The Brookhaven City Council voted 3 to 1 at its Sept. 13 meeting to delay the review of the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District. Council members said they wanted give time for the public to have input on the company that will be hired to conduct the review.
Voting in favor were Councilmembers Bates Mattison, Joe Gebbia and Linley Jones. Councilmember John Park voted no.
The council was set to vote Tuesday to hire Sycamore consulting firm and Atlanta-based urban planning firm TSW for $136,500 to review the contentious Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District. Sycamore is currently facilitating the city’s character area studies of residential neighborhoods and recommended TSW for its zoning expertise.
Mattison requested the two-week deferral to allow time for members of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance and other community members living in the Overlay District to review TSW’s qualifications. If the community is not happy with the firm, the city will put out a request for proposal for the job, he said.
“I have been one of the biggest proponents moving forward to address the Overlay … but the BPCA has really had very little awareness of who we are going to bring in and lead” the city through the process, Mattison said.
TSW has experience with overlay district rezoning, said Community Development Director Ben Song, and are the designers of downtown Alpharetta’s award-winning design. TSW is also working with the city of Atlanta on its zoning rewrite and have worked with Decatur and Roswell on zoning issues.
“They definitely have the expertise. That’s the only reason why we made this recommendation,” Song said. And because Sycamore already involved in character study, it made sense to continue working with them, he said.
The BPCA started the Livable Community Initiative study that led to the Overlay District nearly 10 years ago under DeKalb County. At that time, the DeKalb County government allowed the BPCA to interview finalists of the planning firms for the LCI study, according to the BPCA’s website.
City Manager Christian Sigman cautioned that inviting community members to chime in on the city’s hiring process was putting the city on a “dangerous and slippery slope” and sets a bad precedent.
City Attorney Chris Balch agreed and said too much community involvement could lead to a situation similar to the “chaos” that is occurring in Dunwoody between the City Council and Dunwoody Homeowners Association.
Dunwoody is currently embroiled in controversy after the mayor asked members of the DHA also serving on city boards and commissions to resign from the DHA or their city board because of a potential conflict of interest.
Sigman and Song said they presented the resolution to hire Sycamore and TSW after being told by council at the Aug. 23 meeting to “expeditiously” find a firm to lead the city through an Overlay District review during the city’s 6-month zoning moratorium.
The moratorium is set to expire Feb. 19, 2017 and the Overlay District review process is expected to take close to six months.
Song told Mattison he reached out to a member of the BPCA for input and explained the moratorium and timeline and was told by the member TSW was a reputable firm. Sigman said he also reached out to the BPCA but did not receive a response.
A request for proposal process takes 45 to 60 days to complete. Mattison said he understood that if the city decided to conduct an RFP for the project then the Overlay District would not be finished before the moratorium was lifted as originally planned.
He said the council should not rush to approve a company without first seeking public input on such an important area in the city.
Mayor John Ernst asked Sigman to provide information on TSW to other groups in addition to the BPCA in the Overlay District for their input so the city is not perceived as favoring one group over another.
Jones apologized to city staff for voting against their recommendation but said because Mattison, who represents the district where the Overlay District is located, was not comfortable moving forward she felt she had to rely on his judgment.
“We go to great lengths to include public input. In this case the council member most affected is not comfortable,” she said. “I like most people would like to get on with it. But we rely on that council member to carry the message to the public … and I don’t want to undermine that.”