Members of Chamblee’s business community gathered at a discussion of the city’s future development plans to complain that city rules are too restrictive on business.

“People are saying, ‘Don’t go to Chamblee. It’s a nightmare to deal with,’” said William D. Johnston, senior vice president of King Industrial Realty Inc.

More than 60 people attended the business-oriented discussion July 21 of the city’s comprehensive plan. The city is revising the plan in part to consider changes required to accommodate the recent annexation that substantially increased the size and population of the city.

The discussion was one of several public debates scheduled over changes to the city’s long-term plan. Public hearings will be held in August and a draft of the plan should be complete by the end of August, said Michelle Alexander, director of planning for POND & Co., the consultant handling the project. On its website, the city says it plans to vote on adopting the plan in October.

Alexander told those attending the business discussion group the city’s current population of 15,491 is expected to increase to 20,641 by 2036.

“The [metro Atlanta] region is going to continue to grow,” she said. “You should be strategic about who you want to attract. Who do you want to live here?”

She said about a third of Chamblee’s employment now comes from government jobs with employers such as the Internal Revenue Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. Other large employers, she said, include Walmart and car dealerships. The median income for Chamblee residents, she said, is $78,298, which is higher than the median for DeKalb County.

She predicted the city would see demand for an additional 635,841 square feet of retail development by 2021 and more than 1.5 million square feet of retail development by 2036. Also, the city should see demand for 379,908 square feet of office space by 2021 and 11.2 million square feet of office space by 2036, she said.

Asked to cite the city’s potential strengths in attracting new businesses, people at the meeting listed the airport, the MARTA line, the railroad, Peachtree Boulevard and the city’s neighborhoods.

Chamblee Snapshot

• Population 15,491

• Projected population in 2036 20,641

• Housing:

Rental 54% ~  Owner-occupied 36%  ~  Vacant 10%

• 2010 average home value $201,707

• Median income $78,298

Source: POND & Co.

But a number of property owners and representatives at the meeting appeared more interested in talking about what they saw as current issues with development.

“The city’s got to learn to be more flexible,” Caroline Leslie said.

Johnston said he had represented a client who opened a business in Chamblee that met city zoning requirements, but had to wait three months and spend $25,000 in legal fees negotiating with the city anyway.

Several property owners said city zoning and development restrictions make redevelopment of commercial or industrial difficult.

T. Gordy Germany, president of the Flagship Group Inc., said he represented a building that was used as a warehouse and contained a small office, but was zoned for commercial use.

“It’s zoned something it’s not really going to be right now,” he said. “It may be commercial in five years and at that time, somebody can come in have it rezoned. We’ve got to look at what we have,” Germany said. “You can’t just say, ‘You can’t use this,’ or ‘You’ve got six months or it’s over.’”

Leslie said property owners find the city difficult to work with. “I think if Chamblee tries to be Chamblee and not to be Buckhead or Brookhaven, it will be better,” she said.

City officials at the meeting responded that the complaints indicated property owners weren’t seeing the city’s long-term vision.

“Chamblee is a small government and a small city. I think for the most part Chamblee has been very responsive,” City Councilman Tom Hogan told the group.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.