The DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals has asked for additional time to make a decision on variance requests from Chase bank, which is hoping to build a branch on Peachtree Road in Brookhaven.
Chase bank asked the county for several variances to Brookhaven’s overlay zoning requirements, including a request to build the bank 54 feet from the road – rather than the maximum 20 feet prescribed by the overlay – so the building can continue to share an easement with its neighbor, Kauffman Tire.
At the board’s May 9 meeting, Chase attorney Carl Westmoreland said Kauffman Tire is not willing to give up or relocate the easement because the company would be giving up “extraordinary visibility and access.”
“If that’s not an ‘exceptional circumstance,’ I don’t know what is,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland said if negotiating with the business fails, the only other option for the property owner would be to ask Kauffman Tire to leave. The business still has 13 years remaining on its lease, Westmoreland said.
“We have no right, unilaterally, to change it,” Westmoreland said. “Unless [the owner] kicks Kauffman out, which would take two years according to the lease, … you can’t do anything with the property.”
Linda Dunlavy, an attorney representing the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance, said neither she nor Westmoreland has yet to see Kauffman’s lease.
“They’re using the lease as the hardship and there’s no evidence,” Dunlavy said.
Attempts to reach Kauffman Tire for comment were unsuccessful.
Bonnie Jackson, chairwoman of the board, asked for the 30-day deferral to allow time for the attorneys to request the lease and review it to see if there are other options.
DeKalb County’s planning staff has recommended that the board deny the request. “It appears that the 28-foot easement can be relocated to the rear of the property,” the staff report states. “Furthermore, the location of the easement along the property frontage impedes pedestrian access from the sidewalk to the building. Relocation of the easement to the back of the property would improve pedestrian access and vehicular circulation.”
Members of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance say the point of the overlay zoning district is for new development along the Peachtree corridor to be more urban- and pedestrian-friendly.
One of the overlay’s main requirements is that buildings be constructed no more than 20 feet from the sidewalk. The goal is to make the buildings easier to access on foot, rather than having a parking lot between the building and the sidewalk, as is customary in many suburban strip malls.
“If we can start getting more urban model Chase banks and other businesses, it’s going to be more like Dresden Drive,” said Brookhaven business owner Lynda Martin. “We want to support people getting out of their cars and going business to business.”
Kathy Forbes, a resident of the Brookhaven Heights neighborhood, said she is tired of businesses viewing the overlay zoning requirements as a set of suggestions, rather than requirements.
“The only chance we have for recognizing our vision for Brookhaven is for the county and the Zoning Board of Appeals to stand behind the overlay ordinance,” she said.
Tim Morrison, a resident of the nearby Brookhaven Drive, said he and many of his neighbors support Chase’s proposal.
“We think the zoning requests are reasonable,” Morrison said. “Our concerns are that in this economy, we have a very good business that wants to locate in this area.”
Dunlavy said there is not enough of a hardship for Chase to justify the need for the variances. Allowing one business to get around the overlay zoning would open the door for more businesses not to comply, she said.
“It will have a negative domino effect on this neighborhood,” Dunlavy said.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Liz Beyer agreed.
“I don’t believe this applicant has made the argument for the hardships,” Beyer said. “The owner is in control.”
She said because Chase would be demolishing the existing building – the former Hastings nursery—the company should comply with the zoning requirements.
“The ideal time to utilize the overlay is when there is a complete demolition,” she said.