People in Ashford Park are angry.
On a recent evening, they gathered in front of a neighbor’s house to talk about the house under construction next door — a house they believe is being built too close to the road and against the city’s zoning regulations.
They said they all felt like progress was being made. The city had issued a stop work order on the house, listened to residents’ concerns, and promised to work toward a resolution, they said. But then, on Dec. 2, work began again on the home.
According to Brookhaven’s Planning Director Susan Canon, the stop work order for construction at 2802 Ashford Road was lifted because the house was in compliance with the setback.
“I think that the council has been very concerned about the situation and the city attorney’s opinion was issued and we were looking at whether there were other options available to us to help resolve the situation,” Canon said. “But at the end of the day the house was legal and in compliance, with the exception of the retaining wall, and therefore the stop work order was lifted.”
But the neighbors feel like they’ve been let down by a new city that promised to provide better zoning and code enforcement services.
“At this point the city is taking on way too much allegiance to a builder,” Ashford Park resident Dan Maloy said. “At some point you’ve got to step up and say, ‘Let me make it right.’”
“You have a whole group of people running our city that won’t stand up for the taxpayers and it’s a damn travesty,” said Ronnie Mayer, president of the Ashford Park Civic Association.
The group is now considering suing the city of Brookhaven over its position on the controversial, partially built home.
“We are seeking legal counsel,” said Todd Varino, the immediate neighbor of the house. “That was the problem – they had legal counsel and we didn’t.”
But Larry Cook, who lives across the street, said: “I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer for the city to stick up for our rights.”
According to the DeKalb County zoning code that Brookhaven adopted, each zoning classification has a minimum setback requirement, which dictates how close a house may be to the road. But some areas also have an “average setback,” which means a property owner must take an average of the setbacks of the homes on either side of them, so houses on the street line up.
Brookhaven issued a permit to build the house according to the minimum setback of the residential zoning district, not taking the average setback requirement into account.
After a stop work order was issued, the city’s attorney researched the situation and decided that the permit was not issued in error. In a written opinion, he stated that because the houses on either side of the home under construction are in different residential zoning districts, he doesn’t believe the owners are required to abide by the average setback requirements.
Doug Dillard, an attorney representing the owners of the property, said he’s glad his clients will be able to continue work on the house.
“The zoning classifications are inconsistent on each side of the house and therefore the averaging ordinance does not apply. The city attorney agreed with us, and staff obviously agreed with us, so they lifted the stop work order,” Dillard said.
In a letter to Ashford Park residents signed by the mayor and members of City Council, the officials said they tried to find solutions to the issue. They said the city offered to share the cost of moving the house back from the street, but the builder declined.
At the council’s Dec. 10 meeting, Interim City Attorney Tom Kurrie further clarified the city’s reasoning for allowing construction to continue.
“I looked for ways to argue [the average setback] did apply. There were no valid ways to say it did,” Kurrie said. “So the permit was issued and it was a valid permit.”