Braselton has formally adopted an updated comprehensive plan, but not before the town council spent over two hours picking it apart and at times, disagreeing with the consultants who drafted the massive document.
The council adopted the plan in a 4-1 vote with council member Jim Joedecke opposed.
Joedecke took the lead during a July 30 council meeting in having a number of changes made to the document, but voted against the final plan saying he wanted to wait until the August council meeting for a final vote.
"To approve the document before we see it in its entirety I think is a mistake," Joedecke said.
But mayor Bill Orr disagreed.
"We have the document in front of us with the recommended changes; what's going to be different from the changes from the document that (city manager Jennifer Scott) has?" Orr asked.
Joedecke suggested there might be further changes needed.
"There may be some other discussion we have to have," he said.
The town's comprehensive plan doesn't have the weight of a legally-binding document, but it does broadly outline how the town wants to grow in the next two decades.
The comp plan will also act as a guide for a complete rewrite of the town's zoning codes and regulations which do have legal implications for how growth is managed. That process is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.
PROTECT EXISTING HOMEOWENRS
Joedecke, the council's newest member, said he had a two-hour conference call with the consultants who drafted the updated plan. From that, he had a three-page document with recommended changes for the council to consider.
The main focus of those changes were to remove a number of references to apartments and multifamily housing as a recommended land use in certain areas, especially around the Hwy. 211 corridor.
"What I was concerned about is that this felt like it was very multi-family friendly," he said about one statement in the document. "We tried to change it so that an apartment developer can't just come up and show us this and get a free pass."
Joedecke, and some other members of the council, suggested that some of what the town's consultants had put in the draft of the comp plan were more appropriate for urban areas, but not a good fit for suburban communities.
One woman in the audience spoke up at the end of the meeting, saying she was on a citizens' committee working with the updated plan and that the document didn't accurately reflect what the committee had discussed.
One of Joedecke's biggest pushes was for the council to adopt language from the city of John's Creek's comp plan.
"I'd be Ok with a lot of this document if we'd simply put in (the) number one wording in here from John's Creek that the first thing we're doing is looking to protect the integrity of the neighborhoods that are already here and to make sure whatever comes in is in character with those," he said.
The council agreed to add language to Braselton's plan that echoed the John's Creek language.
HOUSING AN ISSUE
Mayor Orr suggested that some of the language in the draft didn't mean very much. Specifically, he objected to a phrase that said there isn't enough housing in Braselton for people to fill many of the jobs in the town.
That issue has been simmering in the town for several years. Many of the jobs in the town are blue-collar in nature while many of Braselton's residents work in white-collar professions.
"It's certainly aspirational for everybody to want to live next to where they work," Orr said. "It's not rational because the reality is, everybody's skill sets and job requirements are going to be different. You're always going to have a mismatch and that mismatch is going to cause people to have to drive to find their match."
Orr said that just looking at housing available in the town for local jobs isn't the complete story and that one has to look at housing in the larger area. He suggested there is enough rental apartments and other kinds of housing in the "greater Braselton" area beyond the town's limits.
"As long as there is affordable housing and apartments that people can find in the area, people may prefer to not live next door," he said.
Orr said that removing some of the language referring to apartments doesn't preclude the council from considering apartments on a case-by-case basis.
"We're not eliminating (apartments), but we're also not opening the door, necessarily, by putting it in this document," he said.
Councilman Hardy Johnson gave a different take on the housing issue, saying people in the area need a place to live beyond the expensive homes available in some areas of Braselton.
"I just want to make sure people have a place to live who can't afford to live in a $400,000, $500,000 or $1 million place," Johnson said. "You know, there are people who live in apartments; there are people who choose to live in apartments. I made that choice (at one time) because I couldn't afford to live in a house. That's my basis here — I want to be sure that people who can't afford to live in a $400,000 to $1 million house have a place to live in Braselton."
Four of the town's five council members live in the Chateau Elan development, which has homes in that price range and higher.
Among the key issues Joedecke pushed against were objectives that said the town should reduce minimum house sizes and reduce garage sizes and parking requirements. In one section, the draft comp plan said the town's current garage and house minimums are "outdated."
"I'd like to see it come out because I think it's dangerous for us to make a statement that any part of our code is outdated unless we really believe that as we sit here," he said. "I don't think it precludes the kind of developments you're talking about from coming in; I'd encourage those if they're done right. But when we start to talk about two-car garage requirements being outdated, I get nervous that if somebody comes in that we don't like and they start to weaponize this document against us."
During last year's election in which Joedecke was voted into office, he was critical of the town's current development code, saying that some codes are "overly simplistic."
The council agreed to remove two objectives from the comp plan related to smaller garages and a smaller minimum house size. Those issues, however, will likely be part of the discussion over specific town zoning rules and regulations that will take place in the coming months.