A proposal to halve the required front-yard space for a new house in Buckhead’s Garden Hills is drawing protests from NPU-B as it heads to a May 9 city hearing.

“I think this is a critically important issue” with an effect that could “radically change the character of the neighborhood,” said NPU-B chair Nancy Bliwise at the group’s May 7 meeting.

The property is 464 Pinetree Drive, at the intersection with N. Hills Drive. Applicant Joe Prochaska – who did not speak at the NPU meeting – is seeking a variance for a 17.5-foot front-yard setback instead of 35 feet at a May 9 hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

NPU-B members were upset not only about the possible reduction of the “historical” 35-foot-wide front yards in the neighborhood, but also that the city reportedly is saying the variance to do is not even required anymore.

According to Sally Silver, an aide to City Councilmember Howard Shook, the application originally went through the zoning variance request process, but since then, planning staff have decided the change in setback is OK because of the lot’s irregular area and location on a corner. She said city planning staff will recommend that the BZA deny the variance without prejudice as a technical move to allow the development to go ahead as planned.

NPU-B member Kim Shorter said she believes another part of the zoning ordinances requires that developments on irregular lots adhere to the setbacks of nearby properties. Several NPU members expressed concern about the reported procedural error in determining whether a variance was needed.

The NPU voted to recommend the BZA deny the application with prejudice, meaning it could not return within two years to seek another variance.

Silver said Shook’s office will draft a new ordinance clarifying setbacks on such lots. Bliwise said that for this case, it would be “closing the barn door after the horse is out.” Silver also noted that city approval of a development plan can be appealed within 30 days.

John Ruch

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