A plan to replace eight single-family homes with a 28-unit townhome complex is drawing concern in Sandy Springs’ Glenridge-Hammond neighborhood.

The city’s current land use plan, or Comprehensive Plan, does not allow such higher-density replacement housing on the properties, which are bordered by Hilderbrand Drive and Johnson Ferry and Harleston roads. But the latest draft of a new land use plan does allow it — a change made in just the last few months.

A map of the townhome project proposed on Hilderbrand Drive, from a city filing.

That change was made partly due to the residents’ interest in selling out, said Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert, though the city thinks it also makes sense as a “transition” area next to downtown.

About 30 people attended a Nov. 21 preliminary meeting about the plan at the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church. The density of the population and related traffic were the top concerns.

The plan involves demolishing the eight ranch-style houses for the townhome complex, which would have a driveway opening onto Hilderbrand. A plan shows a small “park” within the complex.

“The land use on it currently doesn’t support that use,” said Doug Falciglia, an association member and an officer of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods.

The area is currently one of the city’s “protected neighborhoods,” meaning that any single-family house can be replaced only by another — though possibly bigger — single-family house. The intent is to preserve the city’s historic suburban neighborhoods.

“[Something] we don’t want to see is special interests coming in and impacting the planning process … for their own good,” Falciglia said, noting that after developers and house-sellers leave, “The neighborhood is left with what’s there.”

A rezoning document from developer Monte Hewitt Homes specifically notes that the new Comprehensive Plan, still in draft form as part of the city’s “Next Ten” process, would allow the density. An earlier draft land use plan from July still had the area as a protected neighborhood.

Carl Westmoreland, an attorney for Monte Hewitt, said at the meeting that the project is “consistent with the proposed Comprehensive Plan,” without mentioning the project itself was a reason for the change. Questioned by a resident, he said the developer has no “authorship” of the land-use plan and noted it is not yet final.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said earlier this month that the townhome plan “doesn’t have anything to do with [the land use map change] …. The two are not related.”

However, Tolbert later said the city knew about the redevelopment project and was partly influenced by it in changing the “protected neighborhood” designation.

“We knew the neighbors were interested in” selling for the redevelopment, Tolbert said. “When you got eight people who decide it’s not a place they want to live,” the city considered changing the land-use designation, he said.

However, Tolbert said, the change was made in response to the home-sellers’ interest, “not necessarily for the plan the gentleman’s got … I’m not sure it should be 28 units.”

Many residents at the meeting didn’t think it should be 28 units, either. Monte Hewitt said he is open to rearranging the plans with such amenities as a street-front park, but indicated he is counting on the land-use plan and the 28 units to make his project work.

Tolbert said the home-selling plan was not the only reason for the city to change the land-use designation. The city has switched as many as 100 properties in the latest draft of the land-use plan, which is still not final and can be changed some more. In this case, the city was looking at “edges” of neighborhoods, Tolbert said. “We’re looking for transitions” between residential and commercial areas where higher density or mixed-uses might work, he said, and the eight properties in question abut a bank and a car-parts store.

Falciglia said residents have concerns about a larger pattern of zoning changes that appear suited to a particular redevelopment or small group of businesses, such as a recent action allowing four car dealerships on Roswell Road to expand. “That reeks of special interests and tailoring things to it,” he said.

The existing houses played a role in another recent development controversy — the city’s plan to turn the Johnson Ferry/Mount Vernon Highway intersection into dual roundabouts.

The roundabouts were forced to be drawn farther north, eating into the property of the Mount Vernon Towers senior condos, because the houses are in a potentially “historic” neighborhood of 1950s suburban homes, according to state and federal officials.

Due to the city’s use of federal funds, it could not take any of the homes or property without potentially expensive mitigations.
The historic character does not put any similar restrictions on a private developer such as Monte Hewitt Homes, said Kraun.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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