After first suggesting a zoning review of the controversial Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District be finished before a zoning moratorium expires next year, the Brookhaven City Council has now agreed to slow the process down.

The council voted unanimously Sept. 27 to deny extending a contract with Sycamore Consulting and Atlanta-based urban planning firm TSW for $136,500 to conduct the overlay district zoning review. Sycamore is currently facilitating the city’s residential character area studies as part of an overall review of the city’s comprehensive plan.

The city will now put out a public bid for the overlay district zoning review and rewrite. The bid process of advertising, accepting bids and awarding a final contract takes about three months, said Patrice Ruffin, deputy director of Community Development.

The Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District, above, has its own set of zoning guidelines. Click to enlarge.

The overlay district rezoning rewrite to be conducted by a firm yet to be hired could also put a kink in the city’s plans for a citywide zoning rewrite.

Late last year, the city hired Duncan Associates to conduct a zoning rewrite of the entire city. Shortly after Mayor John Ernst took office this year, he postponed the zoning rewrite until after a reworking of the city’s comprehensive plan was completed. Ernst said he wanted the comprehensive plan review because he heard from many residents saying they did not have enough input before it was adopted in 2014.

The character area studies of residential neighborhoods that began in July and include the community charrettes facilitated by Sycamore are that comprehensive plan review.

Sycamore is expected to make a presentation on the city’s comprehensive plan to the City Council in November. Tentative plans are for the city’s zoning rewrite to begin in early 2017, Ruffin said.

“The city hired [Duncan Associates] in November of last year for the entire city rezoning rewrite,” Ernst said. “They’re waiting. They have a contract and are on hold.”

Councilmember Bates Mattison, who pushed for the zoning review of the overlay district that includes Dresden Drive to be finished before the city’s six-month zoning moratorium expires in February, said he was willing to push the timeline because wasn’t comfortable hiring Sycamore Consulting for the overlay district project.

With the overlay district zoning rewrite to be ongoing past February, the city can either decide to extend the zoning moratorium, or lift it with uncertainty of what the final plans for the area will include.

“It’s my belief that we are wanting pull the trigger because this is the easiest option,” Mattison said of the proposed Syamore/TSW contract.

“But [this review] will have a significant impact on city’s future and especially on the commercial corridor. This is an extremely important area for commercial development,” he said.

The council was set to vote Sept. 13 to hire Sycamore and TSW based on a staff recommendation to review the overlay district that includes Dresden Drive and Peachtree Road where numerous contentious mixed-use developments have been proposed in recent months and years.

Residents and developers have clashed at numerous public meetings on the proposed developments that include apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor on Dresden Drive.

Homeowners living around Dresden Drive have also packed City Hall several times this year wearing red shirts to show their opposition to the proposed developments that they say encroaches on their suburban lives with increased density and more traffic, among other issues. The City Council has denied one mixed-use development on Dresden Drive this year and another one is pending.

Mattison said at the Sept. 13 meeting he had heard from members of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance that they wanted to review and have input on the firm the city hired to look at the overlay district zoning. The BPCA started the Livable Community Initiative study that led to the overlay district nearly 10 years ago under DeKalb County.

“I very much value the intent and purpose of what we’re doing here. But I do not believe Sycamore is the right company,” Mattison said during the council meeting.

He said his opinion was not meant to disparage Sycamore or TSW and that Sycamore’s strength was in community outreach “and for doing charrettes.”

Mattison said it was important to hire a firm that will look at each individual parcel in the overlay district as they come up with a zoning rewrite for the area.

He also suggested that the firm hired to conduct the overlay district rezoning review and rewrite work with Duncan Associates as it completes the city’s overall rezoning rewrite.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.