(UPDATE) Contested townhome project faces possible Decatur City Commission vote
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UPDATE: At its Jan. 22 meeting, the City Commission voted unanimously to deny the developer’s request. The City Commission approved all of the other items mentioned in this article. Here is our earlier story …
By Dan Whisenhunt and Cathi Harris
Earlier this month the Decatur City Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny a developer’s request to build a community of 43 townhomes along Church Street near the entrance to Glenlake Park.
The City Commission will possibly vote on the request at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The regular meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be held at City Hall, located at 509 North McDonough Street. All meetings are open to the public.
A legal dispute between the developer and the city over the townhome project has not been resolved. While a number residents oppose the project, citing concerns about the density, the traffic, pedestrian safety and water runoff issues it could create, the developer has taken the fight over the project to court.
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It has been the subject of more than a year and a half of legal wrangling between the city and developer, The Quarters, LLC
The developer has agreements to purchase nine single-family homes on the east side of the street from the lot immediately adjacent to the park entrance up to the Candler Grove townhome development. The total area includes 2.54 acres.
The houses currently on the property are single-family homes on individual lots, but the property was rezoned prior to 1988 to allow for medium-density residential development. Because the area is already zoned for higher density and would not require a rezoning application, Decatur’s development ordinance allows Planning Director Angela Threadgill to recommend approval of the application herself or forward it to the Planning Commission for approval at her discretion.
Kathryn Zickert, an attorney for the devleoper, claims that after the The Quarters submitted its preliminary plat, Threadgill stonewalled their efforts to communicate about approval, then requested changes to the design beyond what was required in the city’s Unified Development Ordinance at the time. The developer then submitted a revised plat that made all of the changes requested, except the ones that were not required in the UDO at the time.
Two days after that submission in June of 2017, Zickert says the City Commission voted to amend the development ordinance to specifically require the changes that Threadgill previously requested.
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The developer filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in DeKalb Superior Court in July 2017 to force the city to consider the application under the code that was in force when they originally submitted the plat.
Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams ruled in favor of the city and dismissed the developer’s petition. However, a subsequent appeal to the state Court of Appeals was heard by a three-judge panel which reversed Adams’ decision on October 28 of last year.
The appeal panel found that the reasons Adams gave for dismissing the initial petition were not valid but did not rule on whether the city had to consider the development proposal or whether it should be considered under the 2017 version of the UDO.
For her part, Threadgill told the Planning Commission the April 2017 submission was never an official application, but instead a “sketch plan” that was submitted without the city’s formal application form, payment of the application fee, or the required property owner authorizations that should accompany a final application submission.
Informal submission of such plans by developers is common and she often works with them, going back and forth over different elements, as they prepare a final submission for consideration, she said.
Threadgill admitted that there was a backlog in the planning department in June of 2017, which caused a delay in responding to several different development projects due to a staffing shortage.
In July of 2017, she told the commission she received a letter from Zickert demanding that the proposal be put on the Planning Commission agenda for the next meeting.
Threadgill also disputed Zickert’s contention that the city revised the development ordinance specifically to thwart The Quarters’ project. The city was already considering alterations to townhome requirements in the UDO in response to problems and complaints received regarding other developments, she said. She pointed to minutes of the February 2017 meeting where she informed the commission that there were elements of the code that needed revision.
Zickert rejected Threadgill’s explanation, saying there was no way that the appeals court would have ruled the way it did if The Quarters’ original application were not valid.
Zickert says she and the developer have a court date in DeKalb Superior Court for reconsideration of their petition on Jan. 28.
The City Commission could overrule the Planning Commission, as it did in June when allowing an annexation that would bring 300 apartments into the city. The Planning Commission recommended denying the project.
The commission’s Jan. 22 agenda also includes:
– A lease agreement with the Decatur Housing Authority to allow residents to use housing at Legacy Park, the former United Methodist Children’s Home Property, while DHA renovates 98 units at Swanton Heights, located at the corner of Commerce Drive and Robin Street.
“It is anticipated that the Swanton Heights reconstruction project will take approximately 24 months and the rental period will likely start on or about May 1, 2019,” a memo attached to the City Commission meeting agenda says. “During the lease period, DHA will pay rent and utilities, will be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the leased properties and provide all necessary insurance required of a tenant.”
– Consideration of a right of way agreement with Crown Castle Fiber, LLC. The agreement would allow the installation of a “small cell network” in the city.
“A small cell network consists of a series of low-powered antennas (nodes) that provide coverage and capacity, similar to a cell tower,” the memo attached to the meeting agenda says. “Small cells are connected by a fiber optic cable and if possible, are attached to existing infrastructure in the right of way, including utility poles and street lights. Each small cell node communicates wirelessly by means of radio waves to internet and cellular phone systems. A small cell network is an important means of increasing cellular network capacity, maintaining internet and cellular speeds, and advancing to a 5G cellular communications network.”
– Setting qualifying fees for the upcoming city elections. The qualifying fee for to run for City Commission would be $360 and the fee to run for School Board would be $35. The election will be held Nov. 5, 2019.
The following seats are on the ballot:
One City Commissioner from Election District 1, Post B – Incumbent: Scott Drake
One City Commissioner from Election District 2, Post B – Incumbent: Brian Smith
One City Commissioner from Election District at Large – Incumbent: Tony Powers
One Decatur Board of Education member from Election District 1, Post B – Incumbent Garrett Goebel*
One Decatur Board of Education member from Election District 2, Post B – Incumbent Tasha White
Qualifying to run for city office begins Monday, August 19, 2019 at 8:30 a.m., and continues until Wednesday August 21, 2019 at 4:30 p.m.
Voter registration will end Oct. 7. Early voting will start on Oct. 14.
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