Planning Commission Takes Up Rezoning of West College Parcel This Evening

Many of you expressed an interest in being reminded when this agenda item, which was tabled at the last Planning Commission meeting, was brought up again.  So here you go.  Tonight at 7:00pm at Decatur City Hall, the Planning Commission will take up the proposed rezoning of 712 West College Avenue from residential to commercial.  The developer’s stated plan is to build a retail grocery store, run by the current owners of the the Candler Park Market.

Included in the meeting materials for tonight’s meeting is a new staff report by City Planning Director Amanda Thompson, which goes into great detail about the rezoning request, the C-1 and R-60 allowable uses, the standards which must be considered when rezoning is requested, a comparison of standards between R-60 and C-1, parking, and so on.

So brush up on your zoning-speak and then head over to City Hall and give your nay or yay opinion!

80 thoughts on “Planning Commission Takes Up Rezoning of West College Parcel This Evening”

  1. Hey, if anyone reading this goes tonight (as I cannot), you may simply ask the Commissioners if they have ever been to Candler Park Market. As I think i said once before on this forum, if the loitering middle-school aged children, littered parking lot, dingy interior, and general unclean appearance of the existing CPM is what we can expect on that corner, I vote No Thank You. I see no reason to believe that their standards would increase arbitrarily. Can you deny an application because you think the user might be messy? I don’t know. But you could certainly apply certain conditions, which could prevent alcohol licenses from being renewed, etc. Okay, back to drinking in the middle of the day.

    1. That’s funny, because I used to go to the CPM almost daily, and think it’s the greatest neighborhood market evar! I hope the ZBA board members have been there, so they get what a great community asset it can be.

    2. Darned right. I would much rather middle-school aged children loiter some place out of sight, where there is no chance one of their parents or their parents’ friends might happen along and see what they’re up to. How can they expect to get into serious shenanigans if they’re hanging around the neighborhood grocery?

    3. When was the last time you were in Candler Park Market? What you are describing is not what I have come to find at that store. To me, it is a well stocked, very nice neighborhood market with an excellent sandwich counter in the back.

  2. I go with Sir Brooms Help-a-lot. Let that market take over the SD Market space a half-mile to the west, and contribute taxes to Atlanta instead of Decatur. (I’m on the west side of Winter Ave.)

  3. So, we should base zoning decisions on whether or not a business caters to our personal tastes? I’m not going to comment further for the risk of bringing a great cloud of snark down on the city.

  4. So is anyone within earshot here planning to attend this meeting? I had a chance to skim the minutes from last month and the only folks who showed up to comment then were the ones who live next door and have been trying to shut this whole thing down.

  5. Just returned from the meeting and I am sad to report it does not look good for the market. The Commission voted to recommend to change from R-60 to C-1, however they also voted to recommend to NOT allow the exceptions to the zoning.

    The big issue for discussion was the setbacks required. The developer wanted 10′ instead of 30′ on the E. College Ave side and 7′ instead of 10′ on the Mead Rd side from the neighboring homes.

    I guess it is in the hands of the City now, but from comments at the meeting, I believe if the request is denied the developer cannot submit a new request for one year. Amanda Thompson was going to clarify this point.

    1. So the CVS in town gets pushed to the front so it can be a more walk able town feel, but then here they don’t want that. I realize one is downtown and the other not, but I’m not feeling that decision and mixed message.

    2. Do any of the existing commercial parcels along that stretch of W College meet the setback zoning requirements? What’s the justification for those requirements? I think I’m with Mr. Boh here–offhand I don’t see any reason not to want buildings closer to the street, rather than your classic strip mall ocean of parking between the street and the store.

      1. The issue is setbacks from neighboring residential (not setback from the street). The commercial parcel, taken as a whole including the residential lot to be rezoned (City Commission still has to approve that) is considered to front on Mead Rd because the narrowest street frontage is always considered the “front.” So the rear of the parcel borders on the residential property at 708 W. College. The south side of the parcel (the “side”) borders on a 15′ wide alley that separates it from the residential property at 116 Mead Rd.

        The application requests an exception on the side setback, 7′ instead of 10′. The plan puts a privacy fence 7′ from the edge of the alley and creates a planting buffer in that 7′, including cypress and some other stuff that will screen the fence from the alley. So the fence on the edge of the parking lot will be 22′ from the neighbor’s property, with the alley and a vegetative screen in between.

        The application requests an exception on the rear setback, 10′ instead of 30′. The 1-story store would sit 10′ back from the line with a 6′ (or 8′?) privacy fence and planting buffer in between it and the neighbor’s lot line. It also calls for efforts to preserve existing several existing big trees and providing adjacent homeowner with arborist’s tree prescription for each tree. The 30′ of space between the store and College Ave, in the NE corner of the parcel adjacent to the residential property, is planned for a pocket garden, further buffering the homeowner from the parking lot. Worth noting is the lot recommended to be rezoned is only 46′ wide along the College Ave. side, so it is very difficult to imagine how it could be developed without obtaining a significant variance on the setback requirement. If it stayed R60, then it could not be used for parking.

        Also worth noting: the site plan includes on-site detention under the parking lot, which likely will not only prevent worsening the drainage issues next door but probably will improve the whole situation. It also includes an on-site loading zone, so trucks won’t be clogging up the streets to unload at the restaurant or the market. Per last night’s discussion, the required parking for all businesses combined (bar/restaurant, 2 retail shops, and the market) is 52. The site plan provides for 44, and the applicants are currently working with Thankful Baptist Church (which has a large lot across Mead Road) on a shared parking agreement to pick up the remaining 8 spaces.

        The site plans (the one submitted in October and the one revised since then in response to neighbors’ concerns) are both in the meeting materials linked in DM’s post above.

        1. Ah, thanks for all that. Now this makes a lot more sense. And yeah, with that explanation of the variance and what the developer was planning on doing, it seems justified.

