Brookhaven, GA, May 15 – Brookhaven Citizen, Thomas Porter, AIA, LEED® AP, provides the following Letter to the Editor:
To the Editor:
On May 20th the ZBA is scheduled to rule on a record-breaking set of 9 variances for a Walgreens to be located at Peachtree Rd at Colonial Drive. If any are approved, it will change the face and future of Brookhaven, and, remove lingering doubts that the leadership of our city is terminally flawed. ZBA approval will nullify years of work by many citizens and professionals (not me) who crafted and sought legislative approval for the Brookhaven-Peachtree Ordinances that are creating the walkable environment with screened parking along Peachtree Road & Dresden Drive; all to be undone in a moment by the hands of our new city’s leaders.
I have been impressed by the ZBA recently; they seem concerned, inquisitive, deliberative and creative in the most recent applications put before them. My concern is based upon a terribly flawed and biased report sent to the ZBA by Community Development. That report, which is supposed to be factual, along with their recommendation of approval, frightens me for an issue with such high stakes.
The owner, Walgreens, is no newcomer to wanting to develop a store (their way) at this location, previously they had submitted plans requesting only 1 (one) variance at this site, they were denied approval by DeKalb County and that denial was upheld in subsequent court ruling. Now they are back again requesting 9 (NINE) variances with a new developer, Jay Gipson through the company Gipco Southern Inc. One swirling rumor has it that our Mayor once played football with one of the Gipson family, there is a member of the Gipson family on the ZBA, Kent Gipson who did recuse himself at the first hearing. They’ve hired attorney Doug Dillard, the imposing legal voice of outrage, to represent them. There is also that report to the ZBA by Community Development’s that obfuscates facts and recommends approval of most of the nine variances sought.
My problems with the report to the ZBA: Community Development, by ordinance, is supposed to prepare a “Staff analysis, findings of fact and recommendation” applying the “criteria and standards”, of which there are 5, and, any failure to meet ALL 5 “shall” preclude the ZBA from approval. The very first criteria states that the property must be of EXCEPTIONAL size, shape or topography; the only factual answer to this is:
The property consists of 4 commercial lots for which there is no standard of size, and, the shape of the property has been created by the owner through multiple purchases. The shape is very regular, the property has little slope. There is nothing exceptional about the property.
You can read Community Development’s responses (here), they’re not the same.
That should put an end to any approval unto itself… if all is right and fair in our city. Still, I worry.
Thereafter, the application fails three other criteria and passes the fifth.
Other arguments put forth by the applicant are that screening the parking deck, creating a front door, adequate parking and installing landscaping strips all constitute “undue and unnecessary hardship” not a “casual or discretionary inconvenience”.
The applicant also argues is that there is no danger to the public by providing a vehicular entrance off Peachtree Road and off Colonial Drive, yet there has already been expert testimony that they would be problematic, and crazily, the ZBA is asked to rule without a detailed traffic engineering report! Anyone reading this probably understands the problems already at that intersection where the Starbucks and Kroger entrances are, plus, the City doesn’t have the funds to fix that infrastructure now.
Lastly, the variance cannot go beyond the minimum to give relief – if there was previously an application requesting only one variance, how could asking for 9 be the minimum for relief? It baffles me and so do Community Development’s responses.
Again, I believe the ZBA wants to do the right things for our City, but I have reasonably justified suspicions about some of our city’s leadership & the influence they can exert. This is a much larger issue than most understand, topically it may seem like just a Walgreens, in reality it is something that will change the face of Brookhaven in a negative way and open the door for every other developer to immediately run-in while there are no enforceable ordinances. It would also confirm that Brookhaven is for up grabs.
We don’t even have the first results from the citizen’s committees who will decide our future “vision” for Brookhaven; why would the City go so far out of their way to recommend approval of these variances and thus thwart the existing regulations?
This coming ZBA hearing marks the end of the 60 day deferral, let’s hope they deny the variances as our ordinances require, and, send a strong signal to Community Development that they dislike deception. If you know any member of the ZBA, talk with them about this, if you are as concerned about this as I am, send an email to Susan Canon (Susan.Canon@brookhavenga.gov ) and ask her to forward your comments to the ZBA, it is properly called ZBA 14-06.