Sandy Springs’ new land-use plan is headed for state review after the City Council approved a final draft Dec. 6.

Some small changes to the draft Comprehensive Land Use Plan may still happen, but the state review is largely a formality. The council’s approval essentially marked the end of an 18-month public input process—and the beginning of a new one to rewrite the city’s zoning code.

The Comp Plan, as it’s commonly known, is a 10-year policy and planning document guiding land use and redevelopment. Its vision serves as the basis for the city’s zoning code, which is being rewritten in a process that will kick into high gear in early 2017. The new Comp Plan also includes “small area plans” giving more detailed attention to Roswell Road, Perimeter Center, MARTA stations and Powers Ferry Landing.

The overall Comp Plan has been well-received at public meetings. City Councilmember Andy Bauman said it “reflects the will of the community.”

Any devils have been in the details, and some of those possible small changes can still be significant. Most public comment at the council meeting was about the city’s controversial change of eight Glenridge Hammond neighborhood properties from single-family “Protected Neighborhood” to suit a particular group sell-out for a townhome project. The city has reversed that change—yet also tweaked it further after realizing one of the properties is now zoned for office and commercial use. Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said that property, 339 Johnson Ferry Road N.E., is now designated as the “City Springs” mixed-use character area in the draft Comp Plan.

Another concern has been how to handle any new developments filed in the next few months, before the new Comp Plan is formally approved. The council agreed with city staff that a moratorium on development applications is not appropriate. Mayor Rusty Paul said the council would simply keep the new Comp Plan’s goals in mind during any reviews—“looking through the windshield rather than necessarily through the rear-view mirror.”

Under the new Comp Plan, about 67 percent of the city’s land area is designated as “Protected Neighborhood.” Higher-density redevelopment is limited to major road corridors and public transit nodes.

“The greatest asset this community has and always has had is its neighborhoods,” Paul said, while also noting the Comp Plan’s modern ideas for walkable districts along Roswell Road.

Councilmembers praised residents for their extensive input in the long process. Paul noted that still more input is needed, as the Comp Plan is just the “skeleton” for the zoning code to come. The mayor also pointed out that, however lofty the visions in the Comp Plan are, constant public vigilance and input are needed, because the council always has the power to approve a rezoning contrary to it.

“I’ll just tell you the political reality of this,” he said. “Those neighborhoods are only as protected as four votes on this council.”

The Comp Plan and the new zoning code are part of the city’s “Next Ten” planning process. For more information, see thenext10.org.

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