        2. Per STG: “Also worth noting: the site plan includes on-site detention under the parking lot…”

          That is pretty amazing way to deal with the neighbors’ concern about middle-school miscreants hanging out and making a ruckus! They either behave, or go to detention under the parking lot!

          1. New code recommendations include requiring restaurants with fewer than 15 tables to include in their site plan an underground detention solution for toddlers.

            1. If only! As the parent of a two-year-old, something like a mini, padded roller derby rink where they could just run around in circles until they collapsed would be ideal. I’d be all over that.

      2. Very good summary, stg,

        Important point is that if the City Commission approves the change from R-60 to C-1, the developer could feasibly turn that lot into parking as long as it meets the setback requirements to the neighbors’ property.

        I thought it was interesting that Mark Burnette said the developer was trying to do too much on a small lot. How else will the City grow with what property we have available? Mark also wanted to recommend to pass the zoning change so the developer could find another business venture for that property.

        I felt the developer has given a tremendous amount of concessions to the neighbors to buffer, screen, redesign, only for them to continue to ask for more. One neighbor asked for a gate to keep post 10 pm traffic out, but it also came up the proposed market would close at 10. The after 10 pm traffic would be from the restaurant, which does not require any City approvals. So why should the developer give them anything?

        1. “I thought it was interesting that Mark Burnette said the developer was trying to do too much on a small lot. How else will the City grow with what property we have available?”

          Have to agree with Mark Burnette on his point. I’m all for growth and new development, but I’d like to see it occur at a scale that fits the location. Sometimes commercial developers and property owners ask for too much; sometimes residential developers and homeowners ask for too much.

          The developer should have been aware of all of the potential limitations to developing the property before investing. Nearby residents should not have to give up their rights in order to ensure that the developer can recover from inadequate research or a poor decision.

          1. This has been discussed several times here before, but whether a structure has appropriate scale is highly subjective. A community market seems completely in line with what CoD is trying to accomplish.

            And I just deleted a response to your last paragraph. I remembered that you can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into.

          2. Nearby residents are not being asked to give up any rights, unless you want to make the case they (and presumably everyone) have a right to expect that nothing will change in a way that they don’t like.

            After reviewing the proposed plans, the minutes of the October meeting, the revised plans, and listening to the discussion last night, I see no evidence whatsoever of inadequate research or poor decisions by the developers. Everything they are asking for seems reasonable, and they have pretty clearly bent over backward in making a number of adjustments in response to neighbors’ concerns. Incidentally, “the developers” are Pete Whitlock, who was hugely instrumental in breathing life back into what we know as the Oakhurst Village commercial district and is deeply invested in helping this community continue to thrive; and Weslee Knapp, who has not been around quite as long but has also clearly put down roots in this part of town and is committed to its long-term success. My understanding is that they have offered several concessions beyond what they are legally obligated to do, in order to make the whole project more palatable to the neighbors who are unhappy about it.

            Mr. Burnett remarked several times that “5 exceptions is just too many” which begs the question of how many would be few enough? Given that he was the one who first noted how unique this situation is within Decatur and the extremely low likelihood this combination of site and situation would come up again, I didn’t understand his reluctance to approve it, until it was combined with his view that it’s “trying to cram too much into too small a space.” Then I could understand where he is coming from, although I profoundly disagree.

            The community has determined that we want to nurture and reinvigorate the vestigial small commercial nodes scattered about the city, in pursuit of a whole array of benefits I won’t go into here. They are in the Strategic Plan. So for these little commercial nodes, we need to get our heads around allowing the kind of density and compactness that will support thriving businesses. Downtown can’t be the only place we allow it. While a lot of people are concerned that any commercial presence has the potential to encroach aggressively on the residential areas around it, I think it’s squarely within our control to minimize and channel that potential while still nurturing these little pocket business districts. Instead of assuming they are all kudzu and will overrun us while we are sleeping, swallowing up houses and spitting out restaurants and parking lots, we need to recognize they can be more like tiny orchards that bear fruit year-round to nourish the surrounding neighborhood. I think this site plan is really creative and a great example of the “square foot gardening” approach to getting the most out of every square foot. That is a good thing, and IMO the city ought to grant a project 50 exceptions if that’s what it takes to encourage developers to approach in this manner: flexible, creative, eager to work with neighbors and arrive at a final plan that optimizes benefits and minimizes shortcomings for everybody.

            1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Let me add that, IMO, College isn’t a residential street (it may have been at one point a long time ago, but it isn’t today). Someone who moves exactly one block away from College should not be able to demand that it never gets developed. Local businesses and other residents who support those businesses shouldn’t have to give up their rights b/c of the lack of research or poor decisions of immediate neighbors.

          3. “Nearby residents should not have to give up their rights in order to ensure that the developer can recover from inadequate research or a poor decision.”

            Their rights to what? Doesn’t a property owner’s rights end at their property line? Of course the City and Planning Commissions set up rules on how two properties can “interact” with one another. The City has to be the peacemaker in this situation and decide what is best for the community as a whole based on the Strategic Plan, not just the 5-10 households who are bummed about this project.

            IMO, the developer was trying to give our City two things, a newly developed piece of land and a community market that several folks have said they would like to see.

            Progress is not always easy. I think a woman summed it up best last night. The vacant lot next to her is up for sale. She can wait and see what happens or buy it herself to keep is vacant, but it is within her control now.

      3. Most, if not all, the commercial building there presently have been there long before setbacks were required and are grandfathered in.

    3. They can’t submit a new request for variance for a year, however they can certainly design within the setbacks.

      The irony is that if that lot gets designated C1, the owners can design within the setbacks and go full height, which will leave the neighbors with a far more over-bearing presence than what was actually proposed, and without any ability prevent a conforming use.


      1. Decatur does have a shortage of both head shops and sex shops. Perhaps the developer will move forward with the zoning and put something there that the neighbors might truly find undesirable.

