That Vision Thing

A while back, there was an article about Chamblee, and the development success they’ve had over the past decade. In the article Chamblee Mayor, Eric Clarkson, describes their achievement this way:

“We attribute it, pretty simply, to having a vision and keeping to that vision, parcel by parcel, block by block, year after year. It was hard to do during the recession.”

Doraville also has a vision – it’s the comprehensive plan that went through a long public vetting process, and was approved by the council in 2016. Along with preserving our existing single-family neighborhoods, it plans for building out a town center where our civic buildings are today; for mixed-use development along Buford Highway and Peachtree Industrial; and for a transition toward general office uses (or “office hubs“) in areas along freeways and busy roads that are currently primarily warehouses and wholesale businesses.

The plan is outlined in broad strokes in the map below:

As we try to bring the comprehensive plan to life, the council has recently been working on updating its zoning for Office Hubs (also known as Office Institutional/Office Warehouse zoning or “O-I” and “O-W”) . The plan states that “Office hubs will serve as integrated centers of office uses that transition between higher intensity uses and existing neighborhoods. These businesses and incubator areas will be centers of innovation, leveraging the city’s diversity to attract unique business.”

The plan lists several strategies for bringing the office hubs to life. The first of those is to make sure our ordinances (including zoning) allow the kind of employment opportunities we hope to see there. Another strategy is to make sure that our zoning encourages light industrial buildings to be converted to flex, loft-style office spaces.

One of the concerns people have when there is a zoning change is that existing businesses may be adversely affected. The truth is that these businesses are already protected, because when you change the zoning in an area, existing businesses are called “non-conforming uses” and are “grandfathered” into the new fabric of the city. When those businesses leave, however, any new ones that come in to replace them will have to meet the new codes – and conform more closely with the city’s master plan.

The proposed new Office Hub (O-I/O-W) zoning makes some important changes to how these areas can be used. Notably, it would require a minimum percentage of space be used for office use, as well as prohibit businesses operating there from having more than 4 fleet vehicles parked in the lot. The minimum percentage of office space (25%) is meant to start nudging the use in this area away from wholesale and towards more of the innovative business we want to see. The restriction on fleet vehicles is to discourage dispatch operators from using these office hubs as parking lots for their pest control, carpet cleaning, or other vehicles.

It’s time for us to value what we have in Doraville! We’ve got the best location in Metro Atlanta. It’s time for us to wake up and realize that land this valuable should not be used to store fleet vehicles.

The zoning changes will move us away from using our land like this:

And instead to start encouraging more developments that attract the innovative entrepreneurs of the future like this one:

I’ve heard some concerns about changing the status quo, but believe this is exactly what our city needs if we are going to bring our plan to life. In the end, I think the proposed changes will raise the value of the properties in our office hubs, while bringing Doraville closer to its vision for its future. To that end, I hope the majority of the council takes Mayor Clarkson’s advice and has the courage to stick with our comprehensive plan when it is time to vote.