By Katie Fallon

The City Council voted 4 to 2 March 20 to deny a rezoning request that would have brought a development of 19 detached townhomes to Roberts Drive in north Sandy Springs.

Lefko Investments, led by partner Mark Lefkovits, brought the request to rezone a 3.2 acre tract of land from CUP conditional to a medium density apartment district in order to build 19 townhomes at a density of 5.94 units per acre. The city manager’s office recommended approval of the request as well as two concurrent variances.

The land currently includes three single-family homes at 9670, 9680 and 9710 Roberts Drive. It is on the south side of Roberts Drive, along a section where the road runs parallel to the Chattahoochee River, and is approximately 480 feet east of Roswell Road.

The rezoning item, which was first on the list of zoning public hearings, brought a packed house of both opponents and supporters, although the opponents were in greater numbers and many wore red to signify their unity. Both sides exhausted their allotted ten minutes for public comment before the denial carried with Councilwomen Ashley Jenkins and Dianne Fries in opposition.

Lefkovits cited the neighboring presence of office space to the west and condominiums to the south as evidence the development was not outside the realm of what already exists in the neighborhood. He further said that he has continued to compromise by reducing his original number of townhomes by more than 50 percent, but that the neighbors have not reciprocated that level of compromise.

“Although the neighbors’ opposition has continued to be uncompromising, we made further concessions to mitigate their concerns,” Lefkovits said.

The motion to deny the rezoning was actually a substitute motion offered by District 3 Councilman Rusty Paul after District 1 Councilman Dave Greenspan moved to approve the rezoning, but at a reduced density of 1.88 units per acre or six units, whichever was less.

Greenspan sided with the many residents who voiced concern over the density of the development as originally proposed.

“There’s a difference between compromise and sacrifice,” Greenspan said. “I think the neighborhood is not willing to sacrifice. Roberts is still a neighborhood.”

While the plan would have replaced three single family homes with 19 townhomes, it was still within the density parameters of the Interim 2025 Comprehensive Land Use Plan by which the city currently abides. The plan calls for a residential density of eight to 12 units per acre, which Lefkovits clearly comes under.

Both Paul and District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio voiced concern over approving a substitute rezoning that was never requested.

“We are arbitrarily making a zoning decision that hasn’t been requested by anyone,” Paul said.

Similarly, DeJulio said the city was micromanaging zoning issues.

“It’s almost like spot zoning,” DeJulio said. “We need to be looking at the bigger picture.

Within the city’s background information included with the rezoning request were scores of emails and letters from residents of Roberts Drive and the surrounding area. A majority of the communications were in opposition to the plan and cited issues such as adding to existing traffic congestion, changing the existing nature of the neighborhood, density, stormwater runoff, property devaluation and loss of greenspace.

Still other positive comments, however, said the plan would improve the character of the neighborhood and offset recent crime issues like break-ins, burglaries and even armed robberies. A petition was also signed by 29 residents in favor of the rezoning. The petition cited increased property values, which could result in the redevelopment of nearby retail areas and other deteriorated properties.

Lefkovits’ rezoning request also included a request for two concurrent variances. He asked to change the required 50 foot buffer and 10 foot improvement setback along the south property line to a 15 foot building setback. He also wanted to change the required 25 foot side setback along the west property line to a 10 foot landscape strip. City staff recommended approval of the variances as well, but they were included in the council’s denial.

Before the entire rezoning was denied, Lefkovits said he could not accept Greenspan’s motion of reduced density.

“At that density, it is not a viable project,” Lefkovits said.

Because the rezoning was denied, Lefko Investments has to wait one year before they bring the issue back before the council.