Sandy Springs’ second major update to the new development code has hit snags, with the Planning Commission balking at some recommendations and the City Council later holding up others. Some of the proposals — including changing the way building heights are restricted and requirements for public spaces — will return to the council at its January meeting after being deferred last year.

This second major amendment comes over a year since the adoption of the Development Code. The first major amendment occurred six months after passing the code, including changes to key components of the code, such as the lot coverage and grading in setbacks in single-family districts.

The city’s planning staff said in the summary of its proposals that the changes are minor error corrections and “other changes that are not expected to generate much discussion.”

But several have been contentious among city boards and residents who have spoken out against them in meetings.

The changes are part of the second round of proposals. The city has passed a few items this round, including changes to allowing the renovation of drive-throughs and decreasing bicycle parking requirements for private schools.

The council on Dec. 18 deferred changes to change building height requirements and decrease outdoor amenity space requirements. On Nov. 20, it deferred proposals to allow townhome infill developments and increase the allowed size of building signs. The Planning Commission held up the building height change for a month and recommended the City Council deny allowing renovation of drive-throughs and the infill development changes.

On the table is switching from an overall building height limit to a limit on the amount of stories. The current height limits are a holdover from Fulton County code, said Catherine Mercier-Baggett, the planning and zoning manager. That change would solve problems with developers not being able to build the number of stories they want to because of the overall height limit, she said.

The change in building height would apply to office, Perimeter Center and mixed-use residential districts.

“I want to make that abundantly clear. We are not touching the lower residential districts,” Mercier-Baggett said.

“Obviously, no one wants a looming building over their backyard swimming pool. That’s what the maximum height concept was all about in the beginning,” Paulson said. “At the end of the day, I’m not ready to vote on this,” he said.

Joe Heins spoke against the change as a representative of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, saying increasing the height in protected neighborhood buffers would harm residents.

“You made a promise to protect neighborhoods,” Heins said.

The current outdoor amenity space requirements have been “found to be more punitive for some properties than others,” Mercier-Baggett said.

The amenity space is provided for social and recreational uses, such as a pool at an apartment complex or an outdoor plaza at a shopping center.
Other than houses and townhomes, all developments are required to have outdoor amenity space equal to 15 percent of the development size. The change would instead tier that amount based on the development’s size. In effect, the tiers would lower the required space for all sizes of developments. The highest tier, 2 acres, would be lowered to 10 percent. Less than 1 acre would 2 percent, and between that, the city would require 5 percent.

This would go against the city’s goal to be more walkable and have more green space, said Ronda Smith, with the Council of Neighborhoods. The city should keep the 15 percent for large developments to encourage developers to give back to the community, she said.

Mercier-Baggett said she was not sure why the planning staff chose to reduce the 15 percent to 10 percent.

“There’s nothing magical about those numbers,” she said.

Those proposals will return to the City Council meeting on Jan. 15, along with the infill development and building sign proposed changes.
The infill development proposal would allow townhomes in the city’s existing cottage court pattern, which allows for smaller houses centered around green space.

The building sign change would allow a 360-square-foot sign, double what is allowed now, on a building 10 stories or more. The building would also have to be visible from I-285 or Ga. 400 and abut the interstates.

The current restriction is a 180-square-foot sign on buildings four stories or taller.