        I would be a little more sympathetic if it didn’t seem that the neighbors want this privately owned tract to remain their own little park. In my experience, neighbors who just say “no” and refuse to accept any compromises usually end up with something much worse that what was originally proposed.

        1. Agree with DawgFan on this. Do people really think ‘If I keep being a pain and not compromise, the developer – who already has invested money in the site – will just roll over.’

          Instead, what is most like going to happen is the developer will get frustrated by the unreasonable demands and do “what he has to do” within the already approved zoning laws to recoup the investment – and that this will be worse than what was first proposed.

          Or, ya know, it would be better if it just continued to delapidate and be an eyesore. That’s much better for property values.
          Nimby-ism can be used for good, but not always.

      2. If the city denies the plans, but keeps the C-1 zoning, then I hope that the property owner builds something as tall as possible on that lot within the setbacks required.

        What is more likely to happen, however, is that the lot is used for parking. Highest and best use? Not.

  6. If I were on the commission and a developer threatened to “really build something you won’t like” instead of working with the city and the neighborhood, I would immediately vote no on their project.
    If the developer bought too small a lot for their grandiose overblown plans, then tuff.

    1. But you’re completely missing the point that if they are within the setbacks and are compliant with all the C1 zoning regulations, they don’t have to go before the board, and the board doesn’t get to vote on it.

    2. The developers have not threatened to do anything of the kind. That is chatter among bystanders.

      The bottom line is that these developers came along with a thoughtful, creative way to redevelop the parcel and have been flexible and accommodating in trying to work with the neighbors and the City. A couple of neighbors have been absolutely intransigent in their opposition, mingling legitimate questions and concerns with all sorts of red herrings clearly meant to obstruct and bog down the process in hopes the developers would walk away. (That strategy has worked before, for that very parcel of property.) They aren’t walking away because they aren’t outsiders looking to make a quick buck — they are already deeply invested and committed to this community. However, what could wind up happening is the rezoned lot being used in a way that is much more undesirable to the immediate neighbors than this project would have been. They may live to regret having been so unbending. That is not necessarily my hope, but I do feel frustrated and disappointed by how this seems to be turning out.

      1. One of the developers’ wife was ONA president a few years ago, and he owns a business in Decatur already

      2. Is there anything that we can do at this point to show our support for the project? STG, it would be great if you would share your eloquent and thoughtful argument with the Planning Commission.

        1. As I understand things, the City Commission still has to approve the rezoning of the one lot from R60 to C1, and it will possibly be on their agenda this coming week (Monday). I would encourage everyone who thinks that it’s a good idea to drop a line to the Commissioners encouraging them to approve it.

          The CP Market project application was denied and is a dead duck, I believe. But the developers can come back with a different plan, presumably one involving fewer variances since that is what the Planning Commission got hung up on. Meanwhile, the project that involves the existing buildings (bar/restaurant, pet food shop and yoga studio, I believe) will continue and I look forward to seeing those businesses get under way and wish them well.

          1. The Planning Commission vote is advisory, not binding, so the application will proceed to the city commission. They have the option of either heeding the recommendation for denial or, should new information or perspective come to light, voting to approve it anyway.

            1. I stand corrected, happily!

              Everybody, I can’t overstate the importance of speaking out on this, either in writing (at least a day or two ahead of the meeting to be sure the Commissioners see & digest your input) or in person or both. I’ve had occasion to try offering public comment at Fulton County gov’t meetings and believe me, participating in civic life in the City of Decatur is a whole different ball game. It’s one of the luxuries we buy with our big tax bills, so everybody come on down and speak your piece and get your money’s worth!

          2. I attended the meeting and was very disappointed that the planning commission did not approve the plans for the grocery store. It appeared to me that the commission let a Mead property owner bully them with his argument that the plan called for too many variances. If anything, this property owner is asking, or rather demanding, that the developer acquiesce to all of his demands. It was highly disappointing to watch this development get denied by the commission simply because of this one exceptionally demanding property owner. One commission member started his discussion by noting that he was surprised that there is resistance to this project as it corresponds with the city’s strategic plan. From what I can tell, there are just 3 or 4 people that opposed this project. Why did the commission not recognize this? Surely a higher entity can overrule this shortsighted decision. Why should the commission give in to 3 or 4 property owners when the majority of area residents seem to welcome this project?

  7. Sorry for getting into this conversation late. Been out of town. I have lived down the street (4 houses down) from this eyesore since 1996. I think what they are doing is a total asset to this stretch of road. I would love to have a little grocery store within a block of my house and a restaurant/bar too. The people redeveloping this area rock and my family (with kids) supports them 100%.

  8. I don’t see why merely mentioning the total number of variances as an argument against the project should cut any ice at all. It’s a total non-sequitur. Each of the proposed variances should be examined on its merits, and if each one makes sense, the project should be approved. I guess that you could make an argument that each variance considered in isolation makes sense but that they interact in a way such that the totality of the project violates the purposes of the code. But then you have to make that sort of argument, not just assert that a lot of variances are being requested.

    1. I agree.

      Residential neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Decatur have been vigilant in resisting encroachment by the commercial district and its attendant traffic & parking issues. So there is quite a bit of precedent for a firewall mentality about protecting residential districts. And in fact, the zoning task force has been substantially occupied with figuring out better ways for Decatur to provide for transition between residential and commercial. Understandably, the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals are going to bring everything they’ve heard and thought about and learned to the table for each application they are called upon to consider. For that reason, I don’t find last night’s decision all that surprising.

      That said, I strongly disagree with the decision and hope these planning and zoning boards can start thinking about neighborhood business districts a bit differently than downtown. Small pockets of commercial activity scattered throughout the city are analogous to distributed computing — more powerful, flexible and resilient than having everything centralized.

  9. Dawgfan made two points today I want to comment on, and feel strongly enough not to bury earlier in the thread…

    “you can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into.” — Truer words were never spoken and it’s an excellent reminder not to get into futile tangles.

