Sandy Springs on June 16 rolled out the latest draft of its new zoning code, which includes updated strategies to require affordable housing and cap gas stations, among many other features.

Dozens of major developers and local residents showed up for a June 21 city Planning Commission meeting at City Hall to comment on the draft “Development Code.” City staff aim to have a final draft ready by July 10 and put it before the City Council for adoption on Aug. 1.

In an age-old tension, most developers sought looser rules to build bigger, and most residents sought tighter rules to guarantee input on large projects. There was general agreement the Development Code is impressive work heading in the right direction.

But, as local developer Steven Cadranel put it, everyone agreed on another message to the code team: “Slow down.”

Complaints of constant and unpublicized changes to the zoning code and map, and before that, to the Character Area Map whose vision informs them, have dogged the process. In the days before the new draft’s release, the latest Character Area and zoning maps posted on the city’s website did not match up on some properties of major public interest, such as stretch of Hammond Drive eyed for a road-widening project.

The Planning Commission could have voted on the draft and forwarded it to the City Council for a vote, though no one expected that to happen. However, in voting unanimously to continue the conversation at its July 20 meeting, commission members made clear their main reason was the need to digest the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day changes.

Commission chair Lane Frostbaum said he agrees that “the document keeps changing – it’s really hard to find out what’s going on” and whether public comments are affecting it.

Prior to the meeting, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the best way to get updated about a specific property is emailing through the “Next Ten” planning website at thenext10.org/contact. Those emails are seen by the entire zoning code team, whose members can respond quickly, she said. However, a property’s status can change repeatedly, so repeated check-ins might be necessary on a controversial site.

At the meeting, Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said the staff had heard many of the concerns already and was adjusting the code and map to match. Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio, the consultant leading the code rewrite, said he took “copious notes.”

There were plenty of comments to take notes about – more than an hour and 15 minutes worth. The following were some of the key topics:

Automatic approvals

A prime goal of the Development Code is to simplify the zoning and allow more uses by right so that the City Council doesn’t end up haggling over details. But a lingering concern for residents is that may remove both existing and future leverage over major projects.

Some high-density projects like apartment complexes could be built by right in certain areas, regardless of topography or other unique features of the site, residents say. And the city proposes wiping out existing zoning conditions on plans approved years ago but never built, meaning residents could lose protections and compromises they negotiated.

“This one-size-fits-all [approach] is very difficult for us to digest,” said Curt Friedberg, co-president of the Aberdeen Forest Neighborhood Association, which has been involved in recent controversial projects along Glenridge Drive.

Tochie Blad of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods said that losing existing zonings conditions that are “more stringent than our current code sounds like not an even trade.”

Higher towers

Meanwhile, in places like Perimeter Center, developers seek permission to build higher.

Carl Westmoreland, a well-known zoning attorney for many major developers, noted that the TV screens in the City Hall chamber displayed the city’s stylized drawing of the King and Queen skyscrapers at the Concourse Center.

“I assume you’re proud of them,” he said of the iconic towers, adding, “Neither could be built under the new code.”

Sheldon Taylor, chief financial officer of Concourse owner Regent Partners, said he was thankful that his property’s zoning height limit was boosted from 15 to 20 stories in the latest draft. But even more height is needed, he said, up to 25 stories to remain competitive in the office marketplace. The Concourse had  a major redevelopment plan for apartments and a hotel last year that it withdrew; Regent has now placed the entire complex for sale.

Jockeying for redevelopment

The hottest disputes over unpublicized zoning map changes come from areas where homeowners are looking for higher-density zoning for neighborhood buyouts to developers. Such parcels may switch designations repeatedly as city staff, neighborhood association leaders and city councilmembers weigh in.

One hot spot is the two-lane section of Hammond Drive, where the city has been buying up properties for an eventual widening nearly everyone expects will happen. Still marked as higher-density “Urban Neighborhood” on the Character Area map, the area is now zoned single-family in the draft code, the latest in a few such switches.

