The Sandy Springs City Council balked on an amendment to its ordinance code that would allow the city manager to approve variances for the city’s own projects without public notice or hearings.
At a Nov. 5 meeting, council members expressed confusion with the amendment and influential public figures showed up to the meeting to express their concerns.
“I am vehemently opposed,” said Shea Roberts, a resident and zoning attorney who also is running against Deborah Silcox for the District 52 Georgia House of Representatives seat.
“I need to understand this better before we move this forward,” District 1 Councilmember John Paulson said.
“We want to do a better job of noticing and give the council a better understanding, so they are making a better decision,” Mayor Rusty Paul said after the decision to defer.
District 6 Councilmember Andy Bauman motioned to defer the vote until the next council meeting, Nov. 19.
Resident Bill Gannon; Maurice Hoelting, a member of affordable housing advocacy group Sandy Springs Together; Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods and other residents were ready to express their concerns with the amendment, but deferred their comments until the next meeting.
There were two debates about the amendment: whether it is a good decision for the city and whether the public notice process was done correctly.
The city has a Code of Ordinances and a Development Code. The Code of Ordinances is a list of municipal law, rule, or regulation that applies to the city. The Development Code is a list of rules, regulations and processes that must be followed when building or redeveloping.
In its current ordinance code, Sandy Springs requires any changes on city projects that would need a variance to be approved or denied by the council in a public hearing. A variance is a request to deviate from current requirements.
The amendment, which falls under the city’s ordinance code, would allow the city manager to act as the owner of property involved in city projects. By acting as the property owner, the city manager could approve variances without council approval. The resolution says such variances may be needed to mitigate the impact on such things as trees, infrastructure and private property.
Variances could involve setbacks, tree ordinance requirements or stream buffer requirements, Roberts said in a letter sent to the city addressing her concerns.
“Hypothetically, the city could strip significant tree canopy on their property without any input from the city’s citizens,” Roberts said in the letter.
Roberts also said that the change would take away the public’s notice for possible impacts around their property and their right to appeal variances.
“There is no way for them to appeal any adverse impact,” Roberts said at the meeting.
An immediate issue for the council was whether there had been enough public notice about the agenda item. City Attorney Dan Lee said that only minimal notice and discussion was required because it would be an administrative change. But Roberts argued that it is, in practical effect, a zoning code change and should get full public process as such, and Bauman said there needed to be more discussion.
At the Nov. 5 meeting, the item was listed under the agenda’s new business section, where it could have been approved without public discussion. Bauman motioned for the vote to be moved to the public hearing section of the Nov. 19 meeting agenda so that people are briefed on the vote beforehand and have a chance to rebut it.
“We give the public a chance to be heard at that time,” Bauman said. “That is the goal here.”
Bauman said he would have preferred to see the amendment be brought up at a non-voting work session so both the council and the public could have better notice.
“I do get it is not a zoning matter, but I think we need to digest this and the implications,” Bauman said.
The deferral of the vote passed unanimously.