A draft rewrite of the controversial Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District is on the way to the City Council, but not without concerns raised from some residents worried the zoning changes are being rushed through.

The Planning Commission on Nov. 1 approved recommending the draft rewrite, with numerous amendments of its own made during the meeting, to be considered by the council at its Nov. 28 meeting. The vote came after more than three hours of discussion and debate, including several moments of confusion about what was being amended and what was already included in the draft.

The draft Overlay District rewrite recommends the area be divided into three distinct zoning districts that address issues such as building height and the number of units allowed per acre.

“My concern is based on past experience … the legalese is what is important,” resident Karen Dernovich said after the Nov. 1 meeting.

Dernovich was one of many residents who led several battles last year at City Hall against apartment complexes being built on Dresden Drive, which is included in the Overlay District.

Dernovich said some commissioners did not realize the draft rewrite includes a provision that development along Dresden Drive is mandated to have at least 15 percent open space included in each proposed project.

“I want to see the final version … not when it’s still shifting around, and not when they are making constant amendments and changes,” she said. “That level of stuff makes me nervous.”

Planning Commission Chair Stan Segal, however, said the commission “moved the ball forward” and is giving the City Council a plan that addresses many of the concerns raised by residents.

The council can now decide to add other amendments, ignore the Planning Commission’s amendments or even decide to send the rewrite back to the commission for more work, Segal said.

“I think we’ve moved the ball forward. I don’t think we got across the finish line,” he said. “They [the council] are going to struggle with some of the same things we have.”

The City Council voted in February to award a $135,000 contract to Atlanta-based urban planning firm TSW to rewrite the Overlay District, with the intention of completing the work in six months. The district covers Dresden Drive and Peachtree Road, including the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station.

The Overlay Draft rewrite follows the city’s study of neighborhood character areas that was added to the city’s comprehensive plan this year. Mayor John Ernst and the City Council also wanted an Overlay District rewrite to address the concerns many residents living in neighborhoods surrounding bustling Dresden Drive have raised about future development along the two-lane road that was intended to have a “village” feel.

Apparent confusion between what the city wants and what developers say the Overlay District allows also led to the rewrite. Two proposed multi-use developments on Dresden Drive — one approved by the council and another denied — along the road are currently in litigation. A proposed 6-story multi-family complex on Peachtree Road is also in litigation.

Key provisions of rewrite
The draft rewrite includes dividing the Overlay District into three Peachtree Road Districts, or PR Districts.
PR-1 is the same as what is currently known as sub-area 1 and includes the Peachtree Road corridor from North Druid Hills Road to Oglethorpe University. PR-2 is the same as the current sub-area 2 and includes Dresden Drive, Brookhaven Park and Town Brookhaven. PR-3 includes Apple Valley Road.

PR-3 reduces the height to a maximum of three stories, but allows up to four stories as a bonus for developers. As part of the bonus, developers would have to add 20 percent green space to the project (not just 15 percent), for example.

As part of zoning districts, Oglethorpe University will be removed from the Overlay and retain its office institution zoning; homes on Apple Valley Road and Dresden Drive will retain their R-75 single-family zoning; and Post Brookhaven apartments on Caldwell Road will retain their RM-75 multi-family residential zoning.

Addressing density is a major issue for the Overlay District. Segal’s amendment to require developers to apply for a special land use permit for multi-family developments in PR-1 over 120 units per acre was approved.

Planning Commissioner Bert Levy’s attempt to cap multi-family developments at 60 units per acre throughout the Overlay District failed because commissioners feared it would set a precedent throughout the city.

To try to address height concerns along Dresden Drive, the commission approved Levy’s amendments to cap development of all buildings east of Apple Valley Road in PR-2 to four stories with no bonuses allowed for developers to build higher.

Other amendments included changing the required buffer between commercial and residential development from 30 feet to 50 feet; and requiring any future redevelopment on the MARTA property to include 25 percent public green space rather than just 20 percent.

To try to encourage developers build more two-room apartments, the rewrite also mandates that no more than 60 percent of the units may have a floor area of less than 800 square feet.

No parking requirement for multi-family developments in PR-1
Planning Commissioner Conor Sen’s amendment to have no minimum parking requirements for multi-family developments in PR-1 also was approved.

Sen said he discovered it costs $25,000 to build one enclosed parking space. For a 700-square-foot apartment, that price hampers affordability, he said.

While financers of such developments tend to require one parking space per unit, the idea is more of a statement of how the city wants to set the tone for future development and redevelopment as it tackles affordability issues and tries to create a more walkable, transit-oriented city, Sen said.

Sen said he sees people on Dresden Drive walking to the MARTA station all the time. With ride-sharing through companies such as Uber and Lyft, there may be more of a demand for a parking-free environment, he said.

Developers will be able to ask for parking spaces, but Caleb Racicot of TSW said “getting rid of parking minimums sets a very strong public policy.”

“This is really more of a statement than having any practical impact,” he said.

Racicot noted many cities, including Atlanta, have had no parking minimums for many years, but because investors won’t fund projects without parking, no developments have gone up without parking. “But in 10 years that could change,” Sen said. “It’s a statement.”

For more information about the Overlay District rewrite, visit brookhavencharacterareastudy.com.

The presentation given at the Nov. 1 Planning Commission meeting: