Monday, March 5, 2012

UPDATE - Zoning Codes Gone Awry - Glaze Drive and "Dirt"

DHA had an item added to the agenda after the board received it via email on Thursday.

It would seem that "City Hall" has approved a permit to dump 5700 cubic yards of "dirt" (from the Chamblee HS construction site) into a less-than-one-acre lot at the end of Glaze Drive.

Being new(er) to this area than many on the DHA board I had to learn a few things about this area.

Previous site of the Glaze family hardware store
and grocery.  Intersection of Glaze and Peeler roads,
a few feet away from Dunwoody's "Gateway"
intersection of Peeler and Winter's Chapel
1.  Glaze Drive is named for this family which still owns the lot at the end of the R-100 and townhome housing developments.  The bare, half-overgrown lot next to the Shell station used to be the site of their family businesses.  (For Sale)

2.  The land in question has been a dump in the past for such notables as GM and similar industries.  God only knows what is under the top soil.  The dump was closed years ago.

3.  The land is bordered by a number of housing developments, including Four Oaks, and the North Atlanta Memorial Park.

The not-otherwise-named "Mr. Glaze" has apparently signed a deal with the contractor hauling dirt from the Chamblee HS construction site to have said dirt dumped into just under an acre of space in the lot.  During the meeting it was calculated that there would be around 600 trucks driving up and down that residential street to dump the dirt.  Starting in 2 weeks.  Did I mention that the road is not paved, but merely covered with gravel?  After driving down Glaze Drive myself I could see that it is actually paved, however the street becomes extremely narrow toward the end and the edges are deteriorating.  Perhaps the "gravel" mentioned at DHA was inside the property itself?
Since a previous visitor commented that most of Dunwoody does not know where Glaze Drive is, I thought I'd post a few photos that I took after getting the kiddos squared away for the morning.
Click to enlarge

First, halfway down the street is a townhouse development.  Right behind it are some high tension wires.  Remember the "greenway" plan that would employ space under the electric wires as "linear parks" and alternate transportation paths?  This is the one that would connect to the Gwinnett county parks system.

Click to enlarge
This is a typical single-family ranch-style home in an R-100 zoning designation on Glaze Drive.  The rest of the street not used for Georgia Power easements looks like this.  These homes on HUGE lots would blend in to any Dunwoody subdivision.  This one happens to be for sale, though I wasn't able to get the realtor's sign in the shot.

Click to enlarge

Here's where it gets interesting.  The road dead-ends with rough asphalt edges and no curbs.  A deep drainage ditch lined with rock is to the right.  See that itty bitty, teeny tiny neon yellow-green sign to the right?  That's the city-issued permit sign required by the "land disturbance" plan.  Here's some perspective in terms of how Dunwoody's zoning code is written:  adding a mountain of dirt requiring hundreds of trucks down this road requires a sign the size of a realtor's or candidate's campaign sign.  When my neighbor wanted to offer violin lessons at home (which would create an infinitely smaller impact) she was required to display a city sign six feet tall in bright red on a 30 sf front yard.  Fair?  Not in this universe.

Click to enlarge

The permit.  Same as the one you would use to do home renovations.  Same one that is issued after the Zoning Board of Appeals discusses how many feet from a stream a porch can be.  Or whether a new addition can be placed on a house.  Or whether a home can be used for daycare.  In that context, it just doesn't seem like enough.

Click to enlarge

More perspective.  This is my Dunwoody Mom-Mobile parked at the dead-end.  The street is barely wide enough to allow a minivan to drive down.  You can't turn around in this street without crashing someone's front yard, even if driving something tiny like a SmartCar.  I had to back up 30 feet to access a driveway just to turn around.  And this is the street they want dumptrucks to drive down.

Click to enlarge

The entrance to the Glazes' property taken from the very edge of the asphalt.  Could someone please point out where the road is that can handle construction equipment?

It was also estimated that the level of the ground would be raised about 10 feet if everything planned is dumped.  For some perspective, that's the equivalent of building a one-story office building on the site.   If Mr. Glaze wanted to build an office building on the site, the permit would be denied because it is zoned residential rather than retail or O/I.  But it is within zoning code to pack an amount of dirt equivalent to that size of a building onto this lot.

"Mr. Glaze" filed a request for a "land disturbance permit" to dump the dirt.  He received it from city hall (represented at DHA tonight by the city engineer and community development director).  There was universal shock and anger that the city could issue a permit for this use.  But here's the thing:  everything requested in the permit by "Mr. Glaze" was within Dunwoody's zoning code and the residents have little legal recourse to stop it.  City Hall had no rationale, consistent with the zoning code, to deny the permit.  City Hall staff did not see a need to contact City Council, or the residents because... it was all in line with zoning code.  Rescinding the permit could result in a court battle which, like previous situations, resulted in the city settling in the six-figure range.  There's going to be a lot of talk about this at city hall in the morning to determine what their next move should be to legally protect the residents of the area.

So that's where Glaze Drive and Dunwoody City Hall find themselves now.  This is an extreme example of "unintended consequences" of residential zoning (that one's for you, John....) but it spotlights the inherent double-standard of Dunwoody's zoning philosophy.  To date, everything considered "residential" is considered positive for a residential experience.  Everything considered "commercial" is considered detrimental to a residential lifestyle.  Glaze Drive is the reason that that basic classification doesn't fly.  The Glaze family didn't have to request a single variance, they didn't have to appear before a single board (even once, let alone twice) didn't have to fill out a lot of extra paperwork beyond the land disturbance form, and have no plans to erect signs or conduct any commercial enterprise.  In short, everything is residential and follows the letter of the law.  But the impact on the neighborhood is astronomical and can last months if not years.

Contrast this with the usual minutiae around residential use permits for construction or "commercial" use.  Months of hearings in front of 2 city boards and City Council.  Extra paperwork justifying its existence and clarifying the amount of traffic and "contact".  Who has a car parked where.  Is a parked car going to "change the neighborhood character".  How many people can visit at one time for a "commercial" use as opposed to a "residential" purpose and how can you determine the difference.  Does it matter if the "customers" are children, rather than white-collar adults.  In the end, most times it isn't possible to identify a "commercial" use impact on a residential neighborhood.  When you can, the result is an inconvenience that could probably be resolved amicably in a single conversation.

This is why the hysteria over "commercial use" in a home is ridiculous:  residential use per zoning code can have much greater impact on neighborhood quality than what is classified as "commercial" and Glaze Drive is proof.  The zoning code is created to pay more attention to the arbitrary intention of the owner, rather than actual, documentable effect on the neighborhood.  The words "residential" and "commercial" have become magic words that determine whether an action is desirable or not and have resulted in loopholes and contradictions separate from their actual outcomes.  I look forward to Duncan & Associates to use this example as a new concept of zoning that focuses more on actual actions that impact a neighborhood, instead of hypothetical activities that may or may not be addressed consistently.

I can't wait to see our elected and hired officials get themselves out of this one.


Anonymous said...

It is legal so why the fuss? 600 tricks will smooth out that gravel road. 98% of Dunwoody has no clue to the whereabouts of Glaze Drive. If you think there are toxins or haz waste on site report it to the EPA immediately to get a stop to this permit.

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Thanks for stopping by. I have a series of updates to post here. Not sure why it's important that most of Dunwoody allegedly doesn't know where this street is. Does that make it less important than the Village or any other subdivision in town? Would you be happy about this activity if it were in your neighborhood as opposed to a part of Dunwoody you consider to be too obscure?

Your suggestion regarding stopping the permit due to EPA regs has been considered. Apparently, because the property is not for sale and because the area to be used for the dirt pile in question is less than one acre, an environmental survey is not required.

Please stop in again after the edits. :-) I plan to go into detail regarding how this situation spotlights the dysfunction of the current zoning code and recent zoning concerns.

Anonymous said...

You could easily trigger an environmental study by calling the state EPA and or the Feds, if you have some basis to your original claim insinuating that GM or some other corporate monster dumped toxins or hazardous waste in virgin Dunwoody soil.

Anonymous said...

Would I want this in my neighborhood ? Nope. Nor would I buy property on Glaze Drive knowing nearby property owners are negligent. Nor would I buy a home where neighbors are allowed to have a home business that allows client interaction on premises. Would you want to live beside Ron Jeremy Enterprises?

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Thanks again for visiting, folks.

For the record, the claim of dumping by GM came from residents of Glaze Drive and was discussed openly at the DHA meeting on Sunday. No need to get upset with me over repeating it. I'm sure these residents are well aware of their options and can decide what to do with them.

Regarding the last comment: I don't think you got the point. It isn't about "buying a house on Glaze Drive" specifically. The point is that a residential property can be changed dramatically to adversely impact the neighborhood in ANY subdivision. You don't necessarily have any idea what's going to happen in your neighborhood until it does and conflicts like that are not confined to "that other part of town" outside of 30338.

The crack about Ron Jeremy is hilarious! But since we're discussing an extreme situation, an extreme hypothetical is OK too. What if Ron Jeremy opened a home business? Does the level of activity rise above that of the general neighborhood? Does he have all of his permits in order? (Adult entertainment has a much more extensive process beyond a mere business license.) Is he just using the house for administration or do his business activities extend beyond what a home business is reasonably capable of? So many questions and they apply to *everyone*. If the activity around a business does not exceed the normal activity of the neighborhood, then there isn't anything to legitimately complain to the authorities about. But you're still free to dislike it.

Have a great night, everyone!

Anonymous said...


Just read this post after returning from WDC lobbying trip to increase National Institute of Health funding for Multiple Sclerosis and other chronic illnesses, among other things. March is MS Awareness month. . .

By way of disclosure, SDOC and I are working together to help keep citizens aware of the Zoning Code Rewrite process as Sounding Board members. The Sounding Board does not decide on Code policy, we are tasked to help make folks aware of Code nuances and their affect on your life. WOOT WOOT.

Your article is well written and the pictures are useful to help folks visualize what is going on.

What is not addressed is the many years of legal doctrine and precedent established nationally concerning property owner rights V. those of the State (City).

In this case, the owner chooses to literally bury his lot in clean fill dirt.


IF the property 'glows' (term to describe EPA issues) then NINE feet of dirt would essentially encapsulate the problem. Normally, remediation occurs by removing, burning, and then replacing the same dirt, sans the 'glow.' That is what was done with the nearby 'new' reservoir across Winters Chapel, which also used to 'glow.'

Does an owner have the right to 'improve' their property in this manner?

This issue is well beyond the scope of this article, but you have done a good job in illustrating property owner rights and as they affect the immediate community.

As well, enter politics, DHA has had a long-standing and often contentious relationship with the parties involved. Again, a topic beyond the scope of this venue.



Bob Lundsten said...

Max once again you are wrong
The DHA has sided with the neighbors in a lawsuit with the developers of the townshomes and DeKalb County, They have never been involved with the Glaze family.
Even when the old buildings were torn down, that was done by the developer and not the Glaze family, It was the city and the Feds who went after the developer at that time.
And despite what Adrian thinks, customer contact for a home bussiness should be allowed as the excepttion and not the the rule.
The jeremy question may have been extreme but is on point.
People buy homes to live in a residential neighborhood. Relaxing the seperation because your business needs it is not a reason to change the code.
Change with out thought has so many unintended consequences. I suggest everyone do a little basic homework

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Bob your concerns about "unintended consequences" would have more merit if you had not been such a strong advocate for changing the nature of a "residential " neighborhood to include agricultural activity. If home businesses are too far outside the lines of tolerance, so are your chickens. Just sayin... (sorry Kerry)

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

The Denoument:

The construction company moving the dirt surrendered their permit to dump at Glaze Drive after city staff worked out a plan to redistribute the fill to areas within the cemetery near by and to Brook Run's "back 40" where the hospital used to stand and is littered with broken glass, chipped bricks and chunks of rebar. The fill dirt and Brook Run is going to be used to level out the open area to be used as a general recreation field. The cemetery is more than happy to have more fill dirt for obvious reasons.

The solution does seem on the surface to be less invasive than the original Glaze Drive plan but it still highlights the final question: what amount of activity (construction, business, contractors, etc) can a residential community expect to tolerate as part of living in this city? The original Glaze Drive plan was an extreme. However the "Brook Run Plan" (which will involve 300-ish full-size dump truck trips to the back of the park) is considered acceptable by both City Hall and the DHA. So what's the line between the two? I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Sounding Board to evaluate and define the answers to that and similar questions over the coming year.