    ” IMO, College isn’t a residential street (it may have been at one point a long time ago, but it isn’t today).” — I think the several dozen people who live on W. College between East Lake and Agnes Scott would beg to differ. And although I understand where this thought comes from, I think this is exactly what we need to get beyond: the idea that swaths of territory have to be “either/or.” The key to getting to where we say we want to be — a more walkable, diverse, economically and socially robust community — is to find ways of integrating residential use with small commercial use so we don’t have to rely on impervious zoning boundaries to optimize our collective quality of life. I don’t think the developers spearheading this project or the neighbors supporting it mean to say, “Oh, College Ave isn’t residential any more, let’s open the commercial floodgates.” W. College IS residential, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have small commercial development that enhances the residential neighborhood. Allowing a pocket of commercial density doesn’t have to represent the thin edge of an inevitable wedge.

    1. Doh. Omitting one word can completely change your message. I meant to say it isn’t exclusively residential. Never thought of it as “either/or”, and I do think it is an appropriate place for the right commercial development.

  10. The problem is this: city code is city law. As a long time resident of Decatur, over the years I have gone to the zoning office requesting to do rather small adjustments to the house and yard. If I did not follow the city code exactly word for word it was automatically denied which is a very frustrating process. (Friends in Decatur have had similar experiences). Why should city law apply to R-60 zones but not to commercial properties?

    If the law is not appropriate, it shouldn’t have been made a law in the first place (or the City Commission should re-do all of the zoning laws -which it sounds like the Zoning Committee is starting to do, but rather than reducing requirements on commercial properties, it seems they may be increased. (There was a poll a few weeks ago from the zoning committee asking if 30 feet boundaries and 30 degree height of buildings were enough between R-60 and C-2. About half of the people responding said yes, about half said no and that a minimum of 60 feet boundaries and buildings at a height of 45 degrees is needed.)

    When land is allowed to be re-zoned and variences granted, it sets a precidence for future cases (kind of like court rulings). There actually are many R-60 lots throughout the city that are empty or basically have condemned empty houses on them. So what is decided on this case (re-zoning and variences granted) can be applied to many lots of land. Also the variences the development is asking for may seem like they serve no purpose (like only allowing 1 curb cut and keeping parking lots back 30 feet), but they are actually there for safty reasons. That area has many schools nearby with young children walking through, 3 curb cuts means you have cars exiting every few feet on the sidewalk, and the 30 feet till parking is to allow room for cars to back out of spaces and have visibility when driving onto the road.

    To my knowledge, it seems the hated neighbors are asking for the City Laws to be upheld, not for anything else. The developers shouldn’t have been given a permit for the project unless the project met code requirements, then they ask for variences. The project should’t hinge on needing variences for it to happen or not. The question is why did the zoning office give them the permit in the first place?

    Last time I checked, for that area the Dollar Store (which has quite a bit of food and at affordable prices) and Oakhurst Market are within walking distance. I like markets, but I don’t think the people in the area are going to starve, plus that puts competition on Oakhurst Market and it isn’t good if businesses don’t have a large enough market base.

    Lastly, Smalltowngal and Notlooking good appear to know information that was not written in the meeting materials and not even on the design plans. (Sayingside boundary is 7ft. instead of 10 feet -I just read the meeting materials and the 7 foot bounday isn’t written in anywhere, from what they were saying I am guessing they are involved in the development project, which for fairness they should admit to.

    1. They have a building permit for the rehab of the existing structure, not the new proposed market.

      You can’t get a permit unless you are zoning compliant or already have an approved variance.

    2. “Last time I checked, for that area the Dollar Store (which has quite a bit of food and at affordable prices) and Oakhurst Market are within walking distance. I like markets, but I don’t think the people in the area are going to starve, plus that puts competition on Oakhurst Market and it isn’t good if businesses don’t have a large enough market base.”

      Didn’t one woman stand up and say the Oakhurst Market is not within walking distance, but this market would be? It does not sound like this new market would be in competition for her business. But should we even be making these kinds of decisions based on the amount of competition?

      And let’s keep this dialogue geniuine. Using words like “hated neighbors” puts this conversation into a place that is not productive and not CoD-like.

      To respond to your last paragraph, I thought the developer was asking for a 7′ setback as avariance to the 10′ setback. Someone please correct me if that information is incorrect.

      I have zero involvement in this project, other than to support intelligent growth for our community. Please don’t assume I am being disingenuous simply becasue my opinion differs from yours.

    3. Ian, I’m addressing your points in reverse order:

      I have no involvement whatsoever in this development project (or any other). All I know about it is what I’ve gleaned from reading the minutes of the October mtg of the Planning Commission, reviewing the related materials included with the agenda for the November meeting, and attending the latter meeting this week. I assure you there was lengthy and detailed discussion of both side and rear setbacks during the meeting. I haven’t looked at the transcript but when it is available (maybe it is by now), that will be clear. Listening to that conversation combined with close examination of the diagrams was very informative. I have no idea who Notlookingood is, or what he/she knows or how.

      If we are going to start permitting new retail based on protecting existing retail from additional competition, that is an entirely different discussion from zoning and I wish you and the others who have advocated it from time to time would go ahead and own what you’re really proposing and broach it as an independent topic.

      I could be wrong, but I believe you are misinformed about the sequence of events. The owners applied for and received permit(s) to redevelop the existing buildings, which are slated to contain a bar/restaurant, a pet food shop and a yoga studio. As a separate project, they applied for rezoning of an adjacent residential lot; and requested several exceptions to the code in order to build a new market. (There is a technical difference between a “variance” and and “exception” — Ms. Thompson explained during the meeting on Tue night, should be available in the transcript.) Two of the exceptions pertain to the side and rear setbacks and two have to do with parking allocations. The fifth is for a new curb cut.

