By Katie Fallon

Facing a lawsuit filed by Lefko Investments that it might not win, Sandy Springs has decided to re-initiate a controversial Roberts Drive development rezoning request that was denied by the City Council seven months ago.

The case stems from the council’s March 20 denial of Mark Lefkovits’ request to rezone his company’s 3.2-acre property, containing the lots at 9670, 9680 and 9710 Roberts Drive, from a Community Unit Plan (CUP) district to an “A” classification, which is described as a medium density apartment district.

Lefko came to the council with a plan to build 19 detached townhomes, a figure reduced by more than 50 percent from his original request, at a density of 5.94 units per acre.

The density is well below the current land use density of eight to 12 units per acre in the Interim Comprehensive Plan. However, during the summer the council voted on more than 40 land use changes and this portion of Roberts Drive was reduced to a density of one- to two-units per acre. The new plan has not yet been approved by the state so the new density is not legal at this time. Nor was it legal when Lefko originally filed for rezoning.

Documents from the Fulton County Superior Court show that Lefko filed its original petition against the city on April 18, less than 30 days following the council’s denial. According to the clerk’s office for that court, the case has been closed.

Actually, the case has been declared inactive.

Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendell Willard said both parties reported to the court that the city was initiating an application for rezoning of the property within a residential classification.

“The parties agreed in a conference call with a court representative to have the court place the case in an inactive status while the zoning application proceeds to a conclusion,” Willard said. “Therefore, there is not to be any further court action until either party files a motion requesting the court reactivate the case for further action. The case is still in a “pending” status.”

Lefkovits said because the company is in pending litigation with the city, he could not discuss the contents of the case. He said, however, that Lefko does not oppose the city’s decision to send the case back through the rezoning process.

“We welcome the city’s decision to decide to reinitiate the zoning case,” Lefkovits said. Lefkovits said he has not yet been informed of the date when his company’s case will again begin the rezoning process. The traditional course of appearances starts with the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission, who both make recommendations to the City Council. The council will vote the final decision in the matter.

Lefkovits would not comment further on either the lawsuit or the new re-zoning process.

The Roberts Drive development is located in the city’s District 1, which has been without City Council representation since the resignation of Councilman Dave Greenspan in late-August. District 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries, whose district is adjacent to District 1, addressed the lawsuit and the rezoning at her Oct. 4 town hall meeting at the Signature Room.

Fries said the council decided to re-initiate the re-zoning process as a means of heading off a possible verdict by Fulton County Superior Court, in which the case is being heard by Judge Jerry W. Baxter.

“We would rather have control over the decision of what happens in our own backyard than have it done in the court,” Fries said. “The court could very well say that with eight to 12 [units per acres], he could put the 36 townhomes in there. We would much rather have it, at least as long as we can, with some of our control.”

Although a date for reinstituting the rezoning process has not been set, Fries said the council hopes to stave off hearings until after the Nov. 6 special election so the residents who could potentially be directly affected by the development would have representation when the council takes its final vote.

“The council felt is was an appropriate thing to go back through the zoning issues on that again and bring it back up,” Fries said. “We’re initiating the zoning process on this once again to look at how we went through it, how our decisions were made and if we want to change it or not.”

Furthermore, Fries said the city has been given an unfavorable forecast of its chances for winning the lawsuit.

“Were not going to win the lawsuit,” Fries said. “We’ve been advised it’s not going to happen. That’s why we’ve initiated the rezoning again…to look at it and see what we can maybe live with.”

Fries said she is sorry to see the rezoning application come up again, even though she had a feeling it would. In the original zoning process the Design Review Board, Planning Commission and City Council, City Hall was routinely filled to standing-room only.