Brookhaven, GA, January 2, 2017 – Opinion, by Bob Sorrentino, PE – The Dresden Village development is asking the city to violate our own zoning code to be awarded a 5th story in a location that only allows 4. While, it is possible to be considered for a bonus story if the project provides one of three high value benefits to the community, this development falls well short of the bar set by the city. Choosing to lower this bar in direct contrast to the code will set a terrible precedent for all future developments and risk code enforcement as a whole. Our city attorney has written in length about this explaining:
“Once a city establishes a practice of ignoring its own ordinances, particularly its zoning ordinances, as a practical matter, its chances of ensuring enforcement of, and compliance with, those Codes falls exponentially. Allegations of favoritism or undue influence on the process become common and lead to a lack of belief or faith in both the process and the effect the zoning ordinance is supposed to provide. This amounts to a slippery slope down which only the most intrepid descend.”
The benefit to the community that the developer is claiming they will provide is a meaningful open space that is accessible to everyone. The bar for this award is incorporating a contiguous open space that is at least 25% the size of the site [Sec. 27-1383(g)(6)b.]. Note that the minimum requirement to even build 4 stories is 20% [Sec. 27-1383(f)(1)]. So why wouldn’t any developer choose to give up a little building footprint for an additional floor? After all this tradeoff would net 17% additional floor space. The reason is that the open space requirement for the bonus has three additional qualifications the minimum requirement does not. These qualifiers are what really adds the value to this community benefit.
1st – It must be “contiguous”. It cannot just be an aggregate of corners and alley walkways piecemealed all over a development.
2nd – It can’t include sidewalks along public roads. These sidewalks are mandated by the code which means the developer is not going above and beyond by providing them.
3rd – It can’t include parking spaces.
The code is written to only allow an exception when something truly exceptional is provided in return.
Open space requirements are interwoven throughout the Overlay’s code and were born from the Brookhaven Peachtree LCI Study. They are the mechanism that was established to increase open space as the area became more and more dense. A goal which the study found to be the second highest priority to improve quality of life. Allowing these standards to be gamed and overly stretched defeats this fundamental goal!
The largest contiguous open space that the developer offers is only 17% of the site. Well short of the 25% threshold. There is no way to responsibly manipulate this number. In addition, the developer has submitted three distinct versions of the current plan since it was first revealed to the public in November. Each time they tried and tried to tweak the open space number to somehow reach a target they were never going to reach with the current building plan.
- They include space that is in the alley between apartments and townhomes that does not face a public street as explicitly required by the code. [Sec. 27-1383(f)(2)]
- They include the restaurant patios as “publicly accessible” because private amenities would be explicitly excluded in the code. [Sec. 27-1383(f)(5)]
- They include the sidewalk along Parkside Drive which is explicitly excluded in the code. [Sec. 27-1383(g)(6)b.]
- They include a fire lane by using paving materials that the fire marshal could easily deny after an approval sneaks by. [Sec. 27-1438]
And when they finally realized that it was still impossible even after all these violations, they chose to march forward hoping the city will just lower the bar for them.
Moving the goalposts for this one project will permanently water down the open space requirement. Future developments will choose to shave off footprint here and there for the additional 17% floor space. This will leave the community with a patchwork of nooks and alleys to be the open space that was promised. Fortunately, our code gives the City the tools to prevent this outcome. We can have new developments with great retail, restaurants, and open spaces to gather and enjoy. This is the LCI’s vision.
Please email the Planning Commission and City Council to let them know that you want the code enforced, and to not allow the 5th story for the Dresden Village development.