Brookhaven, GA, November 28, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven City Leaders have not decided what powers to give a proposed Architectural Review Board (ARB). Nor have they decided how many members the board would have and what their specific directives will be. But before a decision is made on an application to rezone land associated with a proposed MARTA Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe Transit Station, Councilmembers want the City to have an ARB in place.
On October 25, 2016, Councilmembers voted to defer the TOD application filed by MARTA’s development partner for the project, Brookhaven City Center Partners until January. Council also directed City Staff to formulate a draft resolution to get the creation of the ARB started. As a result, between now and January, the City is working to form the ARB and decide what they will do and what powers they will have.
City Attorney Chris Balch presented the initial draft resolution to Councilmembers on November 9th. That draft ordinance names the proposed board the Design Review Board, and states its purpose is to “encourage the construction of attractive buildings in order to protect and promote the general welfare of the public and prevent deterioration of the appearance of the City.” The aim is to have the board regulate the external appearance of buildings based on standards approved by the Mayor and City Council.
The draft ordinance, Balch explains, is a culmination of a model ordinance from the Georgia Municipal Association, and similar ordinances in Greenville, S.C. and some of the north Fulton cities. He says the City staff tried to include best practices from those models, and recommends the decisions of the board be binding, similar to the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Alcohol Licensing boards – with an appeals process. Should those decisions be challenged, appeals could be filed in the DeKalb County Superior Court.
In the draft ordinance, an exemption from ARB review exists if the cost of a change to an existing structure doesn’t reach a $5,000 threshold. The draft ordinance also suggests that the review process would apply to every commercial, residential, multi-family, or detached residential project in the city – as the proposed ordinance was constructed – but changes in scope could be made as what has been presented up to now, is only a “first pass.”
Balch stressed to Council whatever the final language is in the ordinance, it needs to give the ARB clear and specific guidance in making decisions, so that the ordinance could not be challenged on grounds of vagueness. “There is a balance to be struck…between being specific enough to define where the decisions can be made, and flexible enough to allow creativity and innovation in design within the community at large,” he said. Balch added, “Some of the developers are very unhappy with my office over this draft, and are demanding that we take it off tonight’s conversation.”
Our neighbors in the City of Chamblee have an ARB which serves recommending body who is responsible for hearing and reviewing the exterior architectural design of all Planned Unit Development (PUD) and Development of Community Impact (DCI) applications. Their board is comprised of at least six members who are appointed by the Mayor and Council. The Chamblee ARB makes their recommendations ahead of the City Council voting to on the associated applications. In cases where a plan has major modifications, Council will often direct the case be sent back to the ARB for another review for a new recommendation. They can also make their recommendations conditional.
There is a bit of debate on Brookhaven’s Council just how far the powers of their new ARB would extend. Will the new board be so granular that they review everything including new single-family detached applications or will it be limited to larger projects such as new subdivisions, Developments of Regional Impact or restricted to a single area or apply to the entire City? Much is yet to be determined.
Some members of Council think the ARB’s authority should extend citywide, although it should not apply to existing detached single-family homes. Others want the board to have broad authority to help protect the character of existing neighborhoods. Some say in the beginning, the reach of the ARB should only apply to the MARTA TOD project, the case in which it has already been earmarked for an ARB review, then move out from there.
Mayor John Ernst said during his last Town Hall the Council will be working together with the City to further whittle down what powers and scope the ARB should have, and the City would be having open discussions on the topic during upcoming meetings of the Council.
City Manager Christian Sigman suggests in the interest of timing – because the ARB topic came up as part of the Brookhaven MARTA TOD application – the ARB’s initial policy apply specifically to the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District and define specific uses there. He said Council will have the chance to review and refine the board’s scope during subsequent meetings moving forward.
As a side note: the City has advertised an RFP for the rewrite/replacement of the current Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay code. See that story here.
More on the creation the ARB as the topic continues to develop.
– Larry Felton Johnson contributed to this article.