Brookhaven, GA, June 7, 2016 – by Trey Benton – The City of Brookhaven Councilmembers approved an $83,250 contract Tuesday, with Sycamore Consulting to conduct a study of the character areas included in Brookhaven’s 2034 Comprehensive Plan. The project is expected to last 6 months and work is anticipated to begin in July, after the Independence Day Holiday.
During Tuesday’s Council Work Session, Councilman Bates Mattison questioned why the City is doing Character Area studies again. “I am trying to understand how we just completed our Comprehensive Plan,” said Mattison, “where we took a comprehensive look at every character area and now a year later we are doing a character area study.”
“It’s a more robust in-depth look to individual character areas,” explained Community Development Director Ben Song. “If you look at the text of the character area [in the Comp. Plan] itself, there isn’t much in regards to the character specifically and what the residents would like to see within their area. So we are trying to establish that identity.”
Song said he met with Sycamore earlier in the day Tuesday, and relayed that the City is anxious to get started. He said what the character area study will ultimately provide is a supplement to the Comprehensive Plan, and he said it could have several uses. “The information derived from that study could be used to make adjustments to the Zoning Ordinance and could be implemented as part of the Zoning Ordinance re-write or there could be another option where it could be a stand-alone policy,” Song added.
But Song’s explanation still left Mattison with questions, particularly regarding the Overlay Character Area, as well as the other areas in District 3. Mattison said he is trying to understand what the end goal is, “because for the areas I represent, the neighborhoods essentially want to preserve the same look and feel.”
Mayor John Ernst got in to the discussion and said there is a huge educational component to this study as well, in that residents will gain a better understanding of what goes in to the Community Development process. The Mayor said another positive of the study is that it will more clearly define what land-use means and looks like.
“Some of the character areas just say residential. Well what does residential mean?,” said Ernst. He said once that is defined within the specific communities and where those residents expect growth to occur and the uses of that growth “we can dictate to developers, ‘this is what our Comp. Plan says, this is what the residents accept'”. He said it would give the City a position to say “this is what can go here” and if developers want to build within those parameters they can. “But if they want to build something else, they can go somewhere else. It’s a way to funnel development that’s acceptable to the residents,” added Ernst.
Councilwoman Linley Jones said she thinks it’s a good idea to continue going through with the character area study and the work that was started in the Comprehensive Plan. “With the specific goal giving everybody – developers and citizens – a better idea of what to expect,” said Jones. “What to expect with redevelopment, what to expect if they are new to the community, what to expect of the community into which they are relocating or the community nearby them that is being redeveloped.”
She said time and time again, the Council has seen citizens and developers come in front of them and face opposition from the community. “You have to wonder,” pondered Jones, “If they had known from the get go what the expectation was for that character area, would they have gone down that road? Would they not have been able to reach consensus and actually save citizens and save the City a lot of trouble if we have a character area that sets forth what’s really expected and everybody meets those expectations? That would be a relief. I think it’s a good idea.”
The City’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in December of 2014 and was last amended in May of 2015. According to the City, the Comprehensive Plan 2034 documents the long-term vision for Brookhaven’s future. “The plan is built from the ground-up, with the community’s desires and goals for the City’s future as the basis for the implementation program that follows,” says the Comp. Plan preamble. “The long-term vision for Brookhaven is to be a model community that preserves what makes it great—including its people, neighborhoods, parks, tree canopy, and accessibility—while acknowledging its role as a premier community within the Atlanta Region.”
The Character Area Map identifies 13 unique areas of the city. Of those, 8 are residential in nature and 5 are community activity centers of varying intensity envisioned as central locations for jobs, entertainment, mixed use, and a live-work-play environment. (See map below)
The Character Area Study Scope of Work includes a series of workshops and/or charrettes that will be facilitated by the consultant. Each meeting should provide an educational component to the general public on the City’s comprehensive planning process efforts to date and strategies on how to refine the existing policies/recommendations identified for each character area. The consultant will have an ultimate goal of ensuring involvement from the community through a facilitator-guided process, leading to the development of the final character area recommendations.
The process will involve the consultant holding two separate series of meetings. According to the City, the first series comprised of a minimum of 3 meetings, will be more of an overview of the City’s comprehensive planning activities to date. One key focus will be on the goals of the character area planning project including what items will be addressed and those that will not.
The consultant will also be responsible for educating the residents on the purpose and the intent of comprehensive and long-range planning. During this series of meetings, residents can sign up to participate in the second, more specific individual character area series of meetings.
During the second series of meetings, a minimum of 10, residents that signed-up during the first meeting series will again be provided an overview of the City’s comprehensive planning process to date and the goals of the character area planning project, including the purpose and intent of comprehensive/long-range planning.
For each area (or set of areas), there will be two meetings. The first to identify resident concerns with the existing implementation strategies found in the Comprehensive Plan and to begin to identify recommendations on how to enhance those strategies as they relate to maintaining, preserving and enhancing the character of existing single-family residential neighborhoods. A second meeting should be held to finalize the specific recommendations from the resident group. A spokesperson that resides in the area should be identified from each area (or group of areas) to present the findings and final recommendations with the consultant to the Planning Commission and City Council.
Look for more information and a meeting schedule to be published in the near future announcing dates and times and how residents can get involved in the process.