After 18 months of work through the “Next Ten” process, the city’s new Comprehensive Land Use Plan is nearly finished and discussions are down to details.
But some of those fine points are big ones: a tougher traffic policy, better public input and a plan for a 20-acre park capping Ga. 400 on Pill Hill.
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 being rewritten in a process that will kick into high gear in early 2017. The new Comp Plan also includes “small area plans” giving more detailed attention to Roswell Road, Perimeter Center, MARTA stations and Powers Ferry Landing.
The final draft of the Comp Plan was presented by consultants at community meetings Nov. 16 and on Nov. 17 to the city’s Planning Commission, which recommended approval with various conditions. The Comp Plan next heads to a Dec. 6 City Council hearing. The draft can be viewed online at thenext10.org.
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, the consultants said.
In the meetings, residents, commission members and the consulting team led by Rhodeside & Harwell highlighted several concerns and new details.
Land-use designations changing without notice
One concern repeated by residents was that land-use designation of some parcels changed 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.”
Public input methods
Commissioners and members of the public generally praised the new draft Comp Plan. Commissioner Andy Porter said he was looking forward to one of the plan’s main goals: making land-use policy clearer so that fewer rezoning cases come before the city.
But that also means that residents won’t have as many automatic chances to hear about and review redevelopments. Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said the city likely will come up with some new way of doing that to go along with the new zoning code, but nothing is in place.
“Is there a phrase anywhere in there that says there is a commitment to public participation for clarity and for transparency?” asked Trisha Thompson, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods. There is not, Tolbert said, adding that including such language is a good idea. The commission officially backed including that language.
Stronger traffic policies
The new plan calls for the city to take a stronger role in 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.
Mann also pushed for the city to “take a position” in favor of transit running through the Hammond Drive corridor and connecting Cobb County’s Cumberland area with Doraville’s Gold Line station, he said. The city is preparing a controversial study about widening Hammond and is buying houses there to reserve right of way.
Park over Ga. 400
An eye-catching new detail was the proposed park over Ga. 400, south of the Johnson Ferry Road bridge and in the medical center area. Consultants from the Next Ten team likened it to a similar Ga. 400-capping park under consideration in Buckhead. Both proposals are inspired by an existing highway-cap park in Dallas.
Moratorium until new zoning code is in place
Another question is what happens in the period between the adoption of the land-use plan—likely around late February—and the new zoning code, which could be a gap of several months. If a developer filed for a rezoning, the current zoning code would apply; but if the new Comp Plan proposed a different use for the property, it could raise questions about the city’s intent and which use should have priority.
The Planning Commission’s approval included a recommendation to put a moratorium on use of the new Comp Plan until the zoning code is done. Tolbert said a moratorium is one of the strategies the city was considering and that he is “perfectly happy” with the recommendation.