Dean Perry was among the property owners or brokers saying they were unaware of the change and accusing the city of using zoning to lower property values for its own road project acquisition. Asked if that is the city’s motive, Kraun simply said, “No.”

Another hot spot is Clementstone Drive near the Medical Center. Resident Gene Bramblett said he had petitions from eight of 11 homeowners there backing a change from its current single-family status to a medical/mixed-use zone.

Kraun said before the meeting that the city likely will zone both areas single-family in the final code.

Gas stations

Under pressure by gas station and convenience store owners, the city recently renewed a moratorium on applications for either. In the latest code draft, the city is moving ahead with a “cap and trade” plan to ban brand new gas stations, but allow a new one to be built to replace an existing one that closes. Expansion of existing stations is also possible with permission.

Officials from the gas station company RaceTrac came out in force to the Planning Commission to say they were teaming with rival QuikTrip to seek changes to the draft. A big concern is new language limiting new gas stations to no more than a half-mile from any other station, inside or outside the city border. That leaves very few places to go, especially on Roswell Road, the RaceTrac officials said.

Roswell Road redevelopment

Another main goal of the city is pushing redevelopment of older commercial strips along Roswell Road.

Chip Collins, a former city councilmember and 2018 board chair-elect at the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, was among those saying the draft code has big disincentives for such redevelopment. A requirement for big projects to bury utility lines at their own cost is a “huge impediment,” he said, as are certain mandates for second-story retail and the height of commercial buildings.

Cadranel echoed such concerns, saying, “I applaud the aspiration. I’m simply concerned about some of the implementation.”

4 replies on “Residents, developers debate Sandy Springs’ latest zoning code draft”

  1. Chip Collins can be counted on to be deluded and self- absorbed:ergo, if he is against it ,the council should vote for it and vice versa….

  2. The evolution of Higher Education and Healthcare seems to be completely ignored in the cities “The Next 10yrs”.

    I question efforts to provide affordable housing without trying to tackle the root of the issue. The access to education and healthcare are two primary factors in overall wellbeing. While Sandy Springs has an established “Pill Hill” and a few community colleges, i.e., Gwinnett Tech, Argosy and University of Phoenix, I see missed opportunities when I see established Atlanta institutions expand in other area, like Emory Avalon or the New Gwinnett Tech campus in Alpharetta.

    Primary care providers are in increasing demand and we can’t continue to pack them in a one mile radius. Guidelines need to be developed now to make it easier for these institutions to continue to expand throughout Sandy Springs. The need for satellite classes of Georgia Tech, UGA or Georgia State would be a tremendous impact on our community. Providing top tier healthcare and education in Sandy Springs will help increase the well being for the entire community and give our residents more opportunities without having to leave the city. Just a little food for thought.

  3. To “Alexander” (fake name):

    This is Chip Collins (real name), who you choose to libel in the comment section every chance you get. Although my law partners find your comments about me quite humorous, I am curious about what I’ve done that provided the basis of your opinion about me. I think I’ve offered this before, but you can reach out to me anytime at wcollins@burr.com or 404-685-4266 to discuss Sandy Springs issues. I’d also be interested in hearing from you about what you do to try and make your community a better place other than hurling anonymous insults at current and former elected officials.

  4. I have been involved with several issues in SS and have discussed various concerns with elected official. Several years ago , I brought a concern to you.Your arrogance and condescension was palpable. I was delighted when you choose not to run again for the council and wary when you began to support developers.
    Tom Wolfe informed us of the incestuous nature of the relationships between developers and Atlanta Govt. official in the “80’s. This should not be allowed in SS. I propose that former mayors and council persons be restricted from lobbying their former , active colleagues in the SS government for a period of 5 years after they leave office. I believe the Obama administration had a similar rule. Will you stand with me in this proposal?This would not be retroactive.
    The hurling of terms such as libel against anyone in this environment where speakers are being shouted down across this country is an egregious action and should be immediately suspended . I for one , choose NOT to consider your statement libelous when you stated Alexander is a fake name..It is not. It is derived from the greek Ale’xandros, meaning “protector of man”.It is a good name, it fits , and I am proud of it.

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