Last week, Suzanne Brown (no relation), who is running for a city council post at the end of this year in Peachtree City, gave me a call and asked me if I knew about significant changes to the city’s dispensing of administrative variances. I told her that I was unaware of any changes being made.
When Ms. Brown began telling me what she had found while researching the subject, my jaw dropped in shock.
The city council on December 16, 2021 (that was then-Mayor Vanessa Fleisch and Councilmen Kevin Madden, Terry Ernst, Mike King, and Phil Prebor) quietly gave away another substantial concession to the real estate developers at the expense of our valued and proven land planning ordinances.
This was the Realtor mayor’s final contribution towards helping fulfill her promise of gutting our traditional land planning methods that attracted one of the most noteworthy collections of human capital in the state, well-educated, civic-minded, and prosperous families. It was Fleisch’s final council meeting and she came to City Hall bearing gifts to the building sector that feathers her nest.
Remember, in 2020, Fleisch defiantly declared things were about to change whether we liked it or not (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/08/23/mayor-fleisch-peachtree-citys-village-concept-is-changing/). She declared she was ending our traditional development style, our award-winning land planning, one of the most successful development movements in Georgia’s history, and the reason we all chose to drive far away to live here. People, including me, were detecting exploitation of power we had not previously witnessed in Peachtree City.
Fleisch along with current Councilmen King and Prebor created a secretive, behind-closed-doors system to defy our land use ordinances through a revised administrative variance process giving no warning to the local citizens. Unfortunately, current Mayor Kim Learnard loves the underhanded infringement of our ordinances and has used it routinely without the knowledge of the citizens as Ms. Brown discovered in her research.
What an administrative variance is supposed to be
Let’s start with a look at the past. Peachtree City’s land use ordinances have made the community unique, and successful, and have stood the test of time. Surrounding communities have used Peachtree City’s success as a springboard for their triumphs.
Variances to our ordinances should be extremely difficult to obtain. The ordinances were created to optimize aesthetics, function, and the long-term value of real estate developments in the city. Those ordinances are our insurance policy for our quality of life and gaining a solid return on the investment in our homes.
As a demonstration of how serious the city has been on not granting variances, in the past, the city government forced a homebuilder to cut the corner off of a new house because it was built a few feet into the setback area per the ordinances. In one instance, a house had to be picked up and moved back out of the setback area on the homesite because it violated the ordinance.
Variances were only granted under the most unique sets of circumstances. Those circumstances were listed in the ordinance. Variances were rarely granted.
Administrative variances came about when our building inspectors discovered things like a poured foundation being a matter of inches in the clear setback area. Such measurements for administrative variances were generally so small that no one would even notice the infraction without a laser measuring tool on site. If they were more significant, they had to come before the city council in a public meeting, and they were mostly rejected.
The variances were mostly rejected until the last couple of administrations when they publicly approved almost every variance in defiance of our ordinances. Please note that doing so renders our land use ordinances useless, and unable to defend. It was the beginning of elected officials abandoning our standards.
Corrupting our standards for increased real estate developer profit
As Ms. Brown thoroughly explains in her letter to the editor (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/06/25/citys-zoning-being-gutted-one-secretive-variance-at-a-time/), the latest ordinance change by Fleisch, Madden, Ernst, and current council members King and Prebor throw the standards out the window.
Mayor Learnard has used the new secretive power to make immense changes for developers behind closed doors without the knowledge of adjoining property owners or the general public. There is no way to fight the changes because nothing is public. Ms. Brown made an open records request and dug up some horrible examples of what Learnard has done and will, most likely, continue to do.
Imagine a closed-door variance granted for a new development that cuts a 40-foot setback per our ordinances down to a mere 20 feet. This is what they are doing. It’s obviously not a benefit to the citizens, our quality of life, or the promotion of our standards. It’s insane.
This is not Learnard, King, and Prebor’s first foray into dismantling our land use ordinances. The trio also approved changes to land use plans allowing large apartment complexes to be constructed almost anywhere in the city.
If you are planning on living in Peachtree City for the next five years or more, you had better pay attention.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]