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Laney-Walker overlay district travels rocky road

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After more than two months of controversy surrounding a proposed special zoning district in the Laney-Walker area, the only thing clear is that developers, city leaders and some residents still aren’t seeing eye to eye.

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The proposed overlay district covers properties in the 1400 block of Wrightsboro Road and portions of Augusta Avenue; R.A. Dent Boulevard; and Kingston, Brown, Holley and McCauley streets.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
The proposed overlay district covers properties in the 1400 block of Wrightsboro Road and portions of Augusta Avenue; R.A. Dent Boulevard; and Kingston, Brown, Holley and McCauley streets.
Meg Mirshak
Staff Writer
Twitter: @megmirshak
E-mail | 706-823-3228

Most of that, say proponents of the overlay district, can be attributed to initial mistakes in the application process, which led some residents to believe the plan had ulterior motives.

“There can be a big disconnect between what people in the neighborhood see going on on the ground and what city leaders think they are doing,” said Jamie Baker Roskie, the managing attorney for the Land Use Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law.

Community involvement, which began in 2008 with monthly meetings on the larger revitalization efforts in the area, fell apart when residents weren’t mailed notifications required for the overlay application process. The proposal was pulled from the Oct. 3 planning commission meeting agenda when residents caught the mistake.

Some residents feared the developer planned to apply strict regulations to the entire Laney-Walker neighborhood. However, the proposed district covers only properties in the 1400 block of Wrightsboro Road and portions of Augusta Avenue; R.A. Dent Boulevard; and Kingston, Brown, Holley and McCauley streets, which is named Foundry Place.

Fighting confusion

Jacksonville, Fla.-based APD Urban Planning and Management wants to build a mixed-use development in the area, possibly on a commercially zoned property where an old foundry is for sale. That property is on R.A. Dent Boulevard near Wrightsboro Road, where heavy traffic could support business, said Warren Campbell, the senior project manager for APD’s Augusta office.

During informational meetings, developers and city leaders tried to convince residents that the overlay protects new development from commercial uses inconsistent with revitalizing a neighborhood. Under overlay guidelines, certain retail uses not specified in the proposed ordinance would need approval from the planning commission.

George Patty, the executive director of the county planning department, admitted that inconsistent language on application documents calling the proposal the “Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Over­lay Zone” caused confusion. The developer has said its efforts to be transparent about overarching development plans also led many to think the overlay applied to the entire neighborhood.

Required notices were eventually mailed to residents of Foundry Place and public meetings were held, but the developer was forced to start over with the application process to avoid legal ramifications, Patty said. The legal advertisement and notifications were resent, which will delay a second review by the Augusta Commission, now expected in mid-January.

“Moving forward, we have to see what the community wants,” Camp­bell said.

Property rights activist Al Gray, who does not live in Laney-Walker but challenged the planning office on procedural mistakes, said the most recent decision for the developer to resubmit the application has helped appease opposition. He’d like to see the overlay renamed to reflect its application to the specific Foundry Place boundaries.

The original application includes a map of the larger Laney-Walker area, and the overlay was explained during a meeting about greater revitalization efforts in the neighborhood, Gray said. Residents in the larger area weren’t notified, which was a procedural violation.

“I don’t think they were being careful when they wrote that,” Gray said. “They have a problem with the ordinance as it’s written compared to what they’re trying to do.”

Success elsewhere

Overlay districts have been around for decades. In Columbia, an overlay more specifically called a design development area was established in 1998 for a downtown area known as The Vista.

“Primarily, The Vista is zoned industrial, but because of the design development overlay, it allows things such as restaurants to locate in buildings that wouldn’t otherwise allow them,” said Johnathan Chambers, Columbia’s zoning administrator.

That ordinance helped the area develop into a popular dining and entertainment district, he said.

About six overlay districts have been established in metro Atlanta since 2006. The Atlanta Regional Commission publishes multiple documents explaining an overlay’s purpose, benefit and steps for proposals and implementation.

An overlay was applied to a mixed-use development in Tucker, an unincorporated town in Dekalb County, in 2008. The area had office, retail, industrial and single-family residential uses but “no real connecting character,” said Rob Lebeau, the senior principal planner for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Planners hoped consistent design standards would create a pedestrian-friendly, more inviting town center, Lebeau said.

Zoning

Most of the area under review in Laney-Walker is currently zoned residential, with the exception of the foundry property, which is zoned B-2, or general business. Scat­tered commercial businesses were grandfathered into the current residential zoning, Patty said.

Overlays often tie into mixed-use development because it’s a way to allow commercial and residential development side-by-side in a consistent design, Lebeau said.

“The intention is hopefully you have a larger plan in place. You’ve done some study and determined that this is what the community needs,” Lebeau said. “Overlay is one tool of imposing something that was agreed upon needing change or improvement in an area.”

Patty said B-2 zoning in the comprehensive zoning ordinance permits a mixed-use development if the developer wants to build on the old foundry property.

In the Laney-Walker area, additional commercial development could be an outgrowth of the overlay and a planned mixed-use development. The area could benefit from more businesses along Wrightsboro Road if certain uses were restricted, Patty said.

OVERLAY HISTORY

The application for the Laney-Walker area is the first proposal since overlay districts were added to section 25 of the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance last summer.

George Patty, the executive director of the county planning department, said a planned development riverfront zone could be construed as an overlay. Since the mid-1990s, design guidelines and land uses have been applied to an area near the riverfront to control development.

Also, a historic preservation ordinance was originally written similar to an overlay. After some procedural issues, that zone was rewritten to follow state historic guidelines, Patty said.

TIMELINE

OCT. 3: Overlay is pulled from the planning commission agenda after residents say they didn’t receive required mailing notifications

OCT. 4 AND OCT. 14: Letters from the planning commission and APD development firm are dated, then mailed

OCT. 18: Resident Dee Mathis publicly opposes overlay at Laney-Walker/Bethlehem quarterly meeting

OCT. 25: Community meeting is held to detail specific plans for overlay

NOV. 1: Special called meeting of Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association is held; city leaders are present to further clarify overlay’s intent

NOV. 7: Planning commission sends recommendation of approval to Augusta Commission

NOV. 10: Planning director meets with small group opposing overlay

NOV. 15: Augusta Commission denies overlay approval and agrees to revisit the issue at its first January meeting

WEEK OF NOV. 28: Planning director George Patty meets again with opposition; developer agrees to review and resubmit application

Comments (13) Add comment
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BevBoudreaux
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BevBoudreaux 12/10/11 - 07:13 pm
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It should be noted that

It should be noted that pastor Aline Scott, who Deke brought in (who was not on the agenda) to supposedly speak on behalf of the entire Laney-Walker neighborhood in support of the overlay also does not live in Laney-Walker. Dee Mathis, one of the residents objecting to how the process was handled does live in the area. I notice the Chronicle did not bother to speak to her yet again for this story. It's quite obvious that the intention is to apply this to the entire Laney-Walker area.. they are being disengenous by saying this is just about this one corner area along RA Dent. There's videos and documents revealing their plan.. their only mistake was leaking it out. So they need to get moving on notifying all of the residents of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem of their plans and do this the correct way.

BevBoudreaux
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BevBoudreaux 12/10/11 - 07:14 pm
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By the way there is video and

By the way there is video and lots of documents that reveal what their true intentions are.

BevBoudreaux
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BevBoudreaux 12/10/11 - 07:35 pm
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Their grander plan calls for

Their grander plan calls for 26 overlay nodes... so they are going to have to go through this process 26 separate times?

tomcasey
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tomcasey 12/10/11 - 08:39 pm
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Yes during the ARC

Yes during the ARC Commissioner meeting Pastor Aline Scott was not even on the agenda but Mayor Copenhaver allowed her to speak.

What gives when you are an opponent of the mayor's agenda you are held to strict standards in chambers; however, when you are supporting the mayor's agenda apparently you are given carte blanche.

tomcasey
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tomcasey 12/10/11 - 08:50 pm
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Yes, BevBoudreaux I have

Yes, BevBoudreaux I have heard about video existing for all the preliminary town hall meetings for the residents of Laney Walker Bethlehem.

I do have one question why hasn't Dee Mathis been interviewed or someone asked her opinion about the LWB overlay issue? Why?

BevBoudreaux
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BevBoudreaux 12/10/11 - 09:25 pm
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Yes, I saw the video of Ms

Yes, I saw the video of Ms Mathis speaking at the commission meeting. She was very well prepared and had obviously done a lot of research into this matter. It would be nice if the people of Dist one could have someone like her as a commissioner. I understand Matt Aitken didn't even attend any of the informational meetings and he didn't even speak on the matter at the commission meeting until prompted to do so by Al Mason

mike71345
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mike71345 12/10/11 - 11:18 pm
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“There can be a big

“There can be a big disconnect between what people in the neighborhood see going on on the ground and what city leaders think they are doing,”

The disconnect was between what the city's paperwork says and what the city was putting out to the media. It's still there.
Meg, ask Planning and Zoning for a copy of the application that the developer was to submit to the city to begin the overlay process. The zoning code requires the application to delineate the area intended for the overlay, to contain the full text of all proposed regulations, and to explain and justify the benefits that would outweigh potential property value decreases caused by the overlay. There is more, but if that application is not submitted to the city full and complete, the law says the city is to reject it. Get that text. It will make writing these stories much easier.

Brad Owens
5200
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Brad Owens 12/11/11 - 04:07 am
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Point of procedure, how can

Point of procedure, how can they have a second reading if the first one must be resubmitted? The entire process had better be redone, and redone EXACTLY as the ords say, or we will oppose again.

Dee was left out because she lives in Laney and seems to be the ne person who can shoot holes in all this window dressing. Folks in that hood are no stranger to being used and exploited by the CABAL, read into that however you choose to.

Brad

Brad Owens
5200
Points
Brad Owens 12/11/11 - 04:44 am
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Here is a cut and paste

Here is a cut and paste re-write of this story;

"...(The over) two months of controversy surrounding a proposed special zoning district in the Laney-Walker...can be attributed to initial mistakes in the application process...Residents weren’t mailed notifications required for the overlay application process.. (and).when residents caught the mistake...(the) residents feared the developer planned to apply strict regulations to the entire Laney-Walker neighborhood...(and) the plan had ulterior motives...

APD Urban Planning and Management wants to build a mixed-use development in the area, possibly on a commercially zoned property where an old foundry is for sale...B-2 zoning in the comprehensive zoning ordinance permits a mixed-use development if the developer wants to build on the old foundry property... (but) developers and city leaders tried to convince residents that the overlay protects new development from commercial uses...(by saying) certain retail uses not specified in the proposed ordinance would need approval...

Overlays...tie into mixed-use development because it’s a way to allow commercial and residential development side-by-side...(and this) Overlay is one tool of imposing something (on those residents)...

(By using) inconsistent language on application documents...(which)caused confusion...The developer has said (through) its (application and map)...(that) overarching development plans...applied to the entire neighborhood…

Required notices were eventually mailed...and public meetings were held, but the developer was forced to start over with the application process to avoid legal ramifications...(and the required) legal advertisement and notifications were resent...“Moving forward, we have to see what the community wants,” Developer Campbell said...

Property rights activist Al Gray challenged the planning office on procedural mistakes...He’d like to see the overlay renamed to reflect its application to the specific Foundry Place boundaries...The original application...includes...the larger Laney-Walker area...(and the) overlay was...about greater revitalization efforts in the neighborhood (wanted by developers)...Residents in the larger area weren’t notified, which was a procedural violation...Gray said. “They have a problem with the ordinance as it’s written compared to what they’re trying to do.”...

Most of the area under review in Laney-Walker is currently zoned residential...additional commercial development could be an outgrowth of the overlay and a planned mixed-use development.

There, now you get it I hope.

This is about ALLOWING for business to go in where it cannot now, not PROTECTING the district form that sort of growth.

Get it right people.

Brad

blues550
382
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blues550 12/11/11 - 10:30 am
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Just another waste of tax
Unpublished

Just another waste of tax dollars.

Many Arrows
-1
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Many Arrows 12/11/11 - 11:31 am
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Bev, there are 13 nodes and

Bev, there are 13 nodes and the remainder that is non-node, for a total of 14 areas. IF the city decides to separately do each on at a time and divides passage of land uses from design standards, there would have to be 26 or 28 meetings and votes.

In the "success stories" the missing question is this "Did the government BUY the property on which the mixed use development was created?" If the answer is yes, then there are no infringments of rights. If the answer is "no" the overlay is an outrageous action.

Further, APD and the city say nothing about notifying the broader Laney Walker area about their overall plan and holding meetings.

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 12/11/11 - 11:40 am
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Richmond County property

Richmond County property owners apparently don't care what kind of attacks occur on their property rights as long as they center on Laney Walker - out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe they all need to talk to some folks around the new Magnolia Trace how staying silent and not being vigilant usually turns out.

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