      The new curb cut (which they are entitled to, since one of the lots making up the parcel doesn’t have one) will constitute a second entrance/exit and allow traffic to flow smoothly. Without it, the only access will be via the entrance on College. The plan is to open up the alley that runs between Olympic and Mead Rd for foot traffic, which will allow kids walking back and forth to avoid walking along the sidewalks/curb cuts completely.

      I have heard other people complain about the City handling the application of zoning code provisions differently for commercial than residential, being much more rigid and persnickety with residents. That should be addressed and either explained or rectified. That is not a reason to deny reasonable exceptions on a particular commercial project.

      As for “keeping parking lots back 30 feet” you are misunderstanding the conditions at this site. The request for an exception to the 30′ setback is at the rear, which abuts on the side yard of the residence at 708 W College — it has nothing to do with distance between parking and the street.

      In the past, I have agreed with the argument that if multiple variances are routinely required to achieve the development goals we are after, then the code is poorly written and needs to be mended. I still believe that but recognize the other side of the coin: it is impossible to write any rule or regulation that will apply exactly to every site and circumstance that arises. Providing for variances and exceptions ensures we have enough flexibility to manage specific cases as they arise, while maintaining overall consistency and long-term focus. Square footage is at a premium in Decatur and always will be. To thrive, we have to accept certain levels of density but we also need to be smart about managing and directing it. I don’t hold with the notion that any determination potentially represents a precedent that can be twisted the wrong way later. We have the ability to word every variance and exception in a way that conditions it on the particular scenario being permitted, to keep a variance that works in Case A from being too loosely translated to apply to Case Y next year. We are smart, we can do this is smart ways if we choose to.

      1. CORRECTION: The requested variances relating to parking were not for parking allocation adjustments, they were to allow parking within 30′ of the street. Since neighbors were specifically (and understandably) concerned the new development not create spillover parking in surrounding streets, that seems to me like a reasonable exception. Besides, I believe the intent of that ordinance is to force larger developments, e.g., CVS and SunTrust downtown, to build at the sidewalk and site the parking behind, instead of putting an acre of asphalt between the sidewalk and the merchant’s front door.

  11. Can someone post the commissioners’ email or postal addresses? I was unable to make the meeting on Tuesday. I would like to contact them to show my support

    Current Mead Resident in favor of the redevelopment at the end of my street.


  12. I’ve asked around among knowledgeable folks, and am confident this is correct: The Planning Commission’s recommendations to the City Commission are advisory in nature, and the City Commission is not obligated to concur.

    The Planning Commission recommended that the City approve the request to rezone 712 W. College from R60 to C1. It recommended the City deny the request for exceptions to code for the planned market construction.

    I encourage anyone with a strong opinion about these matters to share that opinion with the City Commission well ahead of their meeting on Monday, Nov. 19 in case this makes it to the agenda. (I just checked the website and the agenda is not available yet.)

  13. To clarify, the Safe Path to school through the alleyway went before the City Commission the other week and did not pass. The City Commission asked that all 3 paths be considered and looked into further. Ironically, the woman who stood up in the planning meeting on Tuesday and said she could walk to the new market but not Oakhurst Market, lives at the end of Olympic. She lives much closer to the Oakhurst Market, but there is no safe path to school or road for her to access Oakhurst Village.

    One of the City Commissioners suggested looking into making a Safe Path to School on College since the sidewalk and area is being re-developed. Making the sidewalk on College 15 feet (where possible) with a planting barrier between College and the main sidewalk would provide a safe pathway for both children to get to school and adults to access the commercial nodes. This idea also goes along with the 2010 Strategic Goals of making a more walkable area, and would allow more access to the other commercial nodes on College. It would be nice if the City also encouraged the Church to do this, making a prettier and safe walkway along college which would encourage walking to the commercial sites along the road.

    Again, curbcuts, parking setbacks etc. are actually for safety reasons. In general, the more walkable you want to make an area, the less curbcuts and parking you have. As far as parking overflowing into neighboring streets, if 44 parking spots are not enough, it does not sound like a small commercial node for the neighborhood to walk to. Exiting on to College only a few feet from a traffic light that is often backed up and does not have a left turn signal does not sound like providing traffic flow. Also the entire project is considered one lot, thus the reason for one curb cut (they are not entitiled to two which they admit to in the materials they submitted -look at the chart), which then provides a more walkable area.

    The confusing point for me is, does the development have a permit for the parking lot behind the existing building? That parking to my understanding is for both the existing building and new market. One of the debates is over buffer areas for the parking lot and setbacks of the parking lot. Whether the R-60 lot is rezoned or not, a parking lot still needs to be put in for the existing building and there are questions about the parking lot meeting code. Also regarding the municode there are not “exceptions”. They are reqired to have an approved varience according to the municode. In my past experience with Ms. Thompson she says many things about code which turn out to not actually be true. Read the code. It clarifies many things. The 7′ buffer very well may be correct, I was just asking how that was known because when I look at the new development map/plan, it does not specify the exact number of feet of the buffers or the setback of the parking (which it should).

    The reason I bring up market base is that there are several empty rental areas along college and in Oakhurst Village. Small businesses are started and don’t make it past a few years leaving empty storefronts which is frustrating and not good for the area. Yes, market base should be looked at for the big picture. That was the whole point of the 2010 strategic goals. Let me be clear, I am not against competition or more markets moving in. I am asking how wise is it to change zoning laws and grant variences to put in a market which has the potential to run out the Oakhurst Market due to proximity? My point is that the big picture really needs to be looked at when changing laws, if no laws need to be changed, by all means put the market in.

    The reason I said “hated neighbors” was to make a point. Many words and arguments are being said about the neighbors, for example that they are against development, that they want their own private garden etc.

    To quote GreenTea “It appeared to me that the commission let a mead property owner bully them with his argument that the plan called for too many variences. If anything this property owner is asking, or rather demanding, that the developer acquiesce to all of his demands. It was highly dissappointing to watch this development get denied by the commission simply because of this one exceptionaly demanding property owner”.

