Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Heneghan Opinion of Dunwoody Home Occupation SLUP for Medical in Suburban Neighborhood

On Monday, January 23rd, Mayor Shortal opened this item for council comment and action, called upon me where I read my opinion.  There were no questions nor further discussion by Council whereby I then made the motion to deny and the item carried 7 / 0 for denial as failing to be consistent with our Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  My opinion from January 23 is listed below.

The matter in front of us tonight is for Special Land Use Permit application for a medical facility to be operated as a home occupation with regular customer contact within our Suburban Neighborhood character area.  This is the first application in front of Council since we have a rewritten the code on home occupations and therefore this matter needs careful review.

When we rewrote the home occupation ordinance we made allowances for easy approval for businesses with no customer contact and we put into place special expedited administrative approval for teachers and tutors as we highly value the services they provide. The ordinance also instituted a full and thorough review by the City Council for all applications made outside of those guidelines.  With tonight’s decision, the City Council will not only be deciding this one case but we will be interpreting the guidelines previously put into place to make sure they are appropriate for our community moving forward. 

Our Comprehensive Land Use Plan is the preeminent legal document which articulates our communities vision for the 20-year planning period and it provides policy that guides our land-use decision-making and future growth within our community.  We the City Council are interpreting this document here tonight and with this vote we will specifically be interpreting the document and the will of the people as to the future uses allowed in the Suburban Neighborhood classification.  

Throughout the creation of the Comprehensive Plan, the city designated eight very different character areas with specific land uses and our citizens labored for many nights to say exactly what they wanted, and what they didn’t want to allow in each district.   Our citizens in laboring over the Comprehensive plan also set into place eight overarching goals that we should always be striving for.  Let me read you the first goal entitled – Preserve Our Neighborhoods.

“Throughout the planning process, preservation of Dunwoody’s neighborhoods was the dominant goal expressed by participants. To most residents of the City, this goal centers around the preservation of single family neighborhoods which make up over 65% of the land area of the City, however, successful neighborhoods are far more than just brick and mortar, they are the people, the community organizations, and the services and facilities that support them.  As a result, efforts to maintain what many consider Dunwoody’s strongest asset, it’s neighborhoods, involves a broad comprehensive approach that involves all aspects of the community and allowing for appropriate balance between growth and preservation that maintains the overall suburban character.”

Tonight, I will argue that preserving our neighborhoods, means reading the Comp Plan and holding the line to exactly what it says, and what it allows when it comes to the sanctity of the Suburban Neighborhood classification.    I will show that the other character areas are open to a much wider breadth of uses but that the Suburban Neighborhood classification should be limited to only the consideration of Home Occupations that are office in nature, as dictated by the Comp Plan and nothing else.

In approving this home occupation, we are required to follow Sec. 27-359 of our code of ordinances and Paragraph 1 – of our code states that the first factor we need to judge in approving a Special Land Use Permit is “whether the proposed use in front of us tonight is consistent with the policies of the comprehensive plan”.   I am of the belief that our citizens never intended medical facilities to be located within our suburban neighborhood classification. 

In reading Section 2.4 of the Comp Plan we are told to interpret the supporting text in the Character Areas when considering a conditional land use like the one we have in front of us tonight. 

If you look closely at the Comp Plan for Suburban Neighborhood in your packet, the future uses are listed as follows. 

Single-family, residential, public gathering spaces, places of worship, office, aging in place appropriate residential.    

Medical facilities were not listed in the comp plan for the suburban area, in fact they are a separate commercial use category as defined in Sec. 27-114 from office and therefore it is my belief that medical service facilities are not intended in this character area, nor should they be allowed as home occupations in the Suburban Neighborhood area but based on our Comp Plan general office uses may be considered.

Please allow me to read into the record the definitions of the commercial use categories of Medical Service and Office found in Sec. 27-114 so that you can see that this application clearly falls into Medical Service category and that our community delineated the difference of medical from the category of office.

As I stated we have eight character areas and for the record, please allow me to remind you of what they are as some allow a residential component and others do not.   Only those that allow residential component can apply for Home Occupations.

1. Perimeter Center   -   Allows Residential
2. Dunwoody Village - Allows Residential
3. Georgetown   -   Allows Residential
4. Institutional Center -  Does Not Allow Typical Residential
5. Mount Vernon East - Does Not Allow Residential
6. Multi-Family / Mixed Use    -   Allows Residential
7. Winters Chapel -   Allows Residential

8. and finally making up close to 65% of our land mass and 95% of our single family homes is the Suburban Neighborhood classification and it clearly Allows Residential.

The City of Dunwoody has many different housing options and they are located in five different character areas within the city whereby our Comprehensive Land Use plan intended for us to treat them differently as per the specific words listed in our document.  This item today is the first opportunity for us to delineate these differences between the Character Areas and tonight we will decide if Medical Services are to be an allowable use in the Suburban Neighborhood classification.

As I have already argued that Medical Services are not listed in the Suburban Neighborhood character area, nor do I believe that they are they intended to be allowed as a home occupation where they are not listed.  Reading of the other character areas where residential is allowed could also be interpreted as allowing a much wider range of commercial & mixed uses in the home vs the Suburban Neighborhood which has a very narrow allowance for only office possibilities.

1. Perimeter Center   - The area is quoted as creating the conditions of possible true “live-work” environment., it allows mixed use, has a high level of employment uses therefore this character area would allow a greater mix of home occupations to be approved.

2. Dunwoody Village - allows mixed use and specifically allows “live-work” units where a greater mix of home occupations could be allowed.

3. Georgetown   -   The City seeks a dynamic mix of uses in the Georgetown area and it allows institutional uses, commercial, office, townhome, other occupied housing, and mixed-use therefore a greater mix of home occupations could be envisioned.

4. Multi-Family / Mixed Use    This character area is only listed in one large multi-family apartment complex near I285 which is currently behind secured gates but the future allowance of mixed use intends that it would be open to a greater mix of home occupation allowances.

5. Winters Chapel -   This character area envisions Multi-family as part of Mixed-Use, along with attached and detached single-family, small office and neighborhood scale commercial, therefore a greater mix of home occupations could be envisioned.

I again reiterate that this Home Occupation, Special Land Use Permit application for a medical facility in the Suburban Neighborhood character area is inconsistent with the policies of the comprehensive land use plan and as I believe it conflicts with our communities’ vision, I will not vote to approve.   
I yield back to the Mayor and my fellow Council Members for discussion or questions but when appropriate I will make a motion to deny this SLUP based on 27-359 paragraph 1 failing to be consistent with our Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

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