Brookhaven City Council has voted to temporarily halt variances to the city’s stream buffer ordinance.

At a Dec. 17 meeting, City Council voted to enact a 30-day moratorium on stream buffer variances to allow the city time to review its ordinance.  With the large amount of infill construction happening in Brookhaven, the city is receiving a lot of requests for variances to the stream buffer and officials feel the rules aren’t clear enough.

“There is some ambiguity in the ordinance as it relates to redevelopment of properties that were in existence prior to the adoption of the 50 foot buffer by the county of DeKalb, which we have also adopted as our buffer,” said Interim City Attorney Tom Kurrie.

Brookhaven adopted its stream buffer regulations from DeKalb County earlier this year.

According to Brookhaven Community Development Director Susan Canon, the city requires a total buffer distance of 75 feet between a stream and a construction project.

The first 25 feet of buffer closest to the stream is required by the state and variances within that first 25 feet must be granted by state officials.  The additional 50 feet of buffer is a local requirement and the city’s Community Development Department or Zoning Board of Appeals can be sources of variances to those requirements.

On Dec. 18, the City Council held an emergency meeting at the Blackburn Tennis Center to clarify the moratorium it had adopted the day before.

“The moratorium, as it was listed on Tuesday night, we didn’t think it was clear enough and wanted to make sure it was,” said Mayor J. Max Davis. “It was out of an abundance of caution.”

Davis said several applications for the stream buffer variances were already on the agenda for the Zoning Board of Appeals’ Dec. 18 meeting, which was scheduled to begin later in the day than the emergency council meeting.

“When you’re dealing with peoples’ property rights and stream buffers, you have to make sure you’re exact in your language,” Davis said. “When you have applications pending, you don’t want to infringe on those folks’ property rights. That was the purpose of the emergency meeting, to make sure those folks got their hearing.”

Kurrie said much of the confusion comes from people tearing down old homes to build new ones on the same lot.

“If the footprint is not changing, it can go into the entire 50-foot buffer if it had been in there before,” Kurrie said. “There are also situations relating to if the 50-foot buffer makes the lot unbuildable, then there is also those exceptions where [the community development director] can make either denials or approvals associated with that.”

Councilman Jim Eyre said he wants the city to be cautious about granting variances for lots that have existing homes.

“We can’t say the lot is unbuildable if there’s a house there simply because someone wants to tear it down and build a bigger house,” Eyre said. “Unbuildable needs to be truly unbuildable.”

Mattison said he thinks the city could revamp the ordinance to make it stronger for the environment and developers.

“We believe there is an opportunity to have a more thoughtful ordinance that serves the purpose of a stream buffer ordinance, that is preserving water quality and cleaning up water quality, but also allows for thoughtful development,” Mattison said.

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