City’s zoning being gutted, one secretive variance at a time

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Are administrative variances what we want? Or were they a bad Christmas gift?

I requested, through Open Records, a list of the Peachtree City “Administrative Variance” applications since December 16, 2021 when the ordinance was changed. I asked for the variance requested, the address, property owner, results (whether approved or not), the scope of the request, and the “committee members” who decided each request. I learned things have changed dramatically, and for the worse.

Here is a link to the spreadsheet sent in response to my Open Records Request: https://peachtreecitygapolice.nextrequest.com/documents/21749015

I made that request out of concern for the scope and volume of administrative variances being approved since the ordinance was changed by Peachtree City Council on December 16, 2021. That was the last meeting for Vanessa Fleisch, Kevin Madden, and Terry Ernst. Mike King and Phil Prebor are still on Council.

Here is a brief outline of the 15 administrative variance applications and results, and a summary of the 11 approved administrative variances:

• Reduce rear setback by 6 feet from 20 feet to 14 feet

• Reduce rear setback by 20 feet from 40 feet to 20 feet to build Pool House

• Reduce rear setback by 8 feet 11 inches

• Reduce rear setback <50% for deck stairs built by developer

• Parking reduction to convert parking row into dual drive thru lane

• Parking reduction for manufacturer

• Reduce rear setback by 1 foot 6 inches from 30 feet to 28 feet 6 feet for garage

• Reduce rear setback by 6 feet from 20 feet to 14 feet

• Reduce rear setback by 10 feet from 20 feet to 10 feet to build covered porch

• Reduce number of parking spaces from 94 to 78

• Reduce rear setback by 11 feet from 30 feet to 19 fet

Summary of the 1 disapproved Administrative Variances:

• Reduce rear setback by 6 feet from 20 feet to 14 feet (filed by someone other than the owner)

Summary of the 1 pending Administrative Variance:

• Reduce front setback by 3 feet 3 inches from 30 feet to 26 feet 9 inches

Summary of the 2 withdrawn Administrative Variances.

• They failed to meet the requirements

The report shows Mayor Kim Learnard was the City Council member who approved 10 of the 11 applications that were approved.

That raises a few questions.

• Why was the Mayor the approving Council member for 10 of 11 approved variances?

• Why isn’t it a more balanced percentage? After all, there are 5 members on Council.

• Or, is the Planning Director only presenting the applications to the Mayor for review?

• Or has the Mayor instructed City staff that she would be on the “committee” that reviews all of the Administrative Variance applications?

• Have they ever asked Mike King, Phil Prebor or Clint Holland to review and approve any of these Administrative Variances? Frank Destadio approved just one. Was that a situation where either the Mayor was out of town, or she knew the applicant?

To me, the process is secretive and does not include every council member, only the mayor who has been public about changing our traditional development style.

As far as what was being approved, it looks like the administrative variances are throwing out the baby with the bath water. They are approving all requests for less than a 50% encroachment into rear setbacks.

The ordinance they approved essentially invalidates every mandatory zoning setback requirement, for every zoning code in the city.

That prompted me to research how, why and who pushed for this radical Ordinance change approved on December 16, 2021.

On August 15, 2021, the Peachtree City Director of Planning and Development, Robin Cailloux, proposed a change to Ordinance 1204 to streamline handling of “Administrative Variances.” The issue was presented by Ms. Cailloux, and discussed by Council.

See Meeting Minutes; see pages 4 – 6: http://vault.peachtree-city.org/Public/DocView.aspx?id=90204&dbid=0&repo=PTC

Terry Ernst expressed, “I’m not 100% comfortable with this proposal” and, “… did not want to open the floodgates.”

City Manager John Rorie said he was, “not supportive of City Council re-writing their setback requirements one variance at a time.” He also outlined the issue of reducing side setbacks due to fire issues and stormwater drains often run between houses and have a 20-foot easement.

They looked at administrative variances for side setbacks not to exceed 25% of the zoning side setback; and rear setbacks being reduced by 50% and approvals for setback infringements for all types of construction.

The concluding paragraph for the discussion says, “Cailloux said they could remove the side setback as part of the administrative variance and only include rear setback requests. Rorie said that was his point. Prebor proposed maybe a smaller percentage for the side? Rorie asked about 25%, He said he was glad to see this discussion, and again stated his support, but with reservations on the side setbacks. Staff would return with a proposal reflecting this.”

Four months later, on December 9, 2021, Cailloux sent a memo to the City Manager outlining the Ordinance changes. To see the proposal in the December 16, 2021 Agenda Packet, click the link and go to pages 19 – 26, the proposed Ordinance changes are in red:

http://vault.peachtree-city.org/Public/DocView.aspx?id=95996&dbid=0&repo=PTC

December 16, 2021 was the last City Council meeting for three “lame ducks”: Mayor Vanessa Fleisch, Kevin Madden and Terry Ernst. Mike King and Phil Prebor were there but remained in office. Think about it — three of them voted to approve this ordinance in the 59th minute of the 11th hour of their term in office.

That’s right, for three of them this was their final “gift” to Peachtree City. It’s only fitting it was just 9 days before Christmas. Public schools were closed for the Christmas holiday. Between Christmas and vacations, few citizens were in town to attend, much less paying attention to what the City Council, loaded with “lame ducks,” was doing.

Think of what your neighbor can build within a few feet of your property.

I want to return this very bad Christmas “gift” because it doesn’t fit Peachtree City.

To read the short discussion and unanimous approval of the changes; see Meeting Minutes; pages 2 – 3 at this link: http://vault.peachtree-city.org/Public/DocView.aspx?id=97177&dbid=0&repo=PTC

Peachtree City Zoning Ordinance Article XII, Section 1204 outlines Administrative Variances, what qualifies, and who has the authority to approve them. It requires the “special administrative variance committee consisting of the zoning administrator, the city manager and a member of city council.”

Here is a link to the current ordinance: https://library.municode.com/ga/peachtree_city/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIICOOR_APXAZO_ARTXIIVAAP_S1204ADVA

I’m putting this variances on my “hit list” of things to change when I get elected to Council in November. Keep that in mind if I can’t get them to change this now.

I’m hoping this prompts the City Council to act immediately to suspend Ordinance 1204 regarding administrative variances. They need to halt the processing of all applications until the ordinance can be reviewed by current council and evaluated. This ordinance has been a complete failure for Peachtree City because it fails to uphold mandatory zoning setbacks.

As a candidate in the upcoming City Council election at the end of this year, I assure you that I will wholeheartedly support a significant change to the ordinance, reverting to the previous, sound version.

For decades Peachtree City upheld strict adherence to setbacks and zoning regulations. Why after 50 years would we throw them out? Setbacks exist for many reasons. Variances should only be approved in unique and rare situations.

When it was approved, Ordinance 1204 for Administrative Variances, essentially overturned setback requirements as stipulated in the Code of Zoning Regulations for every type of property.

Every current City Council member should immediately demand that this ordinance be suspended and repealed to put the previous Ordinance back in place.

The excuse of the review process being bogged down by requests for minor setback encroachments was a lie. In order to get a variance a homeowner had to build within their setbacks or go through a long process to request a variance. A handful applied.

The “solution” should never have been to approve every request for up to a 50% encroachment into a setback which undermines the Zoning Code.

No matter what they intended, we must stop this before more damage is done.

Suzanne Brown

Peachtree City, Ga.