Okay, I know it stings but it’s good medicine. So temper it with a little sugar and suck it up.
For those outside our city borders who still consider themselves a part of the Decatur community, this morning’s AJC features a fine instructive example of what should have happened prior to our latest Walmart dust-up at Suburban Plaza.
In short, circulating rumors of the big box giant’s arrival in Sandy Springs’ downtown mixed-use district — no development proposal, mind you, or even validated interest, just floating possibilities — got people questioning: “Hmmmmm. We have a vision for what we want that area to become. I wonder if our zoning regulations ensure that’s what we’ll get.”
Turns out they don’t, so the city proactively dropped a 90-day moratorium on land-use petitions to allow enough time to “put its ordinances in line with its land-use plan for downtown.”
Well, howzabout that. Seems so much simpler than what happened here, and that’s for some very specific reasons:
1. Pro-action vs. re-action. Sandy Springs has two things going for it. First, they took the time to develop a vision for what they do want in that area, as opposed to just what they don’t want. Then, prior to any actual proposal or threat, they took the time to compare that vision with the likely outcomes mandated by their ordinances.
2. Political support. Unified concerns of over 4,000 surrounding homeowners were brought before city government at a time when change was still a viable option. Why? Because residents were invested in the city’s vision and wanted to ensure its protection. That gave them something to fight for, rather than against.
3. Human-scaled, responsive government. Now that they’re out from under the shadow of monolithic and frequently dysfunctional Fulton County government, Sandy Springs has the access and flexibility to respond quickly, in a meaningful way.
In that context, what happened with Suburban Plaza was indeed a fiasco and I propose that essentially all future development and re-development on surrounding parcels will occur in a similar fashion. Unless. Unless our brothers-and-sisters-in-postal-distribution take this time now to stop it from happening again. Of course, doing so will be hard. The question is, will it be worth it? If so, here’s how:
First, stop demonizing property owners for building what their zoning tells them to build. People have a right to avoid unnecessary hassles and make money, especially when our laws tell them specifically how we want them to do so. Next, organize. A critical mass of neighbors (read: voters) is necessary for any political will to materialize. Then, once you’re speaking from a position of strength, petition DeKalb leadership for meaningful efforts. Have them lead a visioning process, inclusive of property owners and development interests, to come up with a flexible land-use vision that everyone can benefit from and that doesn’t infringe on any one stakeholder’s existing rights. Then, once you have it, don’t stop until it’s codified in specific detail.
Dang, that does sound like a lot of work. Maybe that’s why it happens so infrequently. Who’s up for the task?