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Sandy Springs council rejects rezoning for potential subdivision

March 20, 2019 GMT

James Self Jr. said the Sandy Springs land owned by his late father, James Sr., goes back over 165 years.

“This is a piece of property that has been in the family since 1853,” Self said. “It’s property where he and his family grew up. We looked at (what to do with the land) a long, long time after the (2017) passing of my father.”

But when Self opted to get the property, split into four lots on Dalrymple Road totaling about 20 acres, rezoned from RE-1 (residential estate) to RD-18 (residential detached - 18,000 square feet), so he could potentially have a subdivision with higher density built there (up to 18 homes), residents revolted.

They said that proposal was not in keeping with the city’s Next Ten comprehensive plan, which was just approved by the Sandy Springs City Council in February 2017 and states that part of the city lies in the protected neighborhood character area map. RE-1 zoning requires all lots be at least 43,560 square feet.

So when the rezoning came before the council at its March 19 meeting at City Springs, after city staff and the planning commission had already recommended denial, it voted 6-0 against the zoning change. The four residents living in the neighborhood who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting before the vote said they feel as attached to their property as Self does, and want to keep it as tranquil as possible.

“My parents bought their house in 1966 and I grew up there,” said Kim Wyatt, who lives on Thornhill Lane in that same home. “We bought the house in 1987 and plan to live there a long time. We always knew the day would come when the woods (at the end of the street), as we called it, would be developed. … Keeping the current zoning would be the best alternative.”

Lee Swerdlin said he’s a lifelong Sandy Springs resident who’s lived on Thornhill since 2003.

“Right after I moved there, I met my (future) wife,” he said. “We renovated our home last year and we have much more to do. But if our street is extended, we may not be so inclined to stay. We understand this property will be developed in some way, but please take into consideration the 11 (existing) homes on Thornhill Lane. … I along with all of my neighbors ask you move for denial of the project.”

Councilmen Tibby DeJulio (District 5) and Chris Burnett (District 3) spoke out against the rezoning/project, saying its density is inappropriate for the neighborhood, especially since the Next Ten plan was just approved two years ago. DeJulio also said it’s premature for the property owner to have the land rezoned.

“But if the developer wants to come in and rezone the property, they are welcome to do that,” he said.

Even Mayor Rusty Paul chimed in.

“Normally I don’t vote unless it’s a tie, but I want to say if it passed, I would probably veto it,” Paul said. “I don’t like conceptual zoning. I don’t like a plan where if it were rezoned, it would give some certainty to property where we don’t know what will built on it after it’s sold. Before we rezone this property, we should know exactly what’s going to go there. At this point I only see lines drawn on a map.”

Although the rezoning was defeated, the city can’t stop a developer from extending Thornhill north through the Self property all the way to Dalrymple, a fact pointed out by former Councilman Gabriel Sterling during the meeting’s final public comment period after all agenda items were voted on.

“When we did the code, I don’t think we intended to encourage the construction of new roads going through neighborhoods, since they should be protected,” said Sterling, who served on the council when the city adopted the Next Ten plan. “I hope you can go back into the code and tie up that loose end.”