Brookhaven residents told City Council they worried proposed tweaks to the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay zoning district could weaken their vision for the future of their community.
During a public hearing at the City Council’s June 11 meeting, residents expressed concerns about proposed amendments to the overlay, a zoning code which calls for more urban, pedestrian-friendly development in the Peachtree Road corridor surrounding the Brookhaven MARTA station.
But Community Development Director Susan Canon told council members the changes were made in an attempt to clean up the language of the zoning document.
“The intent is not to destroy the fabric of the district,” Canon said. “We’re trying to strengthen the fabric of the overlay.”
The overlay text amendment attempted to clarify a few portions of the document that had been in conflict in the past.
The amendment includes a definition of building height, regulations for sidewalk signs, and increased parking for restaurants to one parking space per 125 square feet of dining space.
All buildings in the overlay district must be at least two stories tall. The amendment defined the second story requirement by stating, “the second story shall be heated and available for human occupancy consisting of no less than 75 percent of the square footage of the floor area beneath, less and except outdoor assembly area.”
But many residents felt the changes would open up the zoning document to more challenges from developers.
Kathy Forbes of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance said the language in the text amendment about second story requirements is confusing and could be interpreted different ways.
“Given the fact that second story requirement is central to the intent of overlay, I strongly recommend that the requirement of a two story minimum not even be subject to a variance request,” Forbes said.
She recommended having workshops with city staff and members of the BPCA to discuss the overlay district before any amendments are approved.
“This is too important to not get exactly right,” Forbes said.
Keven Fitzpatrick also felt the language about the second story weakened the zoning document.
“It guts the overlay. It guts the second floor requirement,” Fitzpatrick said. “This overlay is a baby. It came in 2007. In city planning terms, it’s still an infant. I urge you not to smother the infant in the crib.”
Bill Roberts said though he doesn’t agree with all the language in the amendment, he appreciated the city looking at ways to improve the document.
“All the work she’s done is a step in the right direction,” Roberts said of Canon’s amendment.
Mayor J. Max Davis said he would like for attorneys specializing in land use to review the changes before City Council votes on the text amendment June 17.
“Our goal is to have a clear, concise overlay that everybody can understand,” Davis said.
Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams, who previously served on DeKalb County’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said she had to deliberate on many variance requests within the overlay district for the county.
“I personally hope we can have an overlay that reduces the number of variances,” she said.
City Manager Marie Garrett said the goal of tightening the language of the overlay is to reduce the number of variance requests.
“When variances are sought repeatedly it should tell the elected body that something must be wrong,” said City Manager Marie Garrett.