Brookhaven City Council recently tweaked the city’s “overlay zoning district,” but some residents and developers fret that even small changes could have big consequences.
Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay Zoning District is a special zoning that sets guidelines for urban, pedestrian-friendly development around the Brookhaven MARTA station and the Peachtree Road corridor.
Council members wanted to clarify the language in the city’s zoning document because of past confusion created by different interpretations of the rules. Confusion has arisen over parking, about what constituted a building’s required second story, and how densely developed projects could be.
One change to the overlay defines a “conflict” as competing regulations or provisions between the overlay and the underlying zoning district, and clarifies which rules should be followed if the overlay is silent on a topic. “In the absence of a provision in the overlay district, the regulations of the underlying zoning shall apply,” the new version reads.
John Speros, senior vice president of brokerage for Ackerman & Co., represents the owner of the Peachtree Road property that houses Kauffman Tire and the former Hastings garden store.
Speros said after a proposal for a Chase Bank branch was denied by the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals last year, his client went back to the drawing board and returned with a proposal that better meets the requirements of the overlay. They now are working on a $50 million development that is to include upscale apartments and about 20,000 square feet of ground-level retail.
But Speros said the underlying zoning of the property would not allow for multifamily development.
“It’s got everything that the Brookhaven Overlay district originally envisioned. We are now being told this text amendment would eliminate our ability to do multifamily,” Speros said. “It can’t happen without having the density around it. They go hand in hand.”
Speros asked the council to consider the economic impact such a development could have on the city.
“We were willing to build within guidelines of the existing overlay, which is 5-6 stories,” Speros said. “We don’t have any idea what we’re going to end up with or if we’re going to end up with anything. That depends if the mayor and council will work with us to build a project that will make sense for the community.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams said rezoning is still a viable option for the project Speros presented.
“It’s not meant in any way to bog developers down or slow development down. But we’re going to live with these developments for generations.”
Among other changes in the amendment is language that calls for the second story to encompass 100 percent of the gross floor area of the first floor, allowing up to 25 percent of the second floor to be used for open air spaces for dining or other business purposes. The amendment also clarifies parking for restaurants, with a minimum of one parking space for every 125 square feet of dining space.
The changes in parking came after residents raised concerns that the limited parking allowed under the overlay would create a backlash in the community.
Kathy Forbes said the parking should be increased until a better public transportation culture is established in the Brookhaven area.
“We’re not a city like San Francisco. We don’t have that kind of public transportation right now,” Forbes said. “I just think we really need to accommodate that parking.”
Michael Roberts cautioned against limited parking with strict enforcement, which has plagued areas like the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta. “It’s going to ultimately drive people away if they can’t find a parking spot.”
Councilman Bates Mattison said more broad discussions about the overlay should take place during the city’s comprehensive planning process, which is scheduled to kick off this fall.
“I think that a lot of thought by professionals and the community was put into the overlay,” Mattison said. “It would be improper without more public discussions to really get into the guts of the overlay.”