    My point is that if my neighbor’s house burnt down, they decided not to rebuild, land was rezoned and a 4 story commercial building or nightclub was put in next to me, I would want all of the laws limiting the commercial zone followed. From everything I have heard and seen at the meetings, all of the immediate neighbors spoke against this development but spoke for developing the area. To my knowledge what the neighbors have demanded is that the existing codes be followed, nothing more. Considering they have to live next to it, they are more affected by what is there than someone living down the street, and to be fair, I don’t think you can fault them for asking for what is legal. I would if it were happening next to me. Developing the area will increase the neighbors property values. Developing the area to the point that the people living there wouldn’t have bought their homes (which they said in a prior planning meeting) is worrisome, and overdevelopment could decrease their property values and their ability to sell their homes (which actually would affect the entire area, my home included).

    The reason I am standing up and saying these things, is that no one seems to care how this affects the people living next to the development until it becomes you living next to it, wanting laws to be followed, and no one cares because it affect you, not them. It isn’t very neighborly, and it doesn’t show Decatur as very family friendly, if commercial districts are being given preferential treatment over residential. Land is scarce, the area will be developed, the developers are making a great profit by proposing what they are, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They will still make money by having a smaller development there, just not as much as having rental income from a large market.

    1. “To clarify, the Safe Path to school through the alleyway went before the City Commission the other week and did not pass. The City Commission asked that all 3 paths be considered and looked into further”

      The only thing that went before the Commission was the funding for the study of the three routes that could connect Olympic to Mead, which was approved.

      No specific path was approved or disapproved.

    2. “a parking lot still needs to be put in for the existing building and there are questions about the parking lot meeting code.”

      One of the joys of rehabbing vs new construction is being grandfathered. The existing rehab does not have to comply with current parking codes, just as it doesn’t have to comply with other C1 requirements like setbacks and street-scapes.

      Just look at Karvarna & Sugar Moon for rehabbed building parking requirements.

    3. Ian-

      I am the woman who said I would walk to this market, and I live in Village Walk NOT Oakhurst. Oakhurst Market is approximately 1 mile further roundtrip from my house. I stand by my statement that my business would not be lost, but actually gained by a local business owner if this market opened. Currently Kroger, YDFM, and TJ’s gets that business from me.

      And I beleive Ms. Thompson seems to be doing the best job she possibly can. She has a challenging job, and if she can recall 50% of the codes & ordinances, she’s doing a great job in my book. I found the neighbor who stood up and berated her for not notating the proper tree name insulting. And I give Ms. Thompson credit for taking his disrepectful behavior in stride. IMO, it was out of line and unneccessary.

      You state that “no one seems to care”

      I am also the one who held my opinion, much to the annoyance of the commission, until I could make a decision upon hearing both sides. Believe it or not, there are people who live in your community who do care how this impacts those who live at or near this project. I intentionally went to this meeting to hear the residential neighbors’ point of view and concerns. I believe enough has been asked of, and granted by, the developer to make this a win-win for the community.

      Although it may be true that this market (if approved) or the Oakhurst Market could fail, we cannot make decisions of this nature based on “what if” concerns. Businesses fail for any number of reasons, but if we never even give them a chance, we have failed as a community.

      1. Misti says “Although it may be true that this market (if approved) or the Oakhurst Market could fail, we cannot make decisions of this nature based on “what if” concerns. Businesses fail for any number of reasons, but if we never even give them a chance, we have failed as a community.”

        There have been several comments about the city stopping this market to protect other businesses. This needs to be stated properly. It is not the city stopping the competition from coming in, it is the city NOT bending the rules to allow a business to come in and compete with two locally owned stores, the Oakhurst Market and Ale Yeah. Bigger picture, what would most of you think if the city granted these variances to Walmart to come to Decatur? I realize this is not the same thing but this Market will be 3 times the size of Oakhurst Market and probably 4 times the size of Ale Yeah. It is more than a “what if” statement to say that a businesses of this size will have a distinct competitive edge over both stores. Furthermore, basing an argument on how far one person has to walk to a store is silly. There is obvious overlap between these stores and there is obviously a store closer to some people than others. Using one persons experience to summarize an argument for or against a development doesn’t work.

        1. To be clear, the size of the proposed market fits within the zoning parameters and is not a regulatory factor in whether or not the application is approved. Its failure to meet code is due to its placement on the lot and the arrangement of the parking. City commission will presumably be weighing the proposal’s benefit to the community vs. its impact on the neighbors only as it relates to those two areas.

          1. I was asking you if you would make a variance for Walmart to come to Decatur. I was not saying that this is the same as Walmart being built. And the proposed site is NOT 2400 square feet. Using the whole “retail” space is just as absurd. If you did that, then Oakhurst Market would be about 650-700 square feet. Bottom line is the developer is asking for exceptions to the current code so they can build a much bigger market. A market that will be 3 times as big as Oakhurst Market, weather you are using footage of building or the “retail” footage.

            Also, I don’t know what NIMBY means. I guess I’m not cool enough.

        2. Since the entire site is smaller than 1/5th of the average Walmart parking lot, using this as a comparison is beyond absurd. And saying ‘a business of this size’ when the retail space is only 2,400 sqft is equally absurd.

          I’m for allowing variances that enable the best use of existing pocketized C1 parcels that would otherwise languish, regardless of the eventual tenant and regardless of whether or not that tenant will compete with other local business. The long term benefit to the community outweighs temporary complaints from businesses worried about competition and few NIMBYs who want to keep the lot empty.

        3. Build Smart-

          I did not make my statement about walking to this market as a for or against argument. There are many other factors to consider before deciding to vote for or against a variance request. Not sure if you were at the hearing, but my comment was directed at the gentleman who said this would be a niche market and that no customer base existed for that market.

