Planning Commission recommends zoning changes for Legacy Park, nearby propertiesThe former United Methodist Children's Home in Decatur. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
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By Cathi Harris, contributor
As a bill to officially annex Legacy Park makes its way through the General Assembly, the Decatur Planning Commission Tuesday night recommended the adoption of appropriate city land use and zoning categories for the property as well as other properties along Derrydown Way, Katie Kerr Drive and South Columbia Drive that will be annexed along with the park, should the legislation pass.
Currently, Legacy Park — the former United Methodist Children’s Home property — is just outside the city limits in unincorporated DeKalb County. The city wants to annex the property as well as several adjacent parcels on the surrounding streets to avoid creating “islands” of unincorporated property, Decatur Planning Director Angela Threadgill told Decaturish.
“Annexation requires that land be assigned a land use category and zoning district under the municipal codes that would become effective upon annexation,” she explained. “DeKalb County and the city of Decatur’s land use categories and zoning districts are differently coded. However, the city often assigns the closest equivalent category and district to that of DeKalb County, and this is reflected in the proposed land use categories and zoning districts being put forth to the Planning Commission and City Commission.”
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the land-use designation of the following properties be changed from TN – Traditional Neighborhood (DeKalb County) to RL – Low Density Residential (City of Decatur): 795 Derrydown Way; 798 Derrydown Way; 799 Derrydown Way; 808 Derrydown Way; 814 Derrydown Way; 815 Derrydown Way; 844 Derrydown Way; 848 Derrydown Way; 858 Derrydown Way; 864 Derrydown Way; 880 Derrydown Way; 884 Derrydown Way; 885 Derrydown Way; 890 Derrydown Way; 891 Derrydown Way.
They also recommended that the zoning district of these properties be changed from R-75 Single Family Residential (DeKalb) to R-60 Single-Family Residential (city of Decatur).
They recommended changing the land use designation of the properties at 846 Columbia Drive, 882 Columbia Drive, 884 Columbia Drive, and 890 Columbia Drive from SUB – Suburban (DeKalb County) to I- Institutional (City of Decatur). And the zoning district for these properties from R-75 Single Family Residential (DeKalb County) to I – Institutional (City of Decatur).
These properties were purchased by the nonprofit association, East Decatur Greenway, a few years ago, Threadgill said. There are now no longer any buildings on the properties and they are being used for greenspace and a trailhead for a multi-use trail.
The change in land use and zoning designations reflects the current and intended future use of the properties.
The commission unanimously recommended the change of land use designation for 500 Columbia Drive, the Legacy Park property itself, from Conservation/Open Space (DeKalb County) to Institutional (city of Decatur), with a corresponding zoning district changed from OI-Office-Institutional (DeKalb County) to I-Institutional (city of Decatur).
In a departure from the changes recommended by city staff, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend a change of the land use designation of the property at 2716 Katie Kerr Drive from Conservation/Open Space (DeKalb County) to C – Commercial (city of Decatur) and a zoning district designation from Office-Institutional (DeKalb County) to MU – Mixed Use – Village Subarea (city of Decatur), following objections by the property owner that the city’s original proposal to rezone the property from OI would severely limit his ability to develop the property in the future.
“There’s a lot of difference between [the county] O & I and what the city allows in Institutional,” Chuck Bosserman, the property’s owner, told the commission. “It allows multifamily dwellings up to five stories, hotel-motel, and childcare facilities, private schools, trade shops, and offices and many others.”
Bosserman said he bought the property from the Children’s Home 20 years ago because of its proximity to the MARTA station and potential for residential development. He also presented drafts of an 2002 Atlanta Regional Commission LCI study that found the property to be in an area that would support higher density development, as well as the 2015 East Decatur Station master plan with a similar indication.
He requested the commission either recommend a multi-use zoning or table the consideration in order to allow time for he and his attorney to negotiate with the city.
Decatur’s zoning policy only allows for the adoption of a zoning and land use designation consistent with the current use of the property, unless there is a master plan in place specifying a different use, Threadgill said. Since the property is currently empty, the staff recommended the nearest applicable zoning and land-use designation, which is institutional.
Should Bosserman want to develop the property in the future, he could do so with a conditional use permit or rezoning, depending on the type of development planned.
Several members of the Planning Commission indicated they did feel that a land use designation change from the broader OI to Decatur’s more restrictive zoning was too much of a burden on the rights of the property owner.
Threadgill said that the staff was amenable to a designation of MU – Village Subarea that would allow a residential development and a somewhat higher density of uses, but that would also be complementary to the current nearby single-family neighborhoods and the park.
One of two ‘no’ votes on the recommendation, commission member Todd Ohlandt said he feared the change to a higher-density mixed use zoning would not allow enough time and notice to nearby residents of the potential future uses of the property.
Commission Chair Harold Buckley also voted no, saying that the property’s site limitations — it has part of a creek running through it — meant that many of the possible uses under O & I would not be feasible anyway, and the Institutional designation would not severely limit what could reasonably be developed on the site.
All of the Planning Commission recommendations will be forwarded to the Decatur City Commission which will take them up at its regular meeting on March 18.
The legislation to annex the properties, Senate Bill 89, has passed the Senate and moved over for a vote in the state House of Representatives.
Neither the Planning Commission’s recommendations nor the decisions of the City Commission regarding zoning will have an effect on whether or not the properties are annexed, Threadgill said. That decision is completely up to the General Assembly.