By John Schaffner

The city of Atlanta is trying to push through by the beginning of 2009 a planned development-conservation subdivision (PD-CS) ordinance that received a cool reception at the Nov. 4 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B) and apparently is receiving the same reception at NPUs throughout the city.

The draft ordinance, designed to meet the requirements of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, is being positioned as a tool for protecting watersheds through the preservation of open space and green space and the nonstructural management of stormwater runoff.

But NPUs, according to NPU-B Chairman Jeff Shell, consider the legislation to be another city ordinance produced without much consideration of the possible downsides.

NPU members see those effects as including subdivisions in upscale areas that would contain substandard construction, such as town homes with mostly vinyl siding, resulting in reduced values of surrounding properties.

That was one of the major concerns voiced by Richard Rauh, the NPU-B representative on the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB), the advisory group that represents all of the NPUs before the city on planning and zoning matters.

Nov. 4 was the first time NPU-B heard or saw anything on the ordinance, and the NPU board was told by city planner Jessica Lavandier it would be on the NPU’s December agenda for a vote. A public hearing on the ordinance is set for Nov. 24 at City Hall.

Under the proposal, single-family homes would be clustered on smaller lots than zoning would typically allow and would be away from sensitive environmental resources. The arrangement would be designed to protect green spaces and environmental resources while allowing the same number of dwellings.

According to the Planning Department, the ordinance is designed to create density-neutral residential zoning that protects water quality, increases and protects green space in the city, and clusters homes on the least environmentally sensitive area of a parcel.

According to Lavandier, compliance with the ordinance would be voluntary on the part of developers and would require rezoning a property to the new PD-CS designation.

That raised a question from NPU-B board members: Why would anyone go through the process of rezoning property to do this?

The parcel must be at least 2 acres and served by the public sanitary sewer. It also must contain an environmentally sensitive area, such as a steep slope, mature forest, 100-year flood plain, stream, wetland, endangered species habitat, scenic views, or connectivity to existing parks, green space or trails.

Because the intent is to be density-neutral, generally the same number of homes could be built in a PD-CS as in a conventional subdivision. The developer has to calculate the density by dividing the net buildable area by the minimum lot size in the underlying zoning district.

Here are some of the PD-CS specifics:

• Twenty-five percent of the site must be permanently protected green space that is at least 75 percent contiguous.

• There is no minimum lot frontage or size.

•The yards abutting the property line or right of way retain setbacks and/or frontage of the underlying zoning.

• The lots must be configured to minimize impervious surfaces. There are no mandatory minimum parking requirements.

• Infrastructure may be private.

• Impervious surfaces in the green space are limited to 15 percent.

• Green spaces can be used for items such as trails, community gardens and natural stormwater management facilities.

• The owner of the green space is responsible for its maintenance in keeping with city laws.

• The green space must be owned by a mandatory homeowners association or by a qualified conservation organization.

• The green space is permanently protected from development by a legal instrument, such as a conservation easement or deed.