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.