A proposal to exempt the city from having to get a zoning variance to encroach in the city’s stream buffer specifically to build the new Brook Run Park athletic fields is not sitting well with some City Council members who questioned allowing the city to skirt its own ordinance.
Revising the current ordinance, however, could save a large number of trees in the park that would otherwise have to be cut down to build the fields at the back of the park, according to city staff.
The city’s code currently reads “multi-use trails and related improvements that are part of a City Council-approved plan” are permitted to encroach the first 50-feet of the city’s 75-foot stream buffer without a variance.
Community Development Director Richard McLeod presented an amendment to the code to the council at its Jan. 28 meeting that would extend this exemption to cover any and all improvements that are part of a City Council-approved plan.
This change would simplify several city approved development plans, he said. Specifically, the revised ordinance would help in construction of the new athletic fields to be built as part of the Brook Run Park master plan. A small stream is located at the back of the park where the multi-use athletic fields are to be built.
“I don’t think this sends the right message,” Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said.
“We are throwing the process out the window for our project,” Councilmember John Heneghan added. “That’s the wrong way to operate. We should be following the same procedures.”
McLeod told the council the revised ordinance could save a number of trees, but he did not know exactly how many. He also explained in a memo to the council that while the city is not required to conform to the code as is, the amendment was being made “in the interests of transparency and clarity.”
If the code amendment is not approved, city staff would have to go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals to seek a variance to encroach into the city’s stream buffer. This is the same process required of residents and developers who want to encroach into the stream buffer for a project.
If the ZBA denied the variance for the Brook Run Park fields, the city could then sue the ZBA in DeKalb County Superior Court and seek to have the decision overturned. The city attorney said the City Council could also take on the approval of variances if it wanted to, rather than delegating that authority to the ZBA.
The Jan. 28 meeting was first read of the ordinance. McLeod said he would work with Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker to try to find another way to address the ordinance and bring a proposal back to the council in two weeks.