JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Johns Creek’s zoning ordinances were tested March 25 when the City Council, by a 5-2 vote, approved a rezoning for a medical office on Old Alabama Road.

Councilman Steve Broadbent and Councilwoman Stephanie Endres voted to deny the rezoning permit, which allows a 5,000-square-foot medical office building on a currently vacant lot between the Preston Oaks and Carrington subdivisions.

Because of the steep topography of the lot, the ground would need to be raised and a retaining wall built to hold the proposed offices. City council members were concerned about the impact the retaining wall would have on neighbors.

“This is something you never envision, to see a new retaining wall put up fairly close to their backyard,” Broadbent said. “We’ve had so many cases where we’re sort of shoehorning in a large building, large townhomes, whatever it might be into a property.”

Johns Creek Community Association President Marybeth Cooper spoke on behalf of one neighboring resident who opposed the rezoning for this reason. However, the rezoning applicant, Dr. Sudha Challa, said many neighbors supported the project.

“If I don’t come here, Starbucks or McDonalds is going to come over and it’s going to be a big commotion,” Challa said. “This is going to be very quiet and provide service to the community.”

No neighboring residents spoke during the public hearing, leaving the council at a loss as to how neighboring residents felt about the development. The majority on the council wanted to approve the project, but with the condition that retaining walls and landscaping be done in a way that minimizes the impact on neighbors.

Typically, when a zoning case is considered, developers present only a preliminary site plan. If changes are made to the plan, it is up to the community development director to decide if the changes substantively alter the plan before granting the developer a land disturbance permit.

 “The weakness in our current ordinance is the discretion part of it,” Mayor Mike Bodker said. “If you have a community development director that’s exercising appropriate discretion, if you have a community development director that understands the pulse of the community and the pulse of the council, then the discretion probably won’t be an issue.”

Under city code, the only alternative to allowing staff discretion on such matters would be to have a development go through the entire four-month review process in order to make any changes to the site plan, according to City Manager Warren Hutmacher. 

Further complicating matters, Johns Creek’s community development director recently retired. Assistant City Manager Kimberly Greer is serving in the post on a temporary basis.

Ultimately, the council voted to continue to trust the community development department to make the call on updated development plans, but it left the door open to a change in process for future cases.

The City Council also denied a rezoning petition to build a townhome community on Lakefield Drive. The project would have brought 37 units to Technology Park near The Oaks at Johns Creek. Though the city staff had recommended approval with conditions, the Planning Commission recommended denial in a 3-3 vote.

City Council members raised concerns about the site’s stormwater plans and the proposed density, more than 8 units per acre. While the Oaks sits at 11 units per acre, all other surrounding residential properties are between 2 and 4 units per acre, according to staff documents.

“As I look at the density of the property surrounding it, with the exception of the Oaks, which was intended to be a transition property, your maximum density is less than three units per acre,” Bodker said. “Eight units plus is very inconsistent with that.”

In other business, the council unanimously approved a $2.8 million contract with Allied Paving for road resurfacing. While some of the allocation will target main roads, engineering and inspection, the majority of funds, $1.9 million, will go to neighborhood roads.

Roads were chosen for resurfacing based on a 2018 pavement quality study. The following main roads are set to be resurfaced in 2019: Autry Mill Road, Byers Road, Medlock Crossing Parkway, Old Crossing Way, Old Medlock Bridge Road, Rogers Bridge Road, Valais Court and West Morton Road.

The neighborhoods set to be repaved are Belcrest, Bellacree, Edgewater Estates, Glenside, Haydens Walk, Jones Bridge Landing, Jones Estate, Kensington Oaks, Morton Reserve, Oakmont, Parkside, Stevens Creek, The Enclave at Wellington, The Regency at Wellington, The Vicarage and Windermere Park.

Also March 25, the City Council approved a resolution in support for a Johns Creek cultural arts center. This resolution carried no financial commitment, but merely supported the idea of a center.

For several years, the performing arts community in Johns Creek has advocated for a dedicated performance space. With the completion of a feasibility study in January, arts groups are looking at how to turn that vision into a reality.

“It’s an exciting concept, and I think it’s one that will certainly make Johns Creek a better place in the future for all of us,” said Broadbent, who put forward the resolution.

Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra Musical Director Wayne Baughman thanked the council for their support.

“The Broadbent resolution in support of the cultural arts center project is an important step in what I hope will be a process that brings the entire community together to create for our city and region a one-of-a-kind facility,” he said. 

The vote was 6-1 with Endres opposed.

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