It was a driving issue in the creation of all the new cities. Sandy Springs was anxious to get control of local planning and zoning when Fulton County kept adding apartment complexes despite residents’ objections. In Dunwoody, opposition to apartments, high-density development and unwanted billboards motivated residents to vote for their own city and more local control.
In the Brookhaven area, neighborhood activist Eric Hovdesven is frustrated that it takes so much time and effort just to get information from DeKalb County on projects he’s involved in. He recently tried to get an update on when the sidewalks would be installed in front of the The Preserve at Fischer Mansion townhomes on Chamblee Dunwoody, a project he has watched for five years. He discovered that the county had changed the order, contrary to conditions negotiated by the neighbors.
“The county is so big that it takes a lot more work to stay on top of things,” said Hovdesven. “Just finding the right people to talk to is a challenge.” The Murphey Candler resident said this issue alone is enough to make him a supporter of the proposed city of Brookhaven, “A city of Brookhaven offers a far more streamlined system where the directors or department heads have personal knowledge of the people involved and the properties in question.”
DeKalb County, in the first quarter of this year, had 41 zoning cases before the board of commissioners, and 70 appeals cases. It issued more than 100 permits a month. Compare that to the city of Dunwoody that had three cases before the planning commission, 70 variances, and issued 357 permits. Dunwoody’s community development department is outsourced to the firm of Clark Patterson and Lee. The development director, Steve Dush, said there are some inherent advantages in being outsourced.
“I think one of the biggest advantages is the depth that we can provide based upon our business-like ability to respond to work volumes, Dusk told The Crier. “Because of our company’s depth, we have the ability to call on staff from other offices to provide assistance when needed and when not needed, they can be deployed elsewhere. This is extremely efficient and provides great customer service.”
In Dunwoody’s 12 square miles, the same as Brookhaven, board members are all familiar with properties under review. In DeKalb’s 268 square miles, it is nearly impossible to be familiar with all the properties under discussion.
“I would try to visit every site, but that’s a lot of miles and most board members don’t do that,” said Bob Lundsten, chief of staff for county commissioner Elaine Boyer, but also a long-time Dunwoody activist who has served on both the DeKalb Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. (In the name of full disclosure, this reporter currently serves on the DeKalb ZBA).
Dunwoody’s first mayor, Ken Wright, agreed that there are advantages to more local control. “People can easily get to city hall if it’s a few minutes away, not an hour away, like Decatur,” said Wright.
A former president of the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association (DHA), Bill Robinson, added “Now that there is a city, people are weighing in. You can get involved, talk to your council members, go to the hearings.”
But local control doesn’t guarantee that everyone is satisfied with the decisions. Debates from raising backyard chickens to locating a new Chick-Fil-A on Mt. Vernon Road have generated arguments and not everyone was happy with the outcome.
“All it means is that the argument takes place in your city, “ explained Lundsten. “Everyone has a better personal understanding, but there are still going to be arguments, different opinions and you still have the code you have to follow.”
Lundsten said there is no doubt that follow-up and enforcement is easier in a small city, “because you know whom to call.”