Update on Subdivision Application for N. Superior Ave.

Yesterday evening (Tuesday, May 10, 2016), the City of Decatur's Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval for a Subdivision ("Lot Split") Application of a single property at 552 Willivee Drive into four individual lots (the existing house on Willivee and three additional lots on North Superior Avenue). The Decatur City Commissioners will take up this application next week (Monday, May 16, 2016, 7:30 pm). The Commissioners will decide whether the lot is split, how many new lots will be created, and whether any conditions on homes to be built will be imposed.

CHCA Board members contacted residents whose properties are adjacent to the proposed new lots in order to solicit their questions and concerns and to organize a meetings between them and the property owner / developer, Landmark Builders. CHCA contacted City of Decatur's Planning Director to ensure that Board members and residents knew the facts regarding City of Decatur development rules and processes, and we worked to present opinions our neighbors provided to us about the proposed development. CHCA held a open Community Meeting on April 25 at which Clairmont Heights neighbors had an opportunity to talk directly with Matt Clarke, owner of Landmark Builders, to see what agreements could be made in advance of the formal hearings.

The developer met with residents on several occasions to solicit their input. We summarized questions and concerns into the following list. The version below was forwarded by the developer to City of Decatur officials as evidence of his good intentions in working with residents in Clairmont Heights and is probably the version that the Planning Commission members referred to at their meeting.

1. No garage in front of houses. 
   a. Per Landmark - "No basement garages to be facing the street or and no detached garages in front of the house structure".
2. Some form of Gutter Guard to prevent leaf debris from clogging detention devices buried in the yard. 
   a. Per Landmark – “Builder to install leaf screens on all gutter downspouts in an effort to prevent leaf/stick debris from clogging detention devices”.
3. To prevent excess water from coming down the driveway from the parking pads, install a gutter with grate cover at the top of each driveway that runs to a rain garden or underground detention device. 
   a. Matt verbally agreed to this in the meeting. He proposed putting such a system at the bottom of the drive, immediately adjacent to the county RoW [Right of Way].
4. Protect 2 specimen hardwoods (white oak & tulip poplar) on edge of site with full drip ring exclusion fencing etc.
   a. Matt verbally agreed to do this if permitted to do so by City of Decatur arborist. 
5. Substantial bush/shrub plantings in front of each house to protect the slope and break up the visual plane. 
   a. Did NOT agree to this item: “ Will follow R-60 zoning guidelines if any apply” Let my landscaper and new owners dictate what shrubs ,bush plantings, numbers,etc.
6. Retain existing or plant at least 1 shade tree in each front yard. 
   a. Per Landmark - "Plant at least 1, three inch caliper tree, acceptable to CoD tree ordinance and approved species listed in each front yard".
7. No decks off of the 2nd story in rear or front of houses. 
   a. Matt stated he has no intention of building any decks.
8. Sidewalk to be built across full width of property. 
   a. Per Landmark – “Sidewalk installed in right-of-way across full frontage width of property as determined by the CoD “approved” site plan for each lot”.
9. Driveways to be no greater than 5:1 slope.
   a. Per Landmark – “Maximum residential driveways slopes shall not exceed twenty (20) percent grade. “
10. Houses to be 4-sided brick and stone. 
   a.  Per Landmark - "Homes exteriors will be clad with some combination mix of brick or stone, and/or hardiboard type concrete wood mixture cementious siding or shake".
11. Any retaining walls visible from street to be faced in stone.
   a.  Per Landmark - "Any retaining walls approved by CoD Planning and Development to build in the first 70' of lots shall be faced in stone, brick, stucco parge or masonry cut block as "approved" on CoD site plan."
12. No equipment or dumpsters to be left on street overnite. All parking will be contained on site. 
   a.  Per Landmark – “No equipment or dumpsters to be left on N. Superior Dr. overnight.”

There were three suggestions made by neighbors where they and the developer did not come to an agreement:

  1. Enforce the setback requirement so that none of his houses are any closer to the curb than the adjacent house on N. Superior. Setback is going to be important not only to what folks see from street level when entering and leaving the n'hood but also in terms of pushing the houses back from the crest of the slope, which will reduce their perceived height. This may also allow him to save a couple more mature trees as they are all planted along the lot lines, with the interior of the site as a large grassy field.
  2. Require that the majority of recompense for loss of tree cover is expended in plantings on the site as opposed to money paid into the citywide tree fund and spent elsewhere. The amount of water absorption, soil stability and air cooling that the huge trees on this site provide will in no way be replaced by the single three inch caliper tree that he has agreed to plant in front yards. 
  3. If allowed under law (Ms. Threadgill [CoD Planner Director] said that they had done something similar to this in previous cases) consider restricting the height of new structures to perhaps 30 feet above existing elevation. He could dig down 2 feet (per code) if he truly needed 32 feet of height. Again, this is to lessen the visual bulk of 3 big houses right at the crest of the hill. 

Ultimately, the Planning Commission elected to address only the setback issue. They discussed the pertinent City of Decatur development code at the meeting, and we will provide their final advisement when received.