Sandy Springs’ new zoning code is getting its first round of scheduled maintenance, with a review of draft tweaks coming at the March 27 Planning Commission meeting. While the tweaks to the Development Code are mostly “housekeeping” items such as misspellings, there are also several significant changes raising big concerns among some civic and homeowners associations.

Among the changes: bigger footprints for schools and churches; more grading, walls and buildings allowed in setbacks; and more retail in a southern Roswell Road corridor specifically planned without any.

Schools and churches are among the “civic uses” up for buffer and lot coverage restrictions changes. Currently, the larger types of such buildings—two stories and higher—have 100-foot setbacks from neighboring properties. The new code would allow that to be as little as 55 feet, including a 25-foot buffer, as long as the civic use had “compatible massing” with local structures. In addition, lot coverage restrictions in the new code of roughly 15 to 20 percent, as well as building height limits, could be lifted by use permit.

Some residents are concerned by possible expansion of church schools, as one example. Another factor may be the various local churches undergoing redevelopment in a timing of waning attendance. Leaders at Highpoint Episcopal Community Church say they are considering developing up to two houses fronting on their High Point Property as a way to financially stabilize the church. At least two churches, including Highpoint Episcopal, made last-minute, unsuccessful attempts to get higher-density designations for church uses in the code before its approval last year.

The addition of “boutique retail” to a particular section of the southern Roswell Road corridor is another notable point of friction. The creation of a walkable “Neighborhood Village Character Area” there was praised by both city staff and residents as a high point of the “Next Ten” process that created the new land-use plan and Development Code.

The character area discussions included the creation of a new “Office Neighborhood” designation that the city now proposes changing to include retail up to 2,500 square feet, specifically citing a boutique grocer called Savi Provisions. Joe Heins, the zoning chair of the Cherokee Park Civic Association, worked closely with the city on the new zoning and is not happy with the proposed change.

“When the list of uses was created for the new ON- zoning district, retail and dining were specifically left out of these office areas to keep these higher-traffic-impact businesses clustered together in the retail areas,” Heins said in an email. “…Our concern is adding ‘Limited Retail,’ as it is being defined, will completely undo all efforts to create a more balanced clustered approach in the Neighborhood Village Character Area.”

The Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, a coalition of homeowners association, has a brief overview of its members’ top concerns on its website here. The city’s page about the proposed changes is here and a memo noting various community concerns is here. Comments on any aspect of the Development Code can be emailed to the city planning staff at pz@sandyspringsga.gov.

Approved last year, the Development Code went into effect in September. It is getting a scheduled six-month update now that staff have had time to see errors and any problems with using the code in practice.

Following the March 27 Planning Commission meeting, the draft changes are scheduled to be discussed in a non-voting “work session” of the City Council April 3, followed by a formal vote April 17.

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