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Residents question stream buffer ordinance - Dunwoody Crier: News

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Residents question stream buffer ordinance

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Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 10:58 am

Looking to build an addition or a deck onto your Dunwoody home? If you live near a stream, then you need to allow at least a 75-foot buffer according to the current city ordinance.

Questions like these were asked and answered at the city’s Stream Buffer Educational Forum last week hosted by the city’s sustainability commission. The forum included a panel of experts from the city, a builder and government agencies including the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Rich Edinger, the city’s engineer, explained to some 45 attendees that parts of the current ordinance are under review and may change during the zoning code re-write process including the definition of a stream.

The city’s current ordinance has a rather broad definition which includes three types of streams; perennial, intermittent and ephemeral. Perennial and intermittent streams have ground water influence and typically support some type of aquatic life, said Edinger. Ephemeral streams carry only storm water in direct response to precipitation with water flowing only during or shortly after precipitation events.

City staff has recommended that council consider removing ephemeral streams from the definition, said Edinger.

“An ephemeral stream could be a ditch in your back yard that is essentially collecting water from a storm water pipe that’s draining the street,” said Edinger. “Council is generally supportive that we should have a definition of an ephemeral stream and that we should probably not regulate streams that don’t support aquatic life or have a groundwater influence to them.”

Edinger said that one objective of the forum was to gain community feedback on the appropriate level of regulation for city streams.

“There is a balancing act between environmental protection and allowing people to develop their property,” said Edinger.

Some questioned the city’s stringent ordinance of a 75-foot buffer compared to the state’s mandated 25-foot buffer.

“When it comes to stream buffers, I don’t deny that more is better,” said Kenny King, “but has the city of Dunwoody ever considered compensating their land owners for encumbering their land with a 75 foot stream buffer.”

Dan Petersen asked a similar question and said that property owners should be justly compensated.

“What is the priority of the city,” asked Petersen? “Is it to increase this thing called sustainable development? Or is to protect the liberty of private property owners so that they have the freedom to use their property?”

Councilor Lynn Deutsch said that the question was a policy question and, in all fairness, should not be directed to city staff.

David Ellis, builder with Atlanta Home Builders, encouraged the city to try to create a predictable and reasonable process for people to be able to develop their land, while also protecting the environment.

“Many of the houses built in Dunwoody were built before we had the consideration of stream buffers and many of the houses already encroach on the 75 foot buffer,” said Ellis. “It’s a really difficult thing and so I compliment the folks on the council for taking the time to really look at this and see the impact that it has.”

Edinger said that the city is bound by what the state requires, which includes adopting an ordinance at least as stringent as the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District which requires a 50 foot no encroachment buffer and a 25 foot impervious setback.

While council could repeal the ordinance, said Edinger, there would be consequences, including the city losing its status as a certified local government which would mean that the city would not be able to get grants and loans for infrastructure projects.

© 2015 Dunwoody Crier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Wiggins posted at 9:28 am on Sat, Sep 28, 2013.

    Wiggins Posts: 4

    Aside from the "ephemeral stream" issue I have found the Dunwoody City Planning /Permit department to be the most incompetent, arrogant, dismissive entity I have ever worked with. I am astounded that this is the case. I expected the exact opposite a few short years ago when I voted for this city. Our "City Planner" is a recent graduate. How can someone come straight out of the academic world into this position, making "real life" decisions that affect the biggest investments of most of our lifetimes? I and other Dunwoody homeowners have been given false information about what we can and cannot do. This is not legal; the codes and ordinances are all published and are accessible to the public. In light of the department already fighting lawsuits I would think they would be more responsible in their communications. I urge anyone relying information from this department to request, in writing, the exact code or ordinance related to their issue. Research it, consult with a third party if need be. DO NOT take the flippant answer you get from these people as the last word. I was shocked at the authoritative, yet completely inaccurate information I was given.

  • Dunwoody Resident2 posted at 8:59 am on Sun, Jul 15, 2012.