          That was not true. I am that niche market. I am “new business” for our community if this development passes. My partner and I walk every week to local restaurants, shops, etc. but have been generally dissatisfied with the current offerings of things we would pick up to make dinner at home. And isn’t “walkability” one of the cornerstones for our community? Even if it were the entire reason for my support of this project (which it is not), I would hardly classify it as silly given how much you hear that phrase at zoning & planning meetings.

          If it is true, I’m glad to hear this would be 3 times larger than the Oakhurst Market. Even more opportunity for me to find things I want to find, and do that without jumping in my car. And since I don’t drink beer, Ale Yeah isn’t losing anything from me either.

          And I agree with BikeBoy, you really cannot compare approving a variance for a Walmart to a local business owner.

    4. Ian, I am sorry, but most of your argument is straw. First of all, that commercial block existed long before one of these houses was built and certainly before either of these people lived there. Michael’s hair salon was there forever. There was a print shop there before, too, I think.You buy a house next to something zoned commercial, you take a risk that the commercial property is going to be developed in a way you don’t like. Why do the rights of these two homeowners outweigh the rights of the developers? Because they were there first? Not a legal or philosophical argument. Why do the objections of two homeowners outweigh the desires of the majority of the community who want the property developed?

      The reason variances exist is to ensure that development is not hindered by a letter by letter reading of the code. The number of variances needed to make a very old structure built under different building codes usable reflects why variances are needed and flexibility is important

  14. As a lifelong Decatur resident and having worked on many development projects in Decatur and having been in front of every commission group, review board, staff review, etc…I will says this. Decatur has a very good process in place, it works, not always to our liking or our favor but it is a process that tries to take into consideration all the angles and directions a project can take. Every project and request must be looked at as an individual project and reviewed on the merits of what it is trying to be accomplished. In this project we have many angles….land use change, I don’t agree with that but in this case maybe residential to commercial is an option that should be taken, I would venture to say that sort of scenario is rare in my opinion. We have numerous spaces in our existing commercial areas that need these creative thinkers to examine and put development dollars behind not change uses on residential to commercial….but in certain times compromise and change can find a middle ground. Variances… I have asked for and received them on projects but not in this capacity. This is the biggest red flag to me on this and why the system in Decatur works…go back and fix your plan, if you want too much and have to ask for a bunch of variances you don’t have a well thought out plan. The other is community business support. As a 15 year member of the DBA in various positions I also don’t agree with changing and modifying so many rules / checks and balances in the system so that a business concept can come in and take away from what others have done within the guidelines and are what I consider stewards of our community with ideas and actions…my opinion, I think the existing ideas on this property within the code of development are great and I bet with the new commercial status of the lot, they can make a go that too, just stay within what you can do on the property.

  15. The solution is very simple here.

    Develop within the existing requirements. You’re already getting a pass by having the original commercial lot grandfathered in, so figure out how to build out the space within the confines.
    Expecting the neighbors who will be most heavily affected by the decision to kowtow to your requests for a variance is just silly and I am glad that the board recommended not accepting the plan as it was written. The reason they declined it, I’m sure has less to do with the actual number of variances, but the impact of the aggregated requests.

    I also applaud their decision on moral ground. It is far too easy for those who are minimally impacted by a decision to claim that the “benefits to the community” outweigh the rights of the individuals. That is very dangerous talk. It shows true leadership to balance the weight of the ruling on the few that may pay the highest price.

    Economic impact, traffic all warrant a discussion in themselves, but in the interest of brevity (which some posters could stand to learn) I will stop here.


    1. Sounds like a great idea, except that the current C1 regs were designed mostly thinking about downtown and larger C1 parcels.

      With the current C1 regs, no current C1 parcel in Oakhurst (other than the the Family Dollar) could be built out today without a number of variances. The streetscape and parking regs alone would eliminate most of them.

      If people want intown walkability in Oakhurst, variances need to be dealt with.

      And as to the only three neighbors who oppose this, the developers made plenty of changes to address their concerns, but it became very clear that they would only be happy with an empty lot. It will ironic when the compliant build if far worse for them than what they could have worked out with the developers.

      And three lone NIMBYs don’t get to dictate what gets built. Anywhere.

  16. Since the nearest neighbors are being judged harshly based on what’s been shared (and oddly, a lot of key info hasn’t yet made it into comments), I’m weighing in with my take on last Tuesday’s meeting:

    The nearest neighbors are NOT trying to stop the entire project. They have legit concerns with what’s being proposed which they stated, along with the conditions that they want placed on the project should it be approved. The conditions are reasonable, and the 10′ buffer by the alley absolutely needs to happen. Why? Because it turns out it can. During the plan presenting guy’s final pitch to the Board (after a quick powwow with the developer following the Board’s motion to split their decision into two parts), he switched from saying that the 7′ buffer was a make-or-break factor to saying they could probably accommodate it to saying they could do the 10′ buffer. (At that point, Amanda Thompson said, “Designing on the fly’s generally not a good way to go,” and the Planning Commission moved on to voting.)

    Something else folks should know: When the Planning Commission tabled the decision in Oct., they instructed the developer to meet with the nearest neighbors to try to resolve concerns. That meeting occurred that same week with Amanda Thompson also included. However, according to the Mead St. neighbor (and no one denied it), the developer folks and Amanda Thompson failed to follow up with answers. The developer folks didn’t get back to the neighbors on what they’re willing to do as far as conditions, and Amanda Thompson didn’t get back to the Mead St. neighbor on the zoning violations/ ordinances involved. Then, during the plan presenting guy’s opening remarks on Tuesday, he not only tried to paint the Mead St. neighbor as the sole remaining problem, he vented about him for emailing up until the night before when the Mead St. neighbor was seeking the overdue decisions! So Not Cool. ( Since the other two neighbors’ concerns hadn’t been satisfactorily addressed either, make that Really So Not Cool.)

    The Board’s decision was the right one based on what all transpired. Mark Burnette and Tony Powers accounted for most of the discussion, and both raised good points. (Pretty surprising when Tony Powers then voted in favor of it!) The main factors against it: Adds too much in/out vehicle traffic; five exceptions needed likely means you’re trying to do too much on the site (including putting too dang big of a building at 5200 sqft on the former R-60 lot); Strategic Plan encourages commercial growth but not it being unduly burdensome on residents. (With regards to protecting businesses, Tony Powers was firm that he’s not gonna tackle that when reviewing plans. Although setting a precedent was discussed, it ended up being a non factor.)

    If the City Commission ends up denying this project, the developer’s “time out” will be entirely of his own doing. He had the option of withdrawing the application up until the vote. He could’ve then revised the plan and brought it back when ready.

    1. As a recipient of the aforementioned Mead Road neighbor emails, and well versed in how the Mead Road neighbor treated the developers who came to talk with them, and knowing how much the developers changed the site plan to accommodate concerns, and hearing the Mead Road neighbors intentions (first hand) before any of this went public, I can tell you that indeed their sole intention from the outset was and is to prevent the development. They had actually gone to the city a couple years ago to try to get these C1 lots rezoned R60.

      The portrayal of their intentions in this post’s comments are accurate, and for the most part, understated.

      1. (Oops. Make that Mead Rd., not Mead St.)

        BikeBoy- Continue to be ticked off at the neighbors if that’s what you’re set on doing. However, the Planning Commission voiced some of the same concerns about the project. How do you get past that?

        1. I’m not ticked off, I’m just giving you my perspective. And I don’t have to get past anything, because some of the concerns are valid, and I never have said they weren’t valid.

          Having some valid points however doesn’t change the underlying motivation of the Mead Road neighbor. If I was hearing this exclusively on this forum or from second accounts, I would more than likely be giving them a little more slack. But when you hear first hand how they plan on calling the police every night to complain about the noise from the ‘bar’ and file regular complaints about the garbage and other issues that don’t even exist yet and probably never will, your perspective changes.

          The classic NIMBY strategy is to have a few valid concerns wrapped around a number of ‘safety’ issues. What about the children? What about the pedestrians? What about the dangerous speeding traffic? What about the drunken drivers?

          Focusing on ‘safety’ makes it harder for public officials to vote for the change as they don’t want to be seen voting against ‘safety’.

          I also might be cutting them a little slack if I didn’t know how much the developers listened to their concerns and made changes accordingly, only to hear ‘new’ concerns, and tried to address those until it became obvious the only acceptable situation would be one where the neighbors got to design everything and have final say on who the tenants are.

          The simple fact is that other than the immediate neighbors, I don’t know anybody who is against this development, and other than dealing with the traffic issue, I haven’t heard of any valid long term detrimental effects that this development would have on the neighborhood.

          I am however seeing classic NIMBY behavior that is so myopically egocentric that it isn’t even in their own best interest anymore.

          1. I don’t know the Mead Rd. neighbor. What I can offer up is that each time I’ve heard him speak regarding his property, he’s done a good job of logically stating his concerns. What doesn’t seem to be the case is that only he and the other two immediate neighbors have concerns about this development. Other neighbors signed his petition on it (don’t know the specifics) that he submitted at the 10/1 City Commission Mtg.

            (Unfortunately, since Planning Commission Meetings minutes and summaries aren’t kept up to date, we probably won’t get to review an official record of last Tuesday’s Mtg. Interested folks can, however, listen to the Mead Rd. neighbor on the 10/1 and 11/5 City Commission Mtgs videos to get a sense of him. Although it’s the proposed Olympic Place trails project being discussed at the 11/5 Mtg, it’s well worth listening to all of the public comments on it as it gives an interesting glimpse into how misunderstandings can happen– and about the Mead St. neighbor– between neighbors over there. )

  17. “During the plan presenting guy’s final pitch to the Board (after a quick powwow with the developer following the Board’s motion to split their decision into two parts), he switched from saying that the 7′ buffer was a make-or-break factor to saying they could probably accommodate it to saying they could do the 10′ buffer. (At that point, Amanda Thompson said, “Designing on the fly’s generally not a good way to go,” and the Planning Commission moved on to voting.)” — I was also there, I heard what Pete Whitlock (longtime business owner and friend to the Oakhurst community, aka “the plan presenting guy”) said. What he said was that they could give an additional 3′ on the side setback (next to the alley which abuts the Hu residence) bringing that to 10, and an addition 5′ on the rear setback (next to the Valenti lot line) bringing that one to 15′ ON THE CONDITION that they could do with fewer parking spaces, and also it would mean losing the loading zone in front of the market. (That would mean trucks pausing in nearby streets to unload when necessary.)

    Deanne, you seem to be taking Dr. Hu and Mr. Valenti at their word about every single thing, which you are certainly entitled to do. However, that requires believing in at least the possibility that Mr. Whitlock and his partners are being less than truthful about how communications have transpired, and I don’t buy that. They aren’t some fly-by-night Evil Developers From Elsewhere, trying to make a quick buck. They are as deeply rooted in this community as many of us and more so than most. It does appear to me that the neighbors have tried from the very outset to block the entire project (including renovation and reoccupation of the existing buildings) using a combination of legitimate concerns and questions along with obvious red herrings and excuses to obstruct.

    I disagree with you on several other points, but have expressed my own views at some great length earlier in this thread.

    1. smalltowngal, I don’t view it as a white hats vs. black hats thing. Hell, I wouldn’t have even piped up again on this project if the neighbors weren’t continuing to be judged harshly and on incomplete accountings. I don’t doubt that the developer & co. tried working with the neighbors, but if they didn’t get back to them with what they’re willing to do, then what’s it amount to? And being community minded’s terrific, but it still doesn’t make a too big project fit a too small lot.

      Y’all carry on. I’ve said my piece.

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