Brookhaven, GA, May 5, 2016 – Commentary by Karen Dernavich – So last weekend I sat down and wrote about the Development on Dresden, and I continue to ponder my statement…”there is a better way.” Here are my thoughts and questions for what they are worth. I love our neighborhood and I still believe there is a better way and truly want us to find it.
So whose job is it to create the vision and lead us down the better way?
Clearly it is not the Developer’s job to set and guide the vision for our community. I don’t blame them for trying, they are just making a living. That said, somewhere along the line they have fallen into the role of telling the City what is best for us and hoping the Citizens won’t notice.
Is the City responsible for setting and guiding the vision or are they bound to be neutral between the Citizens and the Developers and their Attorneys? What role does the Zoning Law and Comprehensive Plan play – is that the vision? If so, it would seem that any submitted application that doesn’t clearly conform to the zoning law and comprehensive plan should be pretty quickly dismissed unless there is a groundswell of Citizen support to over ride it and grant rezoning. Wasting time on applications that don’t conform means wasted money and resources for everyone. If every application gets passed UNLESS there is huge Citizen opposition, then why do we have zoning laws and comprehensive plans?
Is it the role of the organized groups like the BPCA or our Civic Associations to set and guide the vision? The challenge here is that not everyone belongs to a Civic Association nor is there a mechanism to share “vision” and reach consensus across the groups. This could create yet another layer of bureaucracy between the Citizens and the City, and might not add value to the process.
Is it then the role of the individual Citizens to uphold the zoning law against each and every Developer who submits an application? That would hardly be a fair fight. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, singles, and career minded people living very fast paced lives. The current challenge is that most of us are ignorant of what can be created/developed under the existing zoning laws and so most reactions to rezoning requests are emotional and not fact-based. Attending multiple redevelopment meetings a week, and monthly Planning Commission/City Council/Zoning meetings, just to stay informed – let alone craft a winning opposing argument to go up against an attorney – is not a sustainable model.
As you can see, there are so many questions about this process and many that I do not have the answers to. That said, I do know that where there is no vision, people fail. I would argue that the vision needs to first fall within the parameters of the existing zoning laws and comprehensive plan. I would also argue that it should come from those who live here and care about the community as residents, not those with a financial interest beyond the ownership of their own home. I believe that when there is consensus among the residents for development that falls within existing zoning, it will be a far more streamlined process to work with developers coming into our community with proposals.
I would further argue that it is the responsibility of the City (Planning Commission, Zoning Board, and City Council) to reject any application that does not comply with existing zoning laws or comprehensive plan, does not deprive the owner of reasonable economic use, AND is clearly in contrast to the desires of the residents. The residents should be able trust that these officials will do what they have been elected and appointed to do. Again, it is not a sustainable model for residents to jump every time an application is filed for fear their property value and way of life will be ripped out from under them unless they can attend and mount an opposition. We have to have a mechanism that allows us to trust that the City has our back.
What thoughts do you have? How can we work together to create and uphold a common vision that ensures Brookhaven’s long term success? How can we do it in an expedient manner that takes into consideration that Developers are banging on Brookhaven’s doors and many of our Citizens are about to embark on summer vacations?
– Karen Dernavich, Brookhaven Resident
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