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Published on August 18th, 2016 |

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‘As city we zone first and plan second’ says city planning official; but change coming

The deputy director for Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Community Development explained to the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Aug. 11 that revisions are needed in the way the city does business, saying “as a city we zone first and plan second.”

City Planning and Community Development

City Planning and Community Development Deputy Director Terri Lee (right) and Heather Alhadeff, part of the Office of Urban Design team, speak to the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Terri Lee told the BCN audience, the department has been undergoing a major overhaul since the city’s new Commissioner of Planning and Community Development Tim Keane came on board last year, including undertaking the first rewriting of the city’s zoning ordinance since 1980.

Lee said that since Keane’s arrival, there has been a new focus on customer service and strides have been made for instance to make permitting process easier for residents, developers and businesses.

Introducing her co-presenter for the evening, Heather Alhadeff, Lee said there also has been a renewed focus on transportation—all forms of it—in the urban planning and design process.

Alhadeff, who worked with the city’s Planning Department during the process developing the “Connect Atlanta” plan years ago, has rejoined the city working with Ryan Gravel, the founder of the Atlanta BeltLine concept who is now heading up the city’s new Office of Urban Design.

The Office of Urban Design has initiated a major project entitled the City Design Project, which Gravel defines as “What we want to become when we grow up.” The design project is intended to establish “what are our principles…out intent,” Lee told the group of neighborhood representatives.

The concept is for the Urban Design Project not to replace the city’s present Comprehensive Development Plan, but to supplement it. The desire is to eliminate the plethora of zoning variances that

The city's new Urban Design Studio at Ponce City Market in Midtown.

The city’s new City Design Project Studio at Ponce City Market in Midtown.

come through the zoning process each month and implement a limited set of neighborhood design standards.

Lee was quick to point out that the intent is not to eliminate or limit the Neighborhood Planning Units, which is one of the only vehicles through which residents in neighborhoods throughout the city have an opportunity to voice their opinions and shape where they live, but the goal is to make the NPU process more uniform throughout the city, which it is not today.

“We are not looking to implement a “one size fits all policy” throughout the city’s neighborhoods, Lee told the BCN audience. “We want community input into what we are doing,” Lee said and explained one way in which the public can influence the city’s work.

The Planning Department has opened the City Design Project Studio at Ponce City Market in the Old Fourth Ward of Midtown, which invites residents to drop by the colorful, informal space to share their own visions for the city’s growth as well as wants and needs for their neighborhoods.

The studio, which has only been open for six weeks, will remain at Ponce City Market for six months then move to different locations in the city. More

Residents take part in the City Design Project's work at the studio now located at the Ponce City Market in Midtown.

Residents take part in the City Design Project’s work at the studio now located at the Ponce City Market in Midtown.

information about the studio is available at facebook.com/atlcitystudio.

There is no question among those who have heard Keane speak at meetings over the past year that he is very focused on the design of the city of Atlanta, the creation of urban design corridors and also the updating of historic district regulations. But his main focus has been efficiently serving the needs of the city’s customers.

“When Tim came to Atlanta he saw that, while we were doing some things right, we could do many things better,” Lee explained. “In the past, people would call our office with questions and no one would answer the phone,” Lee said. “That has changed.”

Those who come in looking for a permit – to build a deck on the back of their home, for example – should only have to wait 30 to 40 minutes. “It shouldn’t take 10 days to get a deck permit,” Lee said. “You can now also apply and pay online.”

Many of the estimated 300 people who visit the planning office daily are inquiring about zoning variances. “We have a high volume of variance requests, mainly because the codes haven’t been updated in more than 30 years,” Lee stated.

Lee acknowledged that rewriting the zoning code will be a three to five year process, but added the office is initiating a series of “quick wins” that could be implemented in the next three to six

Part of the audience at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting listen to the presentation by city planning officials Aug. 11.

Part of the audience at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting listen to the presentation by city planning officials Aug. 11.

months. Those “quick wins” include updating definitions of existing ordinances, neighborhood design standards and parking requirements.

The city is also conducting a study on increasing impact fees for developers, which, if approved, would be the first increase in such fees in 23 years.

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