Residents read about proposed changes to Atlanta’s zoning ordinance at a public forum in Buckhead Sept. 20.

Buckhead residents voiced the need for tree protection and more opportunities for public input at a meeting on proposed changes to Atlanta’s zoning ordinances Sept. 20. If approved, the changes would require developers to build sidewalks in some districts and change bicycle rack requirements, among other changes.

The proposed changes represent the first phase of “quick fixes” consultants from Canvas Planning Group, the firm working on the new zoning ordinance, want to address. A second phase will come next year, and a full rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance will come in three to five years, consultants said at the meeting.

About 30 people attended the forum held at Passion City Church, which is located near the Lindbergh area. The forum was the second of two public forums the consultants working on the update held, and they said at the meeting they will announce dates and locations for October open houses soon.

The proposed changes will then go before Neighborhood Planning Units later in October and November, the Zoning Review Board in November or December and the city council in December or January. The actual legislation that will call for these changes will be available in October.

The proposed changes include several minor changes to the zoning ordinance that will address problems voiced during meetings with city planning staff and the public last year when consultants were putting together a diagnostic report that will guide the zoning rewrite. The changes are inconveniences and inconsistencies in the zoning ordinance the consultants feel are easy to fix and can be dealt with quickly.

“This is a meeting to discuss the low hanging fruit that came out of that process,” Caleb Racicot, a consultant, said. 

One of the main changes would be creating a citywide set of bike parking standards, instead of the 18 separate and conflicting standards currently in place. The current standards don’t include requirements for residential areas and allow the bike racks to be “poorly located,” documents on the proposed standards say. New standards would require developers to install bike parking at each building on a site in both nonresidential and residential areas.

Outdoor bike racks would have to be publicly accessible and lit, accessible to street or trail without using stairs and must be no more than 100 feet from the building door. Indoor racks would have to be accessible to occupants without using stairs and lit.

Another main change would be requiring new developments to repair existing sidewalks to build sidewalks if they don’t already exist. Newer zoning districts currently require this, but older ones do not and this would reconcile that inconsistency, consultants said. The new requirements would call for 10-foot sidewalks on major corridors and six-foot sidewalks on all other streets. It would also allow for 3-foot sidewalks in places necessary to accommodate trees and their roots.

Consultants also hope to fix problems with “storage pods” being left for extended periods of time on people’s property. The zoning ordinance does not currently have any guidelines address this, and the new changes would limit the amount of time storage pods could remain on a residential property to 30 days out of the year. The storage containers would also have to remain out of sidewalks, away from the street and not block intersection sight lines for motorists.

Other smaller changes would eliminate the requirement for independent driveways, delete unused zoning districts in Midtown and allow for taller HVAC units.

The hope of the changes is to make administering the zoning guidelines easier and help the public more easily understand the rules, consultants said.

In the public comment section of the meeting, Christina Gibson, a canopy conservation coordinator at Trees Atlanta, said that she would like to see the zoning ordinance more closely work with the tree ordinance, which is getting its own rewrite by consultants as well.

“We need a more holistic code that makes it easier for arborists, conservation advocates and plants and animals to do their job,” Gibson said. 

Aaron Fortner, a consultant at Canvas Planning, said they will make sure the tree ordinance and zoning ordinance rewrites are closely connected and “on the same page.”

Laura Dobson, an advocate for tree protection and a resident of Peachtree Hills, said consultants should seize this oppurtunity in the zoning rewrite “to actually preserve our trees more effectively.”

Jim Snyder, a Castleberry Hill resident, suggested the city incorporate resident perspective more consistently and often, such as by including them on a steering committee with stakeholders. He complained residents have been left out of the process, but consultants maintained they value residents’ perspectives and urged people to spread the word about the October meetings when more details are annouced.

“It’s the way this city has always worked, but it needs change,” Snyder said on his view that the city does not include enough public input. 

Sally Silver, District 7 Councilmember Howard Shook’s policy advisor, said the zoning rewrite is “a big step in the city” and the city needs to do a better job advertising the meeting so that more people come.

Silver is on a leave of absence from her city position while she runs Shook’s campaign for re-election against challenger Rebecca King, who also attended the meeting and said the public does need more opportunities for input.

“I think it seems like it’s already done,” King said.

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