DeKalb County Zoning Process Overview

There are several meetings and governing bodies that make up the zoning process in Unincorporated DeKalb County, GA. Each individual meeting serves a specific purpose and they all play an important role in the checks and balances of the zoning process. Every zoning application, no matter how simple or complex, must complete each step in the zoning process, otherwise known as a ‘full cycle‘.

In this section, we’ll learn more about the zoning cycle, become aware of the 5 important public meetings you can attend and understand the difference between a ‘recommendation‘ and a ‘final decision‘. In the next few pages, we’ll also be covering each public meeting individually, how they work and what to expect.

The DeKalb County Zoning Cycle includes 5 public meetings

 Topics Covered in this section:

  • Zoning Terms You Should Know
    • Learn about ConditionsConditions are a set of additional written rules or regulations that can be added to a zoning application. Zoning conditions may be requested by an applicant, recommended by the planning department... MoreVariancesA zoning variance can be requested by the developer to provide flexibility by allowing variations from the zoning ordinance. For example, a developer building a large mixed-use project wants to ... More
    • Know the difference between a ‘recommendation’ and a ‘final decision’

Understanding the Zoning Cycle

Every year, DeKalb County has 6 cycles for zoning. Each cycle lasts about 2 months (~8 weeks) and has specific guidelines each week requiring filing deadlines, displaying public notices and holding meetings. When a developer submits an application to rezone a property, the entire rezoning process usually happens within that 2 month period, otherwise known as a ‘full cycle‘. There are exceptions to the 8-week cycle, such as deferrals and variances, but we’ll look at those in more detail later. First, let’s find out what happens during each cycle:

Important Public Meetings

There are 5 main public meetings involved the zoning process. They are each approximately 2 weeks apart and all allow public input. Attending these meetings is critical to empowering yourself and your neighbors whether you’re in favor of, or opposed to an application. In the next few pages, we’ll look at each meeting individually, where they’re held & what to expect once you’re there.

Pre-Submittal Community Meeting

Community Council Meeting

Planning Commission Meeting

Board of Commissioners Meeting

Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting*

Pre-Submittal Community Meeting

Community Council Meeting

Planning Commission Meeting

Board of Commissioners Meeting

Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting*

* Note regarding Zoning Board of Appeals meeting – Not all zoning applications see the Zoning Board of Appeals. This meeting is only required when a developer applies for a varianceA zoning variance can be requested by the developer to provide flexibility by allowing variations from the zoning ordinance. For example, a developer building a large mixed-use project wants to ... More (or special request that is different from the zoning code). The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting happens after the Board of Commissioners vote and is additional to the 8-week cycle. Large or complex developments that require rezoning often seek variances, but not always.

Weekly Breakdown of the Zoning Process

While each application is different during a cycle, the general process they go through is the same. Below you’ll see a breakdown of what to expect over the full, 8-week period. You can find more information about the zoning process on from this official DeKalb Zoning Process Summary [PDF].

 

Weeks 1-2

Pre-Application Conference
Before submitting an application, the developer must meet with the Planning Staff to discuss their intent and review the zoning proposal.

Pre-Submittal Community Meeting
The developer must notify residents and landowners within 1/2 mile of the subject property (by mail) and hold a public meeting to discuss the project. This is the first official public meeting to learn about the project. Read more about the Pre-Submittal Community Meeting >>

Filing the Application
After the Pre-Submittal Meeting and once the developer has met all the requirements of the application checklist, they may then submit their application.

Notice is Posted
An orange sign is placed on the property to advertise the upcoming Community Council Meeting.

 

Weeks 3-4

Community Council Meeting
The Community Council meets in each district and allows public input in a town-hall format. The Community council will make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners. Learn more about the Community Council Meeting >>

Notice is Posted
A yellow or white sign is placed on the property to advertise the upcoming Planning Commission & Board of Commissioner Meetings. Also, public notice is posted in either the AJC or The Champion newspapers.

 

Weeks 5-6

Preliminary Planning Staff Analysis
Before the Planning Commission meeting, the county planning staff creates a preliminary report with their recommendation and comments.

Planning Commission Meeting
The Planning Commission Meeting is a formal public hearing that allows public input and makes a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners. Learn more about the Planning Commission Meeting >>

 

Weeks 7-8

Final Planning Staff Analysis
Before the Board of Commissioners meeting, the county planning staff creates an updated, detailed final report with their recommendation and comments.

Board of Commissioners Meeting
In the last week, during this formal public hearing with public input, county commissioner(s) will make a final vote on the application based on public input, staff reports and previous recommendations from the Community Council & Planning Commission. Learn more about the Board of Commissioners Meeting >>

Notice is Posted
A blue sign is placed on the property to advertise the upcoming Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. This only happens if the developer is requesting variances from the Board of Appeals. Learn more about the Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting >>

Download a DeKalb County, GA Rezone Calendar!

Download or subscribe to our .ics calendar using your favorite calendar program, such as Google, Microsoft Outlook or iCal (Mac).

Subscribe to our public calendar file

24es5fgj8nk6cia838nbbv18po@group.calendar.google.com

* Our calendar file is based on the official 2018 Rezone Calendar and is to be used for reference only. Always verify your meeting dates with the official calendars available on the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning website.

Download or subscribe to our .ics calendar using your favorite calendar program, such as Google, Microsoft Outlook or iCal (Mac).

Subscribe to our public calendar file

24es5fgj8nk6cia838nbbv18po@group.calendar.google.com

* Our calendar file is based on the official 2018 Rezone Calendar and is to be used for reference only. Always verify your meeting dates with the official calendars available on the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning website.

Download or subscribe to our .ics calendar using your favorite calendar program, such as Google, Microsoft Outlook or iCal (Mac).

Subscribe to our public calendar file

24es5fgj8nk6cia838nbbv18po@group.calendar.google.com

* Our calendar file is based on the official 2018 Rezone Calendar and is to be used for reference only. Always verify your meeting dates with the official calendars available on the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning website.

Zoning Terms You Should Know

There are several terms that are used throughout the zoning process. Once you understand a few of the basic terms, it should help you communicate more effectively with the developer & planning staff. You can find a more complete list of important zoning terms and definitions in our Zoning Glossary.

Example Zoning Conditions, taken from a recent Mixed-Use Development in DeKalb County, GA

Conditions

Conditions are a set of additional written rules or regulations that are added to the zoning application. Zoning conditions are usually recommended by the planning department, community council, planning commission or district commissioner(s). Not every zoning application has conditions, but they are a useful tool to ensure certain guidelines are followed once the application gets approved. For example, common conditions can include regulations on building height, use of certain building materials, signage rules, landscaping details or building a fence. Once the conditions are attached and approved along with the application, they are valid and enforceable for the life of the zoning.

Click here to see an example list of conditions for a recently approved mixed-use development. [PDF]

 

Variances

A zoning variance can be requested by the developer to provide flexibility by allowing variations from the zoning ordinance. For example, a developer building a large mixed-use project wants to build a 7-story building, but the zoning code only allows for 6-stories in that area. The developer can apply for a variance to raise the building height. Once the zoning is approved by the Board of Commissioners, the application then goes to the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve or deny the variance application.

Other examples of common variance requests include reduced parking requirements, reduced setbacksThe distance which a building is set back from a property line, street or road, a river or stream, or any other place which is deemed to need protection. Not to be confused with a Buffer. (allowing building closer to property line), increased density (adding more apartments than code allows) or reduced green space.

Click here to see an example list of variances for a recently approved mixed-use development.

 

Recommendation vs. Final Decision

It’s important to understand the difference between a recommendation and a final decision. The Community Council, Planning Commission and Planning staff all make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners. Those recommendations are NOT legally binding, instead, act as guidance so the Board of Commissioners can make an informed & educated Final Decision.

I’ve seen several instances where neighbors opposing a development think they’ve “won” when the Community Council votes for a denial. Be aware that the vote is just a recommendation for the remaining governing bodies to consider and ultimately ending with a legally binding final decision from the Board of Commissioners. Regardless of the voting result (including a Deferral or Denial), the application will still advance to the next meeting and will ultimately be heard the Board of Commissioners.

Zoning Terms You Should Know

There are several terms that are used throughout the zoning process. Once you understand a few of the basic terms, it should help you communicate more effectively with the developer & planning staff. You can find a more complete list of important zoning terms and definitions in our Zoning Glossary.

Conditions

Conditions are a set of additional written rules or regulations that are added to the zoning application. Zoning conditions are usually recommended by the planning department, community council, planning commission or district commissioner(s). Not every zoning application has conditions, but they are a useful tool to ensure certain guidelines are followed once the application gets approved. For example, common conditions can include regulations on building height, use of certain building materials, signage rules, landscaping details or building a fence. Once the conditions are attached and approved along with the application, they are valid and enforceable for the life of the zoning.

Click here to see an example list of conditions for a recently approved mixed-use development.
Example Zoning Conditions, taken from a recent Mixed-Use Development in DeKalb County, GA

 

Variances

A zoning variance can be requested by the developer to provide flexibility by allowing variations from the zoning ordinance. For example, a developer building a large mixed-use project wants to build a 7-story building, but the zoning code only allows for 6-stories in that area. The developer can apply for a variance to raise the building height. Once the zoning is approved by the Board of Commissioners, the application then goes to the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve or deny the variance application.

Other examples of common variance requests include reduced parking requirements, reduced setbacks (allowing building closer to property line), increased density (adding more apartments than code allows) or reduced green space.

Click here to see an example list of variances for a recently approved mixed-use development.

 

Recommendation vs. Final Decision

It’s important to understand the difference between a recommendation and a final decision. The Community Council, Planning Commission and Planning staff all make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners. Those recommendations are NOT legally binding, instead, act as guidance so the Board of Commissioners can make an informed & educated Final Decision.

I’ve seen several instances where neighbors opposing a development think they’ve “won” when the Community Council votes for a denial. Be aware that the vote is just a recommendation for the remaining governing bodies to consider and ultimately ending with a legally binding final decision from the Board of Commissioners. Regardless of the voting result (including a Deferral or Denial), the application will still advance to the next meeting and will ultimately be heard the Board of Commissioners.

Understand the Voting Process

When a governing body such as the Community Council, Planning Commission or County Commissioners make a motion to vote, there are several voting options they can choose. Below, you’ll find a list of those options and what they mean. It’s important to mention that every option listed may not be available to all councils.

Approval

Acceptance of a resolution or application.

Approval with Conditions

Acceptance of a resolution or application but with conditions attached, setting additional rules & regulations to the application.

Two-Week Deferral

Delaying an application for further review for two weeks, to be heard again at the next Board of Commissioners regular morning meeting; many times without additional public comment. This is common if a zoning application needs a little more work, but not enough to result in a full-cycle deferral. The public hearing at the next Board of Commissioners regular meeting starts at 10am!

Full-Cycle Deferral

Delaying an application for further review to the next cycle, sending it back to be re-heard again by the Community Council, Planning Commission, and ultimately, the Board of Commissioners. Full-cycle deferrals are usually a result of incomplete or complicated site plans or a need to allow additional public input.

Denial

If an application for rezoning is denied, then no portion of the same property may be considered for rezoning again for 2 years (24 months).

Withdrawal

Otherwise known as Withdrawal With Prejudice. In the formal legal world, a court case that is dismissed with prejudice means that it is dismissed permanently. A case dismissed with prejudice can’t be brought back to court. Alternately, a case dismissed without prejudice means the opposite. This option is uncommon to the planning & zoning process and is only included here for reference.

Withdrawal Without Prejudice

A zoning application withdrawn without prejudice simply means it can be resubmitted at a later date. A developer will sometimes voluntarily choose Withdrawal Without Prejudice when they think the application could be denied by the Board of Commissioners. This lets them avoid the 2-year moratorium on rezoning the property.

Abstain

If a member has a business interest or other conflict with an application, they have the opportunity to abstain from voting if it is deemed appropriate.

Approval

Acceptance of a resolution or application.

Approval with Conditions

Acceptance of a resolution or application but with conditions attached, setting additional rules & regulations to the application.

Two-Week Deferral

Delaying an application for further review for two weeks, to be heard again at the next Board of Commissioners regular morning meeting; many times without additional public comment. This is common if a zoning application needs a little more work, but not enough to result in a full-cycle deferral. The public hearing at the next Board of Commissioners regular meeting starts at 10am!

Full-Cycle Deferral

Delaying an application for further review to the next cycle, sending it back to be re-heard again by the Community Council, Planning Commission, and ultimately, the Board of Commissioners. Full-cycle deferrals are usually a result of incomplete or complicated site plans or a need to allow additional public input.

Denial

If an application for rezoning is denied, then no portion of the same property may be considered for rezoning again for 2 years (24 months).

Withdrawal

Otherwise known as Withdrawal With Prejudice. In the formal legal world, a court case that is dismissed with prejudice means that it is dismissed permanently. A case dismissed with prejudice can’t be brought back to court. Alternately, a case dismissed without prejudice means the opposite. This option is uncommon to the planning & zoning process and is only included here for reference.

Withdrawal Without Prejudice

A zoning application withdrawn without prejudice simply means it can be resubmitted at a later date. A developer will sometimes voluntarily choose Withdrawal Without Prejudice when they think the application could be denied by the Board of Commissioners. This lets them avoid the 2-year moratorium on rezoning the property.

Abstain

If a member has a business interest or other conflict with an application, they have the opportunity to abstain from voting if it is deemed appropriate.

Voting Results

A recorded vote is usually displayed like this: 5-3-1 (In Favor-Opposed-Abstaining). So in this example, there are 5 members in favor, 3 opposed and 1 member abstaining.

You can find the voting results of a previous board by referring to the meeting minutesWritten record of a meeting or hearing. They typically describe the events of the meeting and may include a list of attendees, a statement of the issues considered by the participants, and related res... (which are a written record of a meeting or public hearing). Meeting minutes can be found on the DeKalb County Public Hearing Agendas & Info page. Do a search for ‘minutes‘ and you’ll find a result for each meeting. Note: The community council & planning commission minutes are listed as ‘recommendations’).

Next Step!

Now that you know the basics of the Zoning Process,
let’s look closer at each of the important meetings…

Next Step!

Now that you know the basics of the Zoning Process,
let’s look closer at each of the important meetings…