By John Schaffner

After more than two years of work by consultants, public shareholder input and reviews and changes by the city’s Planning Department, Atlanta City Council has adopted legislation settling 20 years of debate over development standards and densities in the heart of Buckhead.

According to those who have carried the ball for the updates for Special Public Interest District 9 (SPI-9) the unanimous council vote Oct. 4 reflected a consensus of city planners, neighborhoods and developers once thought impossible to achieve.

“With your vote you have just built a city,” Councilman Howard Shook of Buckhead’s District 7 told the members of the Zoning Committee after they approved the legislation.  “It’s going to take a while for this recession to get out of the way, but when this starts to emerge from the ground, you will be very proud of the vote you just cast.”

The center of Buckhead — formerly known as Buckhead Village — generated competing visions of how it should be developed. It has been a source of tension between city planners, elected officials, neighborhood leaders, commercial property owners and developers.

The Buckhead Action Committee, a small group representing Atlanta’s Department of Planning, City Council, the neighborhoods, and business community began the formal process of searching for a mutually acceptable blueprint more than two years ago.

“The first thing that needed to be built was a better relationship between those with passionate but conflicting views,” said Sally Silver, long-time chair of the Development & Transportation Committee of Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B), who played a major role in the plan’s development.

The new SPI-9 zoning plan provides for both new office and residential towers and a more pedestrian-scale space reflecting back to the historic dimensions of the old Buckhead Village and the intersection of Peachtree and Roswell roads.

“Although property owners retain their overall density rights,” said David Allman, Chairman of the Buckhead Community Improvement District,  “the new standards allow and encourage the creation of coordinated high-and-low-rise nodes where desirable to the affected stakeholders.”

In a press release issued by Atlanta City Council’s Office of Communication, Allman explained, “Upon build-out, people will be able to live, work, and play in an urban community featuring wide, tree-lined sidewalks, inviting building facades, and lush pocket parks.”

Denise Starling, executive director of the Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association (BATMA), said,  “The new standards will entice many people out of their cars and, even at build-out, the roadway improvements should create a better flow than currently exists.”

City Zoning Administrator Charletta Wilson-Jacks helped devise a method for allocating density saw property owners and neighbors move from confrontation to collaboration.  “This is a great example of the city and the community working through very complex zoning issues to produce something better than the sum of its parts,” she said.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.