Emory area could see skyscrapers under Atlanta’s proposed rezoning

By David Pendered

Office towers of an unlimited height could be permitted on a portion of land brought into Atlanta through the annexation of Emory University and the surrounding area, according to the rezoning proposal.

emory skyline

A skyline could be developed at and around Emory University under terms of a rezoning proposal pending before the Atlanta City Council. Credit: Emory University

Atlanta is able to rezone the annexed property because part of its agreement with DeKalb County has expired. Atlanta had agreed not to seek to rezone any of the 744 acres, without DeKalb’s approval, for one year after the annexation took effect Jan. 1, 2018, according to terms of the deal.

The city’s Zoning Review Board is slated to consider the proposal at its March 24 meeting. The proposal was on the agenda of the relevant Neighborhood Planning Unit, F, at its Feb. 18 meeting. Atlanta City Councilmember Jennifer Ide presented the proposal at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting.

Atlanta plans to add the zoning category for an Office Institutional District. The city’s code defines the maximum height limit in an O-I District as:

  • “None, except as required in section 16-10.006.”

The section that’s referenced restricts the height allowed in an O-I District in areas where the district adjoins a residential district without an intervening street, according to the city’s code.

The proposal as available on the city’s website doesn’t indicate if the proposed O-I District abuts a residential district. The proposal doesn’t include a map or any additional locating information.

The land that was annexed currently does have a zoning category for an O-I Conditional. Conditions sometimes involve the location of a parking structure or setback from a property line. Conditions sometimes are devised on a case-by-case basis during discussions between a government’s planners and the owner or developer.

Druid Hills Historic District, Subarea 4

This portion of the Druid Hills area does not appear to be affected by the proposed rezoning of portions of the 744 acres Atlanta annexed in 2017, effective Jan. 1. 2018. Credit: Atlanta

In addition, the rezoning proposal appears to ease restrictions on the development of houses in the area to be rezoned.

Atlanta intends to add two residential categories that do not have any conditions attached to residential development. The existing zoning codes for the area have conditions attached to them, which typically means a property was zoned for residential development with a condition created for an individual property – such as a set-back from a property line.

The categories to be added would allow residential to have a minimum street frontage of 100 feet, the R-3 category; or a minimum frontage of 70 feet, the R-4 category.

The density for the R-3 category is 2.4 houses per acre; density is 4.8 houses per acre, according to city code.

The rezoning proposal calls for an existing R-3-Conditional category to be eliminated; conditions that aren’t defined in the legislation.

The proposal calls for the existing R-4-Conditional category to continue. The legislation proposes to add an R-4 category, one without conditions.

The proposal does not appear to affect the existing protections from development provided by the Druid Hills Landmark Historic District Subarea 4.

Terms of the annexation state specifically that DeKalb County did not relinquish its interest in preserving the historic district:

  • “This requirement shall continue without expiration, unless and until the City and County both consent to its modification.”

Atlanta described the protections history of the district and protections provided in a 2017 report created for the city’s Urban Design Commission in support of a request to designate Subarea 4, in addition to three existing subareas:

  • “In 1996, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners designated the property as part of the Druid Hills Local Historic District for historic and architectural significance under the authority of the 1994 DeKalb County Historic Preservation Ordinance….
  • “The proposed District recognizes the unique character and integrity of the resource as identified in the DeKalb County Druid Hills Historic District designation for the property and seeks to continue these existing protective regulatory measures moving forward.”

The property Atlanta annexed is owned by Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, The Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Power Company, Villa International, and the Synod of South Atlantic & Presbyterian Church, according to the city’s legislation.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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