The Apartment Debate

DebateIt is with more than a little disappointment that I have watched much of the debate about rezoning applications for apartments wander off the rails and into the realm of insults, name-calling and false information. The true topic of debate should be focused on the proposed developments defined in the applications for rezoning. Instead, much of the conversation has devolved into verbal assaults on “those types of people” who choose to live in apartments. Ironically, many of the comments about “those types of people” come from individuals who once were “those types of people”.

Much of the off-the-rails commentary seems to have arisen out of a lack of information concerning the process that must be followed in reviewing any application for a rezoning. That process is mandated by Georgia law as defined in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which is often referred to by attorneys and non-attorneys alike as OCGA.

Specifically, section 36-66 of OCGA details the steps that a municipality must take, and the policies that it must implement in processing rezoning applications. In Snellville, those policies are defined in Appendix B, Chapter 15 of the city’s Code of Ordinances. Nowhere, either in OCGA or Snellville’s Code of Ordinances, is any reference made to consideration of “those type of people” or any other kind of people– except for a paragraph in OCGA dealing with the location of drug rehabilitation facilities.

Even under the best of circumstances, the processing of rezoning applications is lengthy and time consuming. An applicant must first submit the necessary forms and information to the city’s Planning Department. The staff then reviews the application and addresses any deficiencies in form or content. Subsequently, the application, along with the Planning Department’s recommendations for approval or denial, (and any conditions) is passed on to the Planning Commission for its review. Members of the Commission then evaluate the application, determine whether it needs any modifications to confirm to zoning requirements, and votes to approve or deny it. The application, along with the Planning Commission’s recommendation is finally brought before the City Council for its review and ultimate vote to approve or deny.

With the variety of ordinances, engineering and land use considerations that apply to any rezoning, the review process involves far more work than the foregoing description might imply. It may take several months, and possibly over a year from the time an application is first submitted until it comes before the City Council.

The lengthy process can prove frustrating, especially when an application provokes an emotional response. However, by design, it allows all interested parties, proponents and opponents alike, the opportunity to review the facts and express their opinions. That’s one of the reasons it is essential that the prescribed process is followed. Another reason is that failure to comply with the applicable ordinances could result in legal ramifications.

As an example, a motion to rescind a previous zoning was recently placed on a Council meeting agenda. Oddly enough, only the five non-attorney members of the Council appeared to know that such a motion was illegal– a fact that the City Attorney confirmed during the meeting. Had a Council member made a motion, it could have been grounds for a lawsuit, which would have created more unnecessary legal expense for the city.

Whether a rezoning application is popular or unpopular, loved or hated, it should be reviewed as prescribed by OCGA and city ordinances. To do otherwise is neither legal nor proper.






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