challenges to some of the wording in the new regulation documents presented for approval.

Two people present at that meeting and the NPU-B board meeting on Sept. 7 were particularly attentive to Koplan’s comments. They played integral roles in nursing the concepts through many public and stakeholder meetings and the documents through several iterations.

But both Denise Starling, executive director of BATMA, and Sally Silver, the NPU-B development guru and longtime chair of the Development & Transportation Committee, agreed with virtually all the changes in wording Koplan suggested and his requests for clarification of regulations.

Because of the points made by Koplan, who now is with the Troutman Sanders law firm, the joint committee voted Aug. 31 only to “adopt the plan in principal, pending the changes being made.”

Asked at the Sept. 7 meeting if all the necessary changes had been made to the documents before they were being voted on, both Starling and Silver said they had been made.

Among the issues raised by Koplan were:

What entity will monitor the stormwater management part of the regulations? He said it needed to be defined as a “city entity.” And he said the bonus for stormwater management compliance is fluid and ongoing based on every rain event.

He questioned the signage requirements. Who made the determination of a one-foot candle versus half-foot candle lighting standard? Why has the height of signage been increased to 60 feet? Is a monument sign free-standing? Pedestrian directories could be in the right-of-way, which he said includes certain responsibilities. No “pedestrian directory shall be more than 36 cubic feet”? Apparently, that’s not a common measurement. “Building signs,” he said, should be listed as “business identification signs.”

Silver pointed out to the committee that Koplan was the “father” of the city’s sign ordinance, which is likely why he had many suggestions about the sign regulations ordinance.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.