    Dunwoody Resident2 Posts: 2

    I urge all Dunwoody Citizens to look at this stream buffer issue in terms of a taking of your real estate.

    Start by reading this article:
    Is taking up the buffer to 75 feet is a taking without compensation.

    Read the Dunwoody Comprehensive Plan – the goal is drop walking and bike trails throughout Dunwoody neighborhoods. The way the city may attempt to do this is by using the newly expanded buffer zones and flood plains. Would you want a public trail in your yard?

    Next read the April 9, 2012 memo from Rich Edinger to the Dunwoody City Council regarding “first read: amendment to Chapter 16 related to streams and stream buffers.” If this text is passed the landowners’ ability to do any type of activity on their land within the expanded buffer area is totally dependent on city approval. Additionally the steps one must take to “prove” up your request to do any type of work in the area is huge. Steps in include getting a field survey, site plan, topo map, and a water management plan. There is also a requirement that the landowner must provide an alternative to the requested land plan that doesn’t include intrusion into the buffer zone or set back area. This is for ANY type of work within the buffer zone. The costs to the landowner to prepare this type of analysis will be high and turns over to the city the right to decide what happens on your land.

    What is exempt from these requirements in this draft? Unpaved foot trails and paths. Tie all things back to the goals of the Comprehensive plan. Zoning is how the city will implement those goals.

    The document also contains both civil and CRIMINAL penalties for violations.

    The devil lives in the details. Make sure you understand how the city will limit your rights to your land and how they will expand their rights to your land. While defining streams is important, understanding the proposed text of the ordinance is critical. Read the text of the ordinance. It doesn't matter what the folks selling this ordinance tell you. All that matters is what the text of the ordinance contains.

    The city council woman cited in this article suggests the city workers shouldn’t have to address property rights, as that is a “policy” issue. It is time for each city council member to stand up and be counted on the issue of protecting property rights of the taxpayers in this city. Do you stand on the side of protection of the taxpayers property rights or against protection of our rights? Are you prepared to limit city encroachment on our rights or expand city encroachment rights?

  • Joe Seconder posted at 2:38 pm on Thu, Jul 5, 2012.

    Joe Seconder Posts: 5

    If you missed last Thursday’s highly informative Stream Buffer Educational Forum or are interested in the details for reference, we have posted the video and presentations on-line. We had an excellent turnout in the Council Chambers. Guest Presentations included
    • Stream Buffers in Dunwoody / Where we are Today: Rich Edinger, City of Dunwoody Engineer
    • Dunwoody State Waters and Buffer Variances: Frank Carubba, Georgia Environmental Protection Division
    • Watershed Stewardship: Jason Ulseth, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

    Panelists for the Q&A were:
    - Rich Edinger, City of Dunwoody Engineer
    - Frank Carubba: Georgia Environmental Protection Division - Stormwater Unit, Watershed Protection Branch
    - David Ellis: Atlanta Home Builders
    - Dell MacGregor: Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission
    - Jason Ulseth: Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper


    Part I: http://youtu.be/uMmd0vTzFHk
    Part II: http://youtu.be/kai2kHk2Nws

    Presentations: http://dunwoodyga.gov/Departments/community_development/Sustainability-Commission/Water.aspx

  • Robert Moses posted at 7:56 pm on Wed, Jul 4, 2012.

    Robert Moses Posts: 34

    A homeowner in the Branches put an addition on the front of his house in 2010. He needed a Variance so he could build 8' into the setback from the street. He applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals and his request was approved. This process is not difficult if there is no opposition from the neighbors.

  • Dunwoody Homeowner posted at 3:28 pm on Tue, Jul 3, 2012.

    Dunwoody Homeowner Posts: 1

    Good luck reasoning with the city staff on this issue. Common Sense was definitely not a requirement when hiring for zoning or engineer positions! We put an addition on two years ago and had to cut 8" off the plans because we were within the setback from the street. The jokers at city hall basically told us we were lucky they weren't making us cut 8" off the existing house... Dekalb County zoning had better sense than City of Dunwoody.


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