At its meeting Monday, Smyrna City Council tried to juggle the sometimes conflicting desires of neighbors and the developer of Vintage Square subdivision on Atlanta Road across the street from Campbell Middle School.
The developer, TI Vintage LLC, proposed to Council a zoning amendment to modify the existing site plan and zoning condition approved for the development in 2006. The amendment was recommended for approval by city of Smyrna staff with some added conditions. Council ultimately voted 6-1 to approve the request with Ward 2 Representative Andrea Blustein casting the dissenting vote, but not without some lengthy discussion.
TI Vintage LLC, represented by the applicant Jeff Freeman, sought the amendment as a means to keep options open to changing market conditions. The proposed amendment would allow for the builder to use either the existing site plan or a new modified site plan and also provide the option to build two or three-story homes.
Ken Suddreth, Smyrna’s director of community development, iterated that many of the conditions in the zoning amendment were carried over from the original site plan with a few exceptions.
The major changes proposed included the option to decrease the elevation of the townhomes from three stories to two stories depending on market conditions, the addition of an alternate site plan, and changing the orientation of four townhomes on the development’s east side. In the original plan, the townhomes would face Atlanta Road, but under the new plan they’d face the interior of the development to create a streetscape.
One of the city’s concerns was the appearance of the four units whose rear sides would face Atlanta Road under the amendment. Suddreth said staff added the stipulation that these buildings be brick on all four sides and that TI Vintage present a landscaping plan for concealing the units from view of the road before the city would issue building permits.
“The summary of this is there’s really one major item, but there are really three total items,” Suddreth said. “The main one is reducing it to two stories. The second is providing the plan as an alternate plan so that the roadway system could potentially be different and the third one is how to deal with the four remaining units on Atlanta Road.”
Two Stories vs. Three Stories
Clark Efaw lives on Navajo Street in a neighborhood adjacent to Vintage Square. During the public hearing concerning the zoning amendment he said he favors the switch from three stories to two.
“We think that having two-story townhomes as opposed to three-story will be a better transition to the surrounding neighborhood,” he said “It will have less impact on the surrounding neighborhood and less detrimental affect on the property’s of the neighbors. We think it will be better looking on the inside. We won’t be looking at each other.”
However, some of Efaw’s neighbors in Vintage Square disagree. Several came to the podium because they felt the two-story units proposed by the builder weren’t in keeping with the existing three and four-story townhomes. They were also concerned that the lower priced two-story units would negatively impact their property values.
“One of the side of the gate you’re going to have three story units and on the other side of the gate you’re going to have two story units,” said Christine Forsyth. “I think that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand market conditions or arguments that have been put forth to change the entire plot to two-story units. Even though I don’t agree with it necessarily as far as whether or not that would be beneficial to homeowners in terms of property values, but also to the city of Smyrna. You’re going to be having several more houses that are going to be built at a lesser value.”
Keeping it Consistent
Many residents were concerned that the new units would not look consistent with the appearance of the existing three-story units in size or style.
Lochlin Samples, a Vintage Square resident said he thought the proposed two-story units could use some tweaking to make them blend with the existing homes.
“If you look at the drawing on the far-right it’s semi-similar to what is in there now,” he said. “It’s got that white cutout on the top and that tin roof. A lot of the units have that. Now there have probably been 87 different builders since it was taken over so the units don’t look identical and we’re not asking for them to look identical. We would like them to look similar and there are architectural features that would be easy to implement that would add to that.”
Ward 4 Council Representative Charles “Corkey” Welch agreed that the two-story units differed.
“We’re really looking at two different architectural styles,” he said. “What’s proposed is more of a Tudor looking style.”
Stephen Schot, another Vintage Square resident, asked if the zoning amendment could stipulate specifically which paint colors and design elements would be used on the new units. Freeman explained that he had final say in the design elements and that his aim was to make choices that would create a marketable development.
“As far as colors and those things I’m the one who will decide and make sure that they blend in,” he said. “I have no advantage to having it stand out and not work and having a neighborhood with unhappy homeowners and trying to sell units. It would not be realistic.”
A New Site Plan
Most of the residents agreed the new site plan was an improvement over the older one including, Efaw, Samples and Mike Forsyth, Christine’s Forsyth’s husband. However, Samples was concerned that the builder would not be consistent with his choice to use the existing site plan or the alternate site plan.
“Now it sounds like we have two alternative site plans and that either one can be built,” he said. “I want to make sure that these are exclusive plans. So when we’re talking about this second alternative site plan you can build two-story units. Yes, you can build two story units on the new plan as its drawn. You can’t come in and use the existing site layout plan and build two-story units on the existing site layout plan.”
Lnenicka proposed adding verbiage to the amendment to indicate that once the builder began building according to one site plan he would not switch to the other. Freeman agreed to this condition.
"The Devil is in the Details"
Before Council voted, residents were still uncertain about what the new phase of development would look like.
"There are a lot of details here that are still undefined—the exact elevations of the units, the landscaping, whether two-story or three-story units are going to be built here or there, whether it’s going to be the old site plan or the new," Lnenicka said. "We’re really very much going out on a limb here, Mr. Freeman, for you and your co-owners.
"(...) Having said all that I’m going to take you at your word that you’re going to do what you said you would do and I’m going to ask that our staff hold you to that. I would ask that you have a continuing dialogue with me and the residents about issues that may crop up. And if we need to have a meeting let’s have a meeting as friends and allies. So again as you said you don’t want a hornet’s nest of angry residents."