As the city of Dunwoody rewrites its zoning code, it looked to residents for suggestions on how much is too much when it comes to public meetings.
At an Oct. 2 meeting at Dunwoody City Hall, the consultants hired to overhaul Dunwoody’s zoning code gave residents an update on their progress. Kirk Bishop of Duncan Associates said his firm is working on streamlining the procedure for zoning within the city.
Dunwoody inherited its zoning code from DeKalb County when it incorporated in 2008. The city is in the process of tailoring those ordinances to better fit the needs of the small, urban community. Bishop said the zoning procedure as it is now written could be more streamlined.
Currently, it will take an applicant 4 1/2 months, at best, to make it through the zoning process. Typically, the process can take five months or more, Bishop said. Nationally, a zoning application typically only takes about three months to be completed, Bishop said.
Right now, an applicant must notify property owners within 500 feet of the proposed project and organize a neighborhood meeting. Then, the application will be heard by the Community Council followed by the Planning Commission, both of which are recommending bodies to the City Council. The application will then be considered at two meetings of the City Council. Any variances or administrative appeals need to be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Bishop said with so many public meetings, people may be confused about which meetings they should attend to voice their opinions.
“The argument could be made that it dilutes public input,” Bishop said.
Bishop said the Community Council is a step in the zoning process that is not typical in other jurisdictions.
The process originated, like the rest of Dunwoody’s zoning procedures, in DeKalb County. Each commission district in DeKalb County has a Community Council that hears zoning applications and makes recommendations before the applications proceed to the Planning Commission, Board of Commissioners or Zoning Board of Appeals.
Bishop said the community council used to serve as a way to get more local input on zoning applications before they were heard by county-wide bodies.
“In that very large county, the local geography of Dunwoody wasn’t getting a lot of attention,” Bishop said. “Now that we have brought government as ultimately close to the people as possible, does that step make sense?” Bishop asked.
The residents who attended the meeting were broken up into small groups to talk with staff members about options for changing the process.
There was not a consensus about how the process should be changed. People at the meeting discussed options from leaving the process the way it is to eliminating the Community Council to combining steps of the process to make it more efficient.
Some felt that a lengthier zoning process is good, giving neighboring property owners adequate time to oppose things that would affect them. Others felt that Dunwoody’s current process includes too much bureaucracy.
“For someone who just wants to start up a business … and it takes six months, eight months, it becomes counterproductive,” said Wright Dempsey Jr.