City Council is expected to vote Jan. 24 to limit residential density in certain areas of the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District to 30 units per acre. The proposal follows considerable backlash from residents opposing more apartment complexes on Dresden Drive.
“The people spoke, so I listened,” said Mayor John Ernst, who said he was responsible for placing the zoning ordinance amendment on the Jan. 4 Planning Commission agenda.
Current zoning allows up to 60 units per acre in the area. The proposed zoning amendment will only affect Sub-Area II of the Overlay District, which encompasses Dresden Drive to Village Park as well as Oglethorpe University, Brookhaven Park, and the north-south area parallel to Peachtree Road that runs roughly from Apple Valley Road to Redding Road.
The Planning Commission recommended approval Jan. 4 of the 30-units per acre density amendment after conferring with residents who have long battled for less density along Dresden Drive and with staff members.
Sub-Area I of the Overlay, not included in the area in the proposed change, includes all of Peachtree Road and the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station.
Ernst said after listening to residents plead at numerous council meetings to stop the influx of proposed apartment complexes, especially along Dresden Drive, he decided to propose amending the ordinance until the city completes the zoning code rewrite and the Overlay District rewrite. The 30-unit number was taken from residents’ requests.
The zoning rewrite is expected to take a year and the Overlay rewrite is expected to be finished in six months, according to Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin. The council has yet to hire consultants to conduct the rewrites.
The city is also at the end of a six-month moratorium that halted rezoning requests. That moratorium was proposed by the mayor and approved by the council in response to rapid development along Dresden Drive.
But not everyone is sure jumping quickly into such a zoning amendment to limit density is a good idea without further analysis.
Jack Honderd, an architect, developer and member of the Brookhaven-Peachtree Community Alliance who helped create the Overlay District more than a decade ago, spoke to the Planning Commission at its Jan. 4 work session and asked why the rush.
“My main observation is this [proposal] is a significant urban planning decision and it deserves a significant urban planning analysis,” he said.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea or not. I don’t know if density should be specified. And I’m not sure of the intentions or the desired outcome,” Honderd said. “I expect this is to stop apartments and the believed traffic congestion that comes with them.”
But Honderd said there might be unintended consequences to limiting density without a thorough analysis. For example, a rule of thumb for developers, he said, is that if they have to build less than 45 units per acre they cannot afford to build structured parking. Lack of parking along Dresden Drive has long been a serious issue.
“I’m tired of apartments as much as anyone and am not at all trying to encourage more on Dresden Drive,” Honderd said. “I’d like to see more housing diversity, more housing ownership.”
But other possibilities of limiting density without further study is that developers can build to those specifications but then have no incentives to put in public space to be used by the entire community. Developers may also decide to build office buildings rather than homes, he said.
This could mean a 5-story office building in an area where office space is very desirable – but with offices there comes an increase in traffic, especially at peak times, he said.
“I don’t know if anyone really thought this through. I think this is what an urban planning firm does,” Honderd said. “And I think this would be best considered during the rewriting of the zoning code. Why do this now and not wait until the zoning rewrite?”