Sandy Springs’ new Comprehensive Land Use Plan is in place after 18 months of work culminated in a Feb. 21 City Council vote to adopt it.
Mayor Rusty Paul praised the new Comp Plan, as it’s known, for bringing a fresh “stability and predictability” to city zoning decisions. But the adoption came with residents disputing an unannounced, unexplained change to the plan’s land-use map, similar to another controversy late last year.
The Comp Plan, as it’s commonly known, is a 10-year policy and planning document guiding land use and redevelopment. Its vision serves as the basis for the city’s zoning code, which is being rewritten in a process that will kick into high gear with a series of meetings in March. The new Comp Plan also includes “small area plans” giving more detailed attention to Roswell Road, Perimeter Center, MARTA stations and Powers Ferry Landing.
Under the new Comp Plan, about 67 percent of the city’s land area is designated as “Protected Neighborhood.” Higher-density redevelopment is limited to major road corridors and public transit nodes.
The final draft of the Comp Plan had some tweaks before the adoption, according to city officials. The most significant was changing the wording in the Roswell Road Small Area Plan to specifically allow redevelopment to replace apartment complexes on the corridor’s northern section, according to a staff memo. The exact language was not presented at the City Council meeting.
“I think this one of the crowning achievements of the last four years that we’ve done,” Mayor Paul said. “No plan is perfect, but all the issues we can foresee are dealt with.”
However, the plan was again criticized for unpublicized changes to the land-use, or “character area,” map made internally by staff members. The first such controversy arose in November when residents realized eight properties along Johnson Ferry Road and Hilderbrand Drive were changed from single-family “Protected Neighborhood” to denser “Urban Neighborhood.” A proposal to replace the eight houses with 28 townhomes was one reason city staff changed the designation. The filing of that redevelopment plan was the first that neighboring homeowners learned of the land-use change. That change was reversed—also without public notice—in the final draft.
At the Feb. 21 council meeting, Dean Perry, a property owner on Lorell Terrace, complained of a similar secret change in the opposite direction. In a Feb. 14 letter to city officials, Perry and several other local property owners complained that eight Lorell Terrace lots went from Urban Neighborhood to Protected Neighborhood, limiting the redevelopment potential. The change happened sometime between Nov. 17, when the city Planning Commission voted on the final draft, and Dec. 6, when the City Council voted, the property owners say.
In the letter, the property owners suggest the city may have made the change for its own benefit. The city is studying a concept of widening nearby Hammond Drive and is already acquiring property there for right of way. The letter suggests that gives the city motivation to devalue the area’s land.
“This change appears to intentionally limit the use of our properties and to monetarily devalue their potential resale value to anyone other than the city of Sandy Springs,” says the letter, which Perry handed out at the Feb. 21 council meeting. And making the change without notice was a “very misleading gesture,” the letter says.
None of the many officials at the council meeting offered Perry any explanation for the change. However, Paul told him to “hang tight,” saying that options for appealing the land-use designation are coming in the new zoning code.
A milder Comp Plan criticism came from MARTA, which submitted a letter complaining about the lower-density uses planned around the existing North Springs and potential future Northridge stations on the Red Line. MARTA is in a burst of transit-oriented development around its stations to profit from redevelopment and boost transit ridership. Councilmember Gabriel Sterling noted the densities came from local residents’ input, so “I’m happy to pass this plan as is.”