The Brookhaven Planning Commission unanimously voted Aug. 2 to reject plans for a 17-townhome development on Johnson-Ferry Road near Pill Hill because they said the development does not fit with the approved land use.
Majestic Investment Corporation is seeking to rezone 1611, 1621 and 1659 Johnson Ferry Road, near Pill Hill in Sandy Springs, from R-100 (single-family residential) to R-A5 (single-family residential) to allow for 17 single attached townhomes that would be priced between $650,00-$850,00 per unit, according to city documents. Total acreage is about 13.5 acres; city staff states development would be on about 1.5 acres.
The property is near the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange that includes Nancy Creek at the southeastern boundary of the property.
Nearby residents in Brookhaven and Sandy Springs raised concerned about the density of the project bringing increased traffic to the area as well as potentially damaging the Nancy Creek floodplain. They also said the plans did not appear to be specific enough and while they support development on the property at some point, this was not it.
Consensus of the commission for denying recommending approval of the project primarily rested with the city’s character area study, approved by the City Council in January and then added to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Chair Stan Segal said.
“We have a comprehensive plan … and townhomes do not fit the vision for the Lakes District character area,” Segal said before casting his no vote.
The character area study states the Lakes District, where the property lies, “discourages single-family attached dwellings in the Lakes Character Area. The plan recommends that future development within the Lakes Character Area be permitted only if it maintains the single-family detached character of the surrounding neighborhood,” according to a Community Development memo to commissioners.
Tom Platford, representing Majestic Investment Corporation, said he interpreted the character area study to just be merely a “guideline” and that it does not legally prohibit townhomes. He also said that the character area study seemed to only include input from residents, but that property owners also need to be considered when dictating land use.
“It’s not clear cut you can’t do townhouses,” he said. “The demand is there. The land use plan calls for townhouses in this district.”
Segal explained the character area study was conducted last year to provide an opportunity for residents to have input on how they want their neighborhoods to evolve and “provide some stability for them.” The character area was also intended to inform developers of what was expected in certain areas of the city so they would not have to waste time or money on a project they would know would be turned down, he said.
The Lakes District character area calls for only single-family detached homes and because the character area is part of the comprehensive plan “they are one in the same,” Segal said.
Platford said he felt like this project was a “moving target” because first the project was delayed until after the city approved its Comprehensive Plan [in November 2014]. Once the Comprehensive Plan was completed, market and environmental studies were undertaken and a pre-development meeting with city staff was held in July 2016. Staff recommended some tweaks and when they came back with a revised plan, the city was entering into a 6-month rezoning moratorium, he said.
“We made changes within a month and then we were told there was a moratorium. We kept waiting for things to stop,” he said.
Former mayor Rebecca Chase Williams and former city manager Marie Garrett also talked with the property owner about purchasing some of the property along Nancy Creek for a linear park, according to Platford, but he said he advised Majestic Investment Corporation to wait to sell any property as park land until after it was rezoned.
Talks have broken down with the current city administration, he said, but the property owners want to have a green space as part of the development.
Platford also argued that townhomes are not allowed in the Lakes District and pointed to townhomes “in the neighborhood” already, including the Glenridge Creek Townhomes that are approximately one-half mile away from the proposed development. Those townhomes are located in Sandy Springs, not Brookhaven.
“The townhomes are not in the Lakes District, but they are in the neighborhood. We’re talking semantics here,” Platford said. “Does a neighborhood end at the city line? Is that not part of the neighborhood?
“What’s the definition of a neighborhood?” he added. “I’m sticking real close to the site here.”
Daryl Cook, president of Watts & Browning Engineers, addressed floodplain concerns and said a hydrology study would be conducted before the development proceeds to ensure the floodplain is not damaged.
“Hydrology is not going to be a problem,” he said.
The project would have to get FEMA approval as well, but FEMA will not look at a plan unless it is a “real project first,” which means it has to be rezoned.
“The federal government will not allow us to do anything harmful to the property,” he said.
Segal asked why Majestic Investment Corporation was seeking to have three parcels rezoned when it only planned to develop on one. He also explained the DeKalb County tax records are wrong and that Majestic Investment Corporation considers its land to be one parcel, not three.
Platford added that the 1.5 acre number city staff indicated would be developed was wrong and that the development would be on closer to four acres.
The City Council is slated to consider the proposed project at its Aug. 22 meeting.