Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Residential density in the City of Dunwoody

Monday night the Dunwoody City Council held a special called meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that the residents have been discussing for about a year. Most of the discussions were centered around the future building heights and development densities of the Georgetown (Shallowford) and Dunwoody Village areas. These two character areas along with the most of the other character areas set maximum requirements that are rather low as a starting point so that developers will need to go in front of the council in order to go above those baseline thresholds.

For example, several members of the City Council wanted the suburban neighborhood density capped at no more than four units per acre which is about what most of the character area is currently built as and I have no problem with that being the basic standard. That being said, a quarter acre building lot will also price many people out of the Dunwoody market and it doesn't allow other housing types like cluster homes or custom craftsman homes on smaller lots. It is my belief that the city's housing stock should have various types and various lot sizes in order to offer a wider variety. For example setting the maximum density at four units per acre in the suburban neighborhood area wouldn't allow for the housing innovations that created wonderful subdivisions like Brook Ridge, Oxford Chase or the Briers North subdivision off Tilly Mill famous for their trick or treating. If we want to make Dunwoody a place where we can "age in place", doesn't it make sense to offer private home ownership where one does not have to cut a quarter acre of grass? I need to assure myself prior to Monday's scheduled vote on the comp plan that we have an over ride process in place to allow these types of housing innovations if deemed appropriate to do so.

The Georgetown and Village areas will be going though a Master Plan process that will take the Comp Plans 40,000 foot view and will then zoom in to plan those two areas almost block by block, therefore I am comfortable that the process put in place by the initial comprehensive land use plan, will be further refined to what the community wants.

What I am not comfortable with from Monday night is the area that has received the littlest attention yet may have the biggest impact on the city and that is the Perimeter Center area. Unlike the other character areas which list allowable zoning densities, this area does not; instead it only says our vision is to "implement and compliment the framework plan and projects identified in the Perimeter Center Livable Centers Initiative study (LCI) and it's five-year (2005) updates" as well "creating the conditions of possible true "live-work" environment, with a downward trend in the jobs-to-housing ratio from 6.2 in 1990, to 4.5 in 2012".

In reviewing the the text of the Comp Plan for Perimeter Center and comparing it against the literal reading of what is in the 2005 Perimeter Center LCI study, I believe that more safe guards need to be implemented to place the power to grant increased residential density to the city council vs an esoteric statement in the comp plan stating that we want to implement the LCI study, when the whole premise of that very document is promote the unbridled growth of residential density that we now want to control. The LCI plan has been very successful over the last ten years and I believe now is the time for the city to step forward before we rubber stamp this growth the way DeKalb County did previously.

Our second land use goal on the last page the Comp Plan for Perimeter Center talks about school capacity being addressed and working with the Board of Education, but to me that one line doesn't provide definitive protection against unbridled growth, therefore it is my belief that the entire Perimeter Center section of the Comp Plan needs to be revisited and reworked to put the power of proper development back into the hands of our city leaders and the citizens they represent.

To make it easier to follow what I am saying, I have trimmed down both the 2005 Perimeter Center LCI study and the current draft of the Dunwoody Comprehensive Land Use Plan to only include those sections that deal directly to Perimeter Center.

For the record, I do believe that Perimeter Center is the economic engine that drives the entire city, I consider myself pro-smart growth development and want to see a thriving area filled with offices, hotels, convention centers, retail and residential of various types but I also want to see parks, playgrounds, libraries, green space, and proper restaurants to serve their needs as well as schools, roads and transportation infrastructure that can handle the residential capacity. Is that too much to ask?

All that being said, I'm probably still not being endorsed by the Atlanta Board of Realtors?


silverlining said...

I read the Dunwoody Comp plan and felt it was more of a Vision statement; not a plan. Compare to Alpharetta's plan that has population projections, housing type mixes, and identifies areas for the growth and plans for infrastructure. The overwhelming majority of the comments stated "No Growth" quite emphatically. Unfortunately, that doesn't work as the people will come and we won't have planned for it because we prefer to stick our head in the sand and the politicians will be all to glad to follow. In the end we won't have "No Growth" or "Smart Growth", just growth by lawsuit.

Bob Lundsten said...

there seems to be a common misunderstanding that the City was created to stop growth.
If we do not allow for increases in density in certain areas of the City, than the city will wither.
Silverlining , I have no idea who you are but you got it exactly right
Zoning by lawsuit is the worst scenerio.

DunwoodyTalk said...

Bob, What are your thoughts on allowing the PCID to set their own standards (density) instead of setting in place a number in the Plan?

I plan on getting those tomato plants in this weekend and we'll make those trellis devices as well.

Pattie Baker said...

Also, please note that there is a first section to the plan (the City Profile) that includes the kinds of details for which you're looking, Silver Lining. It includes details about the city's History and Background,Population and Housing,Economic Development,
Natural and Cultural Resources,
Community Facilities and Services,
Intergovernmental Coordination,
and Transportation System Analysis. You can find the Community Assessment Executive Summary here:

silverlining said...

Bob- I assume you are Mr. Lundsten. Thanks for all you do.

Rick- I would be in favor of COD doing everything they can to support PCID including more control. I see this similar to COD having more control in lieu of Dekalb County. The main limits would be that they need to coordinate on the impact to schools. PCID obviously already focuses on impact to traffic as that affects the businesses that pay into PCID.

Patty- Thanks for the link. Also thanks for your work on the steering committee. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to find the info as it was under the auspicious heading of "technical details". I wonder how many people actually saw this data. There is a lot of info here. It was not very well referenced. As a result, I think that is why the vast majority of the comments came back as "no growth". That means the plan is dead before it starts as it does not have public support.

In today's world, leadership has become synonymous with force of will and charisma. Often overlooked is focusing on educating the public and then listening. I know this was the intent of the public mtgs, but judging from the comments, it failed. I again reference City of Alph. plan which restates the question. Instead of "What do you want the City to look like in 20 yrs", it is "We will have to add 1700 households in the next 5 years. How do you want the City to look".
We have to emphasize that we live in one of the most dynamic parts of one of the most dynamic cities in the world, and that is a good thing.

There is still time, but the no-growth ship has to be not only stopped, but turned around before it picks up to much steam.

John Heneghan said...

Attached in the link below are my suggested comments to the Dunwoody Comprehensive Plan to lessen emphasis on the 2005 LCI plan for Perimeter Center.


Bob Lundsten said...

I have this posted elsewhere but thought it appropriate here as well.

Rick , what everyone including the City Council forgets is that they will have the final say over each individual zoning. NO one gives up control to the PCID.
And for the record the LCI was not written by the PCID.

John's comment that the PCID has worked well for the last ten years but now is time to reel it is, makes no sense.

And not one use of the catch phrase "no growthers"

Your conservative approach and fear of the LCI is somewhat misplaced.
While an additional 5000 apartments will be opposed by everyone, we must make sure that Perimeter is allowed to grow as it will be our only way to grow the revenue within Dunwoody.
I hope that there is a full and open debate over each of the council suggested changes as well as your new comments.
Please make sure that each point is open to PUBLIC discussion.
I suggest that each red line and your blue line be read and then each item be open for public comment.
I have a couple of general questions that perhaps you can answer of have the staff answer on Monday:

1. The suggested amendments call for increasing heights or density when the proposed development is "exceptional". I question whether or not that is a bit arbitrary, hence ripe for a lawsuit and legal challenge. What you view as exceptional, may not be what I see or a developer deems exceptional.
2. Another is the continued use of "appropriate amenities” How do we define that?
3. Can the city legal deny development or redevelopment using school capacity as a criterion?
4. Why would the city, in its comp plan, set a policy of NOT supporting a public recreation facility. NOT everyone in the city can afford to pay dues to the Dunwoody Country Club or live in a neighborhood with a swim and tennis club. While this council may not support such facilities, the Comp Plan should not be written to restrict future councils from doing so.
5. As much as we want, we cannot regulate what happens at Perimeter College. Why then the do we include the wasted attention to a "policy” that states unenforceable limits (pg32).
6. The reduction of the densities of multifamily housing to 24 units per acre is a recipe for urban decline. The effect will be similar to "rent control" in major cities. Limit an owner’s opportunity make money, the less they spend in maintaining properties. Out dated apartments, less rent. The downward spiral begins. The proverbial "slippery slope"
I fear sometimes that the City Council forgets that this is no longer a "homeowners association”. When we became a city, we took on the issues of all the residents and businesses, not just the homeowners. The City Council must now lead and govern for all of Dunwoody and that means for homeowners, businesses, developers, and apartment dwellers.
If you do not, you run the risk of becoming what the critics of the cityhood movement said we would become a city of exclusion.
“We have ours, so let pull up the drawbridge and fill up the moat.”

Bob Lundsten said...

and silverlings,Mr. Lundsten was my dad, so when and if we meet, call me Bob

DunwoodyTalk said...

I'd be in favor of all the development possible in the PCID if they addressed the stress this growth will put on schools. All it would take is for the PCID and its corporate members to form a committee to meet and plan with the DeKalb School Board. If they show some effort of wanting to be proactive in regards to school capacity, I'd support them immediately. The majority of the PCID is in Austin's attendance zone. That school has already gone from K-5 to K-3, and it still overcrowded. Austin saw 9% growth last year and will be close to 200 kids over capacity next year. Add in all this planned growth at PCID (in addition to the 1500 condos and 1500 apartments already approved) and a school board doing nothing, and the quality of life shrinks. The new residential affects our over-crowded middle and high school as well. In the past, Dunwoody had 'location' and 'schools' as true assets. With more trailers and more kids, we'll have 'location, but not 'schools' as a shining star in our portfolio. Again, I'd like to see something from PCID (or from whoever authored the LCI report) in regards to schools. The city can't deny zoning on school capacity, but the city should consider the behavior (decisions) of DeKalb Schools as it maps our future. One would hope that in 20 years DeKalb School System will be much different (improved) than today, but would you bet on that?

I agree the PCID is our best area for growth (and revenue). I think some form of mixed use is OK for the area, but someone needs to relay all this information to the DeKalb School System. It takes years to plan and build a new school, but only one visit from potential buyers to see the Trailer Kingdom at Vanderlyn and move on to east Cobb or Johns Creek for a home.

And Bob is right, sorta. Don't call him Mister, but he actually prefers 'Farmer Bob' as to just plain 'Bob'.

themommy said...

At least one developer, whose project never got off the ground, was pursuing a charter school for the PCID. Their development fizzled and so did the school.

But it is the direction that probably needs to be followed. DCSS is reluctant to spend money on land. (Fulton County School system regularly buys land for new schools.) Perhaps there is an opportunity for some kind of partnership with PCID, Dunwoody, and DCSS for potential donations. Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett systems have all benefited from land donations through the years.

DunwoodyPerson said...

Can Dunwoody deny a zoning request for higher density if it is determined the sewage pipes in the area can't handle an increase? Also, when someone says Dunwoody will wither if we don't allow some higher density, ask for a copy of that Dunwoody study. (I think he made it up).

John Heneghan said...

PCIDs LCI Update Visioning Meeting

Date: January 18, 2011
Time: 6:00 p.m. (just before City Council meeting)

Location: Dunwoody City Hall
41 Perimeter Center East, Suite 102
Dunwoody, GA 30346

Link to meeting announcement.