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Plan to develop 12 town homes in Stone Mountain stalls due to environmental concerns

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Plan to develop 12 town homes in Stone Mountain stalls due to environmental concerns

City of Stone Mountain Municipal Building. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Stone Mountain, GA — The Stone Mountain City Council at its Dec. 5 meeting voted to postpone approval of the rezoning request for 6803 James B Rivers Memorial Drive.

Christopher Hunt of Green Community Development is making his third request to rezone this property. This time the request is to change from designation “Traditional Residential” to “Multi-Family Residential.” 

The Stone Mountain city planner recommended approval, with two new conditions: a $100,000 bond to address water quality and mitigation efforts and an updated engineers’ certification of the site plan to be approved by the city engineer.

This would allow for the proposed 12 town homes to be built on this property (currently a mostly forested empty lot) but the city expressed some significant concerns with Hunt’s proposed site plan. 

The question really was not one of density. The scarcity of housing in the metro area, and in the city, is an issue council members and the public have spoken about before. City leaders say the proposal fails to adequately account for the stream that runs through the back of the property. 

State law says that you can’t “disturb” anything within 25 feet of a stream. This means no cutting down trees or grass, the zone is meant to be a protected part of the stream’s ecosystem. Stone Mountain city law extends this “undisturbed natural buffer” out to 50 feet from the stream. On top of this, there is another 25 feet of “Impervious surface buffer.” 

This means between 50 feet and 75 feet from the stream, you can cut some of the grass or cut down a tree, even lay down some kinds of gravel, but there can be no “impervious surfaces” closer than 75 feet from the stream. Surfaces that don’t allow water to seep in, which traps some of the water and—to an extent—filters it, this close to the stream have a plethora of negative consequences on the water quality and other factors that determine the health of the ecosystem. The presence of these surfaces also speeds up erosion and causes runoff.

The current site plan has the building interceding these buffers, getting as close as 35 feet from the stream. There is also a grass parking lot behind the building, which is not an impervious surface, but does intercede the 50-foot natural buffer. There is some precedent for granting variances to allow for altering up to 35 feet from the stream, especially since the stream is curved, and it’s just a corner of the building and corner of the parking lot that encroach, but this is where the project hit another snag. 

The city engineer critiqued the project generally, and said, “The applicant has not proposed mitigation measures to offset the effects of proposed land development on the parcel.”

According to Hunt’s proposal, the project is supposed to have a “Green Roof” which would account for the site’s run-off and stormwater management. The water would be kept “on-site” according to Hunt and not pollute the stream. 

The city engineer expressed significant concerns about the role of the “Green Roofs” in solving the issue. He called the practice “finicky,” pointing out multiple flaws with using a “Green Roof” as a central part of a mitigation plan in a report in the meeting agenda, namely citing the high cost and difficulty of maintenance.

Hunt, while mostly receptive and eager to answer questions, objected as the city began to move toward postponing the approval of the rezoning request. He said that leaving 25 foot from the stream is all that is required by state law, and emphasized the work he had put in attempting to meet local regulations.

Councilmember Chakira Johnson said her approval was contingent upon seeing a revised site plan that doesn’t encroach on the buffer zones outlined by local ordinance.

Hunt said, “I don’t know how to respond to that, except to say, If I can keep the quality the same, If I can produce the site plan, and go to extra expense and hardship to do that, that y’all will grant the approval”

Councilmember Gil Freeman said, “Mr. Hunt, you’re asking us to buy a car and saying ‘Trust me. Trust me, the car’s gonna start without starting it up’” 

Hunt responded,  “No, actually it’s quite different from that. You’ve got a car and what you’re saying is ‘Hey if you make it like this, I’ll buy it’ and that’s what I’m saying, I will make it like that, but I don’t want to come in, and then given the experience that I’ve had so far, have something else come up”

He continued, encouraging the council to think about the future, at one point suggesting “reverse-racism” could be at play as the reason the approval was taking longer than he would like. 

Hunt is also currently suing the Cobb County Board of Commissioners for their quote “Unconstitutional denial” of a different rezoning request, as reported by Wendy Parker for East Cobb News

Apart from water management, the city does still have to crystallize its opinion on the proposal. The planning commission recommended that the commercial offices stay a part of the property, while the city planner recommended it be strictly residential. There was also some discussion on whether to further decrease the amount of residences from 12.

The Council ultimately elected to postpone the approval of the development, remanding it back to the planning committee for the time being.  

In other news:

— The city approved Christmas bonuses for city staff, in the amount of $1,000 for the executive team and $500 for the rest of the employees, for a total of $21,500. This will be paid for by funds from the “Personnel” budget, meaning this expenditure is not an additional cost on the city’s budgeted. 

The mayor asked why the executive staff gets more than the rest of the staff. City Manager Darnetta Tyus said this is just how it’s been done in the past. The mayor said she wanted to see the gap closed on moving forward 

— Several new members were appointed to the Planning Commission: Meron Tadesse, Alex Brennan, and Grace Kelly were appointed unanimously to three year terms. Andrew Zonneveld was also appointed 4-2 to a three-year term. Eileen Smith and Jelani Linder were both not selected in the 3-3 vote, with a tie-breaking vote from the mayor. Theresa Hamby was also unanimously reappointed to the Historical Preservation Committee. Parks and Recreation Committee appointments are set for the next meeting. 

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