When it comes to rezoning a Sandy Springs property from residential to commercial, there couldn’t be a better candidate than the house on a 0.3-acre plot located at 148 W. Belle Isle Road, Richard Newton said.
“I have been at this game for 59 years, and I can, without dispute, tell you that I have never, ever been involved in a rezoning application where everybody with respect to the application would benefit,” said Newton, an attorney representing the Mackas family, which owns the house and property.
The owner, Paul Mackas, died in 2013 and the property is near the corner of West Belle Isle and Roswell Road, close to several other commercial properties, including the Kroger-anchored Fountain Oaks shopping center and the Cigar City Club. So Newton sought to have the home and property rezoned through a request for a comprehensive plan character area map amendment from protected neighborhood to neighborhood village so it could be transformed into an office building.
At its meeting April 16 at City Springs, the Sandy Springs City Council, despite some reservations, voted 4-1 to approve the rezoning request, with District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio dissenting. Because Mayor Rusty Paul was absent, District 1 Councilman John Paulson served as mayor pro tem and therefore did not vote on agenda items unless there was a tie.
Newton said Fountain Oaks, which has 240 parking spaces, would provide for ample parking, and there are several other reasons the house would make a good office building, including the fact that no one has opposed the rezoning thus far.
“What is proposed here is a lovely architect’s office in a French Provence design (that) will be a benefit to that whole area,” he said. “Another thing: The owner of this property (has seen), since 2000, the tax assessment has gone up seven times. This is an 810-square-foot cottage that was built in the 1940s. There’s no way in the world the owner of that property could rent it to (break) even (on) the cost of maintenance for this property. We feel this is an entirely appropriate (rezoning).”
Mackas’ son James, the executor of his father’s estate, said “It’s been vacant for about two years and was rented for 10 years before that.”
Even if the rezoning was approved, the new owner would have to get some special-use permits to bring it up to the commercial code, said Catherine Mercier-Baggett, the city’s planning and zoning manager.
Though the city’s planning commission voted 3-1 in favor of the rezoning, the city staff recommended it be denied, and half of the four council members who spoke about the property raised concerns about approving the rezoning.
District 6 Councilman Andy Bauman, whose district includes the lot, and District 4 Councilwoman Jody Reichel each visited the property and both said they support the rezoning.
The rezoning comes after the council voted to approve the city’s Next Ten comprehensive land-use plan in February 2017 and its zoning map and code six months after that.
“If this is not the first, it’s one of the very first of our two-step process of a character area change and followed by a rezoning as indicated,” Bauman said. “I think that’s a good change. … I don’t think we should take (lightly) the policy of tinkering with the edges, but I think this is a good outcome.”
Before voting against it, DeJulio said he didn’t want the city to set a bad precedent by approving the rezoning.
“I know this property is in bad condition and there are some nice homes in that area,” he said. “This used to be part of my district before we did the reapportionment. There may not have residential use in the current condition it’s in, and there may not be commercial use in the current condition it’s in.”
DeJulio also said green-lighting the rezoning could mean anyone who disagreed with how his or her property was zoned could successfully lobby the council to get it rezoned, just because he or she “didn’t like that part of the Next Ten plan.”
“I am opposed to making changes to the Next Ten plan and the character area map because of this,” he said.
District 3 Councilman Chris Burnett said he didn’t want the city to have a repeat of a similar rezoning issue for a house and property on Johnson Ferry Road, where the city battled the owner in court to keep it zoned residential before compromising to allow it to be rezoned as commercial. He also mentioned a second similar rezoning case in the past.
“It’d be interesting if this were a plan for a 42-foot-high, three-story building (to replace the house). I just don’t want us to back into that (possibility),” Burnett said of the West Belle Isle rezoning request.
In other meeting news, Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun announced the city plans to post to its website later in the week a public service announcement video with the Sandy Springs Police Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc explaining its amended false alarm ordinance, which takes effect June 19. She said it would also be shared on Sandy Springs’ social media channels.
In June, the council approved additional changes to the ordinance requiring alarm companies to provide true, confirmed verification through audio, video or in-person confirmation on intrusion (burglar) alarm activations before calling 911.
In the video, which was played at the council meeting, Zgonc said the new ordinance is expected to drastically reduce the 10,000 false alarm calls the city gets annually, a rate of 99.5%.
But even before that amendment was approved, the council passed other changes to the ordinance regarding fines the alarm companies would be levied for violations. So in March 2018 some alarm companies and organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the city regarding the legitimacy of its ordinance. It was dismissed by a judge in December but that decision is under appeal.