A new “Master Planned Development District” system for Brookhaven’s zoning code rewrite would allow developers to submit ideas that don’t fit into conventional zoning ordinances in exchange for public benefits.

The idea is to allow developers to be innovative and creative when coming up with a project and to “accommodate development that may be difficult if not impossible to carry out under otherwise applicable zoning district regulations,” according to the draft code.

Such developments would likely target redevelopment along Buford Highway where aging apartment complexes are being eyed by developers and where unusual lot sizes exist. The Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station, which currently has acres of empty parking lots surrounding it, is another site city leaders say could benefit from an MPD.

An MPD must also provide at least one of the four public benefit thresholds: at least 20 percent workforce housing, a public open space such as a plaza or pocket park, at least 15 percent of the development protects at least 15 percent of natural resources not counting other required green space mandates or achieving LEED certification.

“‘Master Planned Development District’ is just a fashionable term used for Planned Unit Developments … which have been around since the 1970s all over the country,” said Gary Cornell, who teaches urban planning at Georgia Tech and was not involved in the city’s zoning rewrite.

Planned Unit Developments originally started to provide flexibility for single-family residential projects, also known as “cluster housing,” and in metro Atlanta they tend to exist in suburban areas. This definition has evolved over years as well as the types of uses included.

A well-known Planned Unit Development in metro Atlanta is Peachtree City, Cornell said, where developers essentially created a city well-known for allowing residents to get nearly anywhere on a golf cart.

But that development was created due to vast amounts of vacant land. In Brookhaven, there is not much undeveloped property and an MPD would most likely mean the redevelopment of infill property.

Cornell said it can be difficult to redevelop infill properties where developers often make serious financial investments and noted it’s often costlier for developers to acquire assemblages for sizable projects. An MPD option can “reward” the developer for coming up with a project that makes a positive impact on the city, he said.

The MPD in Brookhaven would be like a “floating overlay” which won’t appear on the city’s zoning map until such a designation is requested and approved. Such a district includes a different regulatory and approval process than other conventional zoning ordinances.

The approval process begins with an application submitted to the Community Development Department that includes a written explanation describing the community benefits of the proposed development and how the proposed development provides greater benefits to the city than a development that meets applicable zoning requirements.

Currently, the zoning draft states an MPD would get public input through the current traditional avenues of a community meeting with people living in the area, and then the developer going before the Planning Commission and City Council.

In Brookhaven’s proposed zoning code rewrite, examples of the types of development that may benefit from a Master Planned Development District zoning tool include:

1. Enhanced protection of natural resources. Developments that offer enhanced protection of natural resources and sensitive environmental features, including streams, floodplains, wetlands, steep slopes, woodlands and native plant species.

2. Traditional urban development. Developments characterized by lot configurations, street patterns, streetscapes and neighborhood amenities commonly found in urban neighborhoods created before the 1950s.

3. Mixed-use development. Developments that contain a complementary mix of residential and nonresidential users.

4. Mixed housing development. Residential developments containing a mix of housing types geared toward different age groups, income levels and lifestyle preferences.

The specific objectives of the MPD as outlined in the zoning rewrite draft include: flexibility and creativity in responding to changing social, economic and market conditions and that results in greater public benefits than could be achieved using conventional zoning and development regulations; the incorporation of open spaces and natural resources; attractive and high-quality landscaping, lighting and architecture and signage to reflect the “unique character of the development”; and sustainable, long-term communities that provide economic opportunity and environmental and social equity for residents.

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