From the Mayor

From the Mayor, March 2022.

If you read InTucker with any regularity, you likely know that we have a lot of new faces on our City Council. One of the biggest challenges our whole Council faces is learning and understanding the land use process. It’s complicated, and often contentious. It’s also among the biggest parts of the job, and critically important that we get it right for everyone concerned. That’s why our newest councilmembers just spent time in Athens last week with other newly elected officials from around the State of Georgia, learning about the laws and many other considerations in land use decisions.

So what is it, and how does it work? The foundational thing to remember is that property owners have property rights, which means that, within limits, they are free to make use of their property as they see fit. But since it just wouldn’t do to have a nuclear reactor in our downtown, or a meat-packing plant in your neighborhood, cities like Tucker have certain authority to limit certain uses in certain places. And the process of making those decisions, and balancing the rights of property owners, residents and others, is what we mean when we talk about the land use process, or “zoning”.

When we became a City, we adopted the zoning of every piece (or parcel) of property in the City as it was under DeKalb County. Since then, we’ve continued to refine and adapt that zoning to Tucker’s needs and desires. Every property is zoned for certain kinds of allowed uses, and if a property owner wants to use his or her property for the zoned use, all they need are the proper building permits, etc. That’s called a “by right” use, simply meaning they are using their property by right for the way it’s zoned, without having to ask for any other kind of permission.

If they want to use their property in a way it’s not zoned for, they can go through our land use process to ask for their proposed use to be allowed. The process is very well-defined and highly regulated. We’ve worked on and refined ours over the past several years to ensure property owners, residents and other stakeholders get plenty of input into any land use case. It is in our interest to make sure we’re getting your feedback on any issue, but especially these cases that can have a major impact on our community, and our land use process is specifically designed to allow and encourage that input.

The process starts with the owner or developer discussing their proposed use with our staff, especially with regard to whether it would be allowed under their current zoning. If it is not, we require them first to hold a Public Participation Plan (PPP) meeting. At this meeting, developers talk directly with residents about their proposal, hear their input and then go back and make needed changes to their plans. This first step used to be a hearing before the Community Council, an appointed body of citizen volunteers. A couple of years ago, we decided to modify this step and have them meet directly with the community before they can even submit a formal application. This is the first opportunity for you to have input into the plan, and by far the easiest time to affect change.

After this PPP meeting, the next step is for the owner/developer to submit an application to the City, detailing their proposal. This application kicks off the formal part of the process, in two parts. One is our staff evaluating the proposal as to whether it would meet all the rest of our code and land use requirements. Staff will prepare a recommendation to Planning Commission and later the Mayor and Council relating to whether it fits with our comprehensive and other plans, and what modifications they would recommend to the proposal to make it comply. The other part that begins simultaneously, is a hearing for the applicant before the Planning Commission. The applicant will make a presentation before this appointed body, answer any questions they may have and also hear additional feedback from the community at that meeting. The Planning Commission then votes on a recommendation to Mayor and Council, including any conditions they think we should impose.

Usually within two weeks or so, the Mayor and City Council begin the final steps in the process. We hear these land use cases twice – in what we call a first read and a second read. The meetings are typically about a month apart in order to give the Council time to thoroughly analyze the project and hear from all parties, including the public. Each of these meetings features a public hearing where both sides have the opportunity to advocate for their position on the case. We also hear the recommendations from staff and from the Planning Commission. And the month in-between is specifically so we can hear from citizens about their questions and concerns. It’s all arranged so that the public has many opportunities to speak into the project and express themselves to their representatives.

It’s important to remember and understand that these are not arbitrary or personal decisions about who wants what. We have some latitude in our decisions and the ability to modify proposals to make them better for the community, but we are also bound by certain laws and other limits that are there to protect everyone’s interests. So showing up en masse or email campaigns may have some influence, but we may also be bound by laws that dictate what we can and cannot do.

Once we cast a vote, the public process is essentially complete; it’s up to our staff and the developer to follow through on any conditions we may place on a development. It’s a good process, but one that really relies on public involvement. As elected officials, we are required to come to these hearings with an open mind and a desire to hear from all sides. We often learn things over the course of the process from the public and others, and often form our opinion as we progress through it. So, make your opinions known, but also get informed about the issues at hand, and what will factor into our decision! Come speak at a meeting, or send us an email ahead of time (our emails are on the City website). Participate in the process and do your part to shape the City of Tucker for years to come.


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