Atlanta City Council reins in proposed long-range growth plan
By David Pendered
Atlanta on Tuesday advanced an amended long-range development plan that eliminates major objections raised by residents and instructs city planners to abide by state rules on community involvement in future planning.
The proposal, if approved, dashes plans by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration to adopt urban affairs and housing proposals from the Biden administration. The document is the legal foundation of zoning codes.
The Atlanta City Council’s Community Development and Human Services Committee amended Tuesday the administration’s proposed Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP). The amended plan is slated for expected council adoption Thursday. A resolution that calls for compliance with state regulations on civic participation in planning (chapter 110-12-1-.04) is slated for council adoption on Nov. 1.
Committee Chair Matt Westmoreland said the City Council has affirmed its role as the policy-making body at Atlanta City Hall.
“Today’s amendments are responsive to specific topics we heard from our residents,” Westmoreland said. “We also heard of more revisions and discussions we need to have, and that’s what the resolution intends to address. We are responsive to that and that will come as appropriate. But we need to follow the rules and guidelines of the state Department of Community Affairs.”
The committee amendment deletes seven sections of the administration’s proposed CDP. Also deleted was a two-page section that had allowed for the owner of a house to subdivide a lot and sell a piece for construction of another dwelling. This measure was intended to enable more people to live in existing communities and lead to “increased racial diversity in neighborhoods,” according to the original proposal.
Central to the revisions is an affirmation of adherence to the concepts of the “Atlanta City Design,” the planning book approved by Council and jettisoned by the proposed CDP produced by City Planning. The return of the premises of the book provides for this revised definition of growth areas and conservation areas:
- “Growth will be organized into already-developed areas that are suitable to taking on growth. This includes the historic core of the city, the corridors that flow outward in every direction, and outlying clusters like Buckhead and Greenbriar. These growth areas represent an enormous capacity that, if properly designed, can easily accommodate Atlanta’s expanding population.”
- “The rest of the city will be protected from overwhelming growth. The intown neighborhoods and lush suburban territories will grow in ways that retain and improve their charm and their leafy tree canopy. These Conservation Areas represent ecological value, historic character, and housing options that, if properly designed, can make living with all those new neighbors a pleasure.”
Some civic leaders say the administration kept the public in the dark for the first several months of its process to update the 2016 CDP. The process began in the summer of 2020. For example, on May 23, the chair of NPU-S reported on their website that this year’s CDP revision would be minimal because of the pandemic and invited members to a meeting with City Planning:
- “The Planning Department simply does not have the capacity this year to engage in a full-bore update involving all 25 NPUs. So for this year, they’re simply filing an administrative update, as allowed by law, with an eye towards a complete update next year.
- “However, just because it’s a smaller update doesn’t mean that we can’t be involved! This Wednesday, the 26th, we’ll be holding a brief meeting with the Planning Department to go over NPU-S’s policies. This is our opportunity to lay down the principles that will guide zoning for the next year…”
When a “full-bore update” was released, opposition began building and the acrimony evidently grew among residents and city planners. The planning commissioner fueled the debate with his quotes on Sept. 14 in a story posted by Atlanta Civic Circle as saying the opposition was Buckhead-based and part of the secession rhetoric.
That observation was proven to be inaccurate when 182 of the city’s 242 neighborhoods signed a letter opposing the administration’s proposal. Other signs of public unrest include more than seven hours of recorded comments played at a CDHS public hearing Monday and the City Council’s reception of an estimated 2,500 voice mails and 1,100 emails on the subject.