Chase Variances Denied!

The DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted on June 13 to deny Chase Bank’s requests for variances so they could build a new branch bank on a portion of the Hastings site.  This is a major win for our Overlay Zoning District and, ultimately, the community’s LCI vision.

The ZBA agreed with the BPCA’s argument, as expertly put forward by attorney Linda Dunlavy, that the owner of the property, SDS Properties Ltd., created its own hardship and possesses the means to remove that hardship.  The “hardship” in question is the exit easement in favor of Goodyear/Kauffman Tire that runs the length of the site parallel to Peachtree.  This easement keeps Chase from locating a building close to Peachtree in the building/sidewalk/street relationship called for in the Overlay District.

SDS created the easement in 1994 and cannot change it without Goodyear/Kauffman’s consent.  However, SDS can terminate its lease with Goodyear/Kauffman by giving 24 months notice and accepting reduced rent for the 24 month period.  Then SDS can install an exit/entry system that serves its site and complies with the Overlay.  Therefore, SDS has an available remedy to the hardship it created.

This decision by the ZBA sends a strong message to property owners and would-be developers along Peachtree that they must market and design their sites in accord with Overlay requirements.  To date, the approach has been to design the site to the car-specific specs of national retailers, then seek variances from Overlay zoning so they can get a development/building permit.


Chase Variance Deferred until June 13

On Wednesday, May 9th, Chase Bank’s request for variances on the Hastings property was deferred for decision until the June 13th meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals.  BZA member Rebecca Chase Williams, not present at the May meeting, requested a deferral  in absentia so she could participate in the decision.  The DeKalb Planning Department recommended “denial” and the BPCA, represented by attorney Linda Dunlavy along with 370 petition signatures and 15 supporters in person, urged the Board to affirm the Planning Department’s recommendation.

Several neighbors from directly behind the Hastings property also attended the hearing to show support for Chase’s variances.  Their thinking was that Chase’s planned development would have a fairly benign impact on their homes, while a higher-density development allowable under the Overlay zoning code could potentially bring more noise or a taller building to the site.

The central issue continues to be moving the proposed building up to the street to create the proper building-pedestrian zone-street relationship envisioned in the Overlay.  Chase’s attorney maintains that the property owner, SDS Real Property Holdings LTD of Miami, FL, (Chase would have a long-term land lease with them) cannot relocate the exit driveway easement that they put on the property. The easement currently serves Kauffman Tire Co., according to Chase’s attorney, and cannot be changed without Kauffman’s permission.  If it could be changed, Chase would have no objection to moving their planned building up to the street in a classic “main street” relationship.

The BPCA maintains that the owner imposed the easement (“created his own hardship”) and should have the ability to alter it (“remove the hardship”).  In the end, the BZA directed Chase’s attorney to obtain a copy of the Kauffman lease and make it available for inspection.  “We can’t make a decision based on a hypothetical reading of a document that we don’t have,” a BZA member stated.

In addition, the BZA asked that the various neighborhood groups meet and try to resolve their different views of the Chase proposal before the June 13 hearing.


Hastings/Chase Variance Deferred

At yesterday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, Chase Bank’s pursuit of 3 variances so it can develop a new branch bank on the Hastings property was deferred for 30 days at their request.  DeKalb County Planning Department had recommended “Withdrawal without Prejudice” while producing an analysis that argued for “Denial.”

In this light, Chase asked to defer for 30 days so they could try to bring the plan into conformance with Overlay requirements and community expectations.  They plan to meet with BPCA to determine what changes they can make to comply with the Overlay.  For BPCA’s analysis of the current site plan, see this prior post.

Save the Overlay! Urgent Action!

Please sign this petition if you agree with BPCA’s analysis below.

On Wednesday, May 9th @ 1 PM, Chase Bank’s appeal for variance to DeKalb County’s Board of Zoning Appeals will be heard in the Manuel Maloof Auditorium at 1300 Commerce Drive in Decatur.  We MUST defeat this request for variance if we want to preserve the vision of the LCI Study and Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District!

Chase Bank’s variance application to DeKalb County poses a major threat to the vision Brookhavenites created with the LCI Study and Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District.  The plans submitted for the old Hastings site show a standard-issue suburban-style fast-in/fast-out branch bank which, if permitted, will seal the fate of Brookhaven’s Peachtree Street corridor as a fast food and service strip hospitable only to those in automobiles.  Yes, we currently have McDonald’s, Kauffman Tire and Wells Fargo already developed in that mode.  Do we want to continue and extend that?  Do we want even more car congestion without “total street” design that makes people feel safe walking or biking?

Brookhaven residents said “no” through their public participation in the LCI Study in 2004.  They said they want a Mainstreet feel along Peachtree with a safe pedestrian zone that will encourage people to walk, shop and meet.  We are lucky enough to have a Zoning Ordinance that plans for this.  Now we need to defend it.

Note that we have nothing against Chase Bank–we welcome the choice they bring as a competitor to Wells Fargo, SunTrust, Brookhaven Bank and Ironstone Bank.  We simply want them to be part of a development that honors the spirit and regs of the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District.  It is within their power to do this.  See BPCA’s more in-depth discussion of the issues here.

NOTE:  DeKalb Planning Dept. recommends “Withdrawal.”

Chase Files Request for Variances

Chase Bank filed a request for multiple variances to be heard at the April 11th meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Chase would like to build a suburban-style bank on part of the old Hastings site.  The variance application and site plan can be found here:

BPCA – Hastings – Chase variance plan 3.15.12

BPCA – Hastings – Chase variance application 3.8.12

Other than the fact it shows a two story building, Chase’s current plan fails to meet the requirements and spirit of the Overlay.  In particular, the proposed building is placed 54′ back from the street/pedestrian zone to allow an access driveway to pass between the building and the Peachtree.  Chase claims that this access driveway serves Kauffman Tire and is a requirement of Kauffman’s lease.  However, the same entity, SDS Real Property Holdings Ltd., owns both the Hastings property and the Kauffman Tire site–and thus the property owner has “created its own hardship.”  It also should have the power to remove this “hardship.”

If this drive were removed and the building moved forward to front the pedestrian zone and street, it would have a much stronger presence on Peachtree and begin to create the friendly streetscape the Overlay envisions.

In addition to the front yard setback, Chase is asking for 21 more parking spaces than allowed under the Overlay (38 spaces vs. the 18 allowed).  As you can see on the plan, about 90% of the site would be pavement.  This seems unnecessarily large, especially given customers’ move to the convenience of on-line banking, and creates adverse environmental effects (heat island generation, storm run-off).

Without site plan changes, Chase’s plan would be a serious retreat from Overlay Zoning District principles, and thus BPCA is compelled to vigorously oppose the request for variances.

Hastings Update 2/24/12

Subsequent to the initial meeting, revised plans were submitted for review and consideration.  Given the lack of any material change, BPCA declined to meet for another plan review.

The plans submitted included the note:

”The following variances from zoning and overlay ordinance will be required:

1) Exceeding maximum parking requirements

2) 20 ft wide pedestrian zone along roadway

3) Street fronted buildings

4) Two (2) story building minimum

5) Parking between building and road

6) Allowance of drive-thru restaurant

7) Impervious ratio”

BPCA has offered the owner’s representatives its cooperation and assistance in developing Overlay compliant plans for the property’s development.