Bolder city leadership on traffic and transit—and a spectacular plan for a 20-acre park capping Ga. 400 in Pill Hill—were among the detail discussed at the final community meeting for Sandy Springs’ new Comprehensive Land Use Plan Nov. 16.
After 18 months of public input through the city’s “Next Ten” process, the roughly 60 people attending the meeting at the Sherwood Event Hall on Roswell Road seemed generally accepting of the proposed land-use plan. Most questions were about details of such ideas as a tree-lined “Roswell Boulevard” or better sidewalks.
The Comp Plan, as it’s commonly known, is a 10-year policy and planning document guiding land use and redevelopment. It serves as the basis for the city’s zoning code, which is also undergoing an update that will kick into high gear early next year. The new Comp Plan also includes “small area plans” giving more detailed attention to Roswell Road, Perimeter Center, MARTA stations and Powers Ferry Landing.
In general, the draft Comp Plan proposes retaining the city’s suburban neighborhoods and targeting the “small area plan” sites for higher density development. About 67 percent of the city’s land would be “protected neighborhoods” preserved as single-family homes, consultants said.
One repeated resident concern was the land-use designation of some parcels changing without notice since the previous draft in July. Especially concerning were residential parcels switching to mixed-use or commercial areas. One such proposed change has become controversial for being partly influenced by the needs of an active redevelopment plan.
“It’s not finished,” Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert told the crowd about the proposed land-use map. Any parcel designation can still be changed, he said.
The current land-use, or “Character Area,” map can be viewed at thenext10.org. The presentation does not include any highlighting of properties whose land-use designation changed, so residents should examine it carefully and notify the city of any concerns.
“We flipped [the land-use designation of] a lot of parcels,” Tolbert said in an interview after the meeting. “Maybe a hundred around the city.”
The city had some new details of its own to discuss. The most eye-catching was the proposed park over Ga. 400, south of the Johnson Ferry Road bridge, in the medical center area. Consultants from the Next Ten team, led by the firm Rhodeside & Harwell, likened it to a similar 400-capping park under consideration in Buckhead. Both proposals are inspired by a similar park that already exists in Dallas.
But most of the city’s ideas were about policies, not a day in the park. One previously announced change was reducing the proposed density of new development on southern Roswell Road and around the northern stations on MARTA’s Red Line.
Another change was a call for the city to take a stronger role in directing traffic and public transit policies. Consultant Joel Mann of Nelson\Nygaard said the city must expand the type of collaborative traffic and parking planning it recently leveraged Pill Hill hospitals into agreement on. The city also needs stronger policies on requiring streets to be open to bikes, pedestrians and transit as well as cars, he said.
Tolbert said that as mixed-use developments with better connections between properties go up, the city will require shared-parking deals so that customers can park near one business and walk to another without getting towed.
Mann also pushed for the city to stop dancing around the future of the Hammond Drive corridor. “The city should take a position” in favor of transit running through there and connecting Cobb County’s Cumberland area with Doraville’s Gold Line station, he said. In fact, the previous draft Comp Plan declared that as a “key action,” but the city quickly edited that language out at the last minute before a public presentation. A possible widening of Hammond Drive is locally controversial; city officials are currently buying houses along the corridor and preparing to study and design a widening plan that includes some kind of transit right of way, but have been highly cautious in saying no construction decisions have been made.
One reason for the new Comp Plan and zoning code is to greatly reduce the need for rezoning requests. Tolbert said the city staff will propose a process change for rezoning cases. It would require developers to first get a land-use plan amendment approved before filing for the rezoning. And those land-use amendments might be allowed only once or twice a year, he said.
The draft Comp Plan is slated to go before the city Planning Commission on Nov. 17 and could go before the City Council for its first review on Dec. 6.