The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods returned from its summer break on Aug. 11 to get an update on the overhaul of the city’s Planning and Community Development department and rewriting of Atlanta’s outdated zoning codes.
The city’s deputy director of Planning and Community Development, Terri Lee, told the group that Atlanta’s zoning book hasn’t been updated since 1980. Lee said that the department had undergone a significant overhaul thanks to new Commissioner Tim Keane.
Lee said that since Keane’s arrival last year, there has been a new focus on customer service and strides have been made to make permitting easier for residents, developers and businesses.
“In the past, people would call our office with questions and no one would answer the phone,” Lee said. “That has changed.”
Those who come in looking for a permit – to build a deck on the back of their home, for example – should only have to wait 30 to 40 minutes. “It shouldn’t take 10 days to get a deck permit,” Lee said. “You can now also apply and pay online.”
Many of the estimated 300 people who visit the planning office daily are inquiring about zoning variances. “We have a high volume of variance requests, mainly because the codes haven’t been updated in more than 30 years,” Lee acknowledged.
Rewriting the zoning codes will be a three to five year process, but Lee said the office is initiating what she called a series of “quick wins” that could be implemented in the next three to six months. Those “quick wins” include updates of definitions of existing ordinances, neighborhood design standards and parking requirements.
Lee said the city was also conducting a study on increasing impact fees for developers, which, if approved, would be the first increase in 23 years.
Another element of streamlining the city planning department is the opening of the City Design Project Studio at Ponce City Market in the Old Fourth Ward. The studio invites residents to drop by the colorful, informal space to share their own visions for the city’s growth as well as wants and needs for their neighborhoods.
The studio, which has only been open for six weeks, will remain at Ponce City Market for six months then move to different location in the city. More information about the studio is available at facebook.com/atlcitystudio.