What is a Pre-Submittal meeting?

The Pre-Submittal meeting is the first official public meeting required by DeKalb County during the rezoning process. Before the applicant (usually a developer, investor or landowner) can can submit their zoning application to the county, they have to share their ideas with the public. This Pre-Submittal meeting is designed to put the citizens first, so they can learn about the proposed project, provide input and share their concerns with the developer. The developer or property owner can use this public input and often modify their site plan based on suggestions they receive. It’s the first step in the planning and zoning process and can be a valuable asset for DeKalb County residents when shaping our communities. Let’s learn more about Pre-Submittal meetings and how they work!

When and where are Pre-Submittal meetings held?

Pre-Submittal meetings are