Mixed-use districts, backyard cottages and a new Buford Highway Overlay District are some of the major items in the city’s proposed zoning rewrite that could go before the council in September as city officials try to chart a course for the city’s foundation and character for decades to come.

Two more public meetings for residents to hear more about the zoning rewrite are set for the July 19. The Planning Commission will also dedicate its July 11 work session solely to going over the draft, according to Chair Stan Segal.

At a June 28 meeting, consultant Kirk Bishop of Duncan and Associates, the consultants for the zoning rewrite, explained the city’s current zoning is based on old DeKalb County ordinances. Since the city formed, new comprehensive and character plans have been created and need to be included in a new zoning code.

Mixed-use districts/Buford Highway Overlay

One way, Bishop said, to modernize the city’s code is to create four new mixed-use district designations: neighborhood, community, corridor and employment. The general idea behind the mixed-use districts is to create, maintain and promote walkable areas.

The mixed-use districts do not affect current zoning, but if developers wants to, for example, raze an apartment complex on Buford Highway, they will have to meet the new zoning requirements of a mix of retail and residential as well as other requirements such as storefronts closer to the road.

The mayor and City Council have expressed publicly many times their desire for mixed-use developments on Buford Highway as redevelopment of the international corridor known for its immigrant populations and businesses continues to ramp up.

Much of the current redevelopment taking place along Buford Highway consists of tearing down older apartment complexes and building luxury townhomes in their place, which has raised the issue of affordable housing and what that means in Brookhaven.

The draft rewrite includes a definition of workforce housing as: “For-sale housing that is afford-able to those households earning no more than 80 percent of the median household income for the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area, as determined by the current fiscal year HUD income limit table.”

The Atlanta MSA area includes 28 counties surrounding Atlanta and some 140 cities, including Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Sandy Springs, Stonecrest, Tucker, Peachtree Corners, Milton and South Fulton.

A coalition of Buford Highway affordable housing activists recently noted the area median income (AMI) for the Cross Keys cluster including Buford Highway is $24,159. Using HUD’s definition, affordable housing costs would not need to exceed $604 a month in this area.

Currently, average rent now for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment along the Buford Highway corridor is estimated at $950 to $1,200 a month, according to Census figures studied by the Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Chamblee.

No real specifics from the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force’s recommendations, such as inclusionary zoning to require an affordability component in high-density developments, are highlighted in the draft rewrite.

Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said the city is still working to incorporate the Task Force’s recommendations that are expected to be completed by July 19.

The zoning rewrite draft also includes a section for increased hospital, office and hotel building heights on Buford Highway up to 20 stories. Parking decks for these buildings are not to be taller than eight stories.

Ruffin said at the June 28 meeting that the taller buildings are planned to be closer to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta massive development at the I-85 and North Druid Hills Road interchange as well as Executive Park, now owned by Emory University.

The scope of the Buford Highway Overlay now only specifically deals with streetscape features and connectivity to the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

Concurrent variances

The city attempted in 2014 to allow rezoning applicants file a variance at the same time to allow the City Council to decide both requests. Variances are currently generally heard and decided by the zoning board of appeals; approving concurrent variances essentially eliminates the ZBA on such requests.

Strong backlash from residents in 2014 who feared not having enough public input in zoning requests led to the ultimate failure of the proposed change.

But Bishop, the consultant, said Brookhaven is lagging behind other cities on this issue because forcing a developer to make two stops can create a “conflict with the cart and the horse” leading to an applicant perhaps getting a rezoning but not its needed variances.

“The response by many communities is to assign variances to the City Council to consider when they hear a rezoning,” Bishop said.

This is what is currently happening with the Boys & Girls property on North Druid Hills Road. Developer Ashton Woods worked with adjacent neighborhoods and city officials to find a project they could agree that is a combination of town homes and single-family homes.

The council approved the rezoning request, but when Ashton went before the ZBA, their variances were denied. Ashton is now appealing the ZBA’s decision in DeKalb Superior Court.

Backyard cottages

To address the “missing middle” of higher density residential districts, the draft rewrite includes a new provision for “bungalow courts,” where detached houses are built around open space. There are also provisions for backyard cottages and secondary suites.

Secondary suites are small accessory dwelling units located within the same building as the principal dwelling unit. Backyard cottages are small detached accessory dwelling units located in the rear yard.

Both would require SLUP approval and only one backyard cottage or secondary suite would be permitted on a lot.

Public meetings

July 11 at 5 p.m. – The Planning Commission and Steering Committee of the rezoning rewrite will be going over the draft. Brookhaven City Hall, 4362 Peachtree Road.

July 19 at 9 a.m. – Public meeting with Community Development staff and consultants at City Hall.

July 19 at 6 p.m. – Meeting at Briarwood Park Community Center, 2235 Briarwood Way.

For input and more information, see duncan.civicomment.org/brookhaven-zoning-ordinance and brookhavenzoning.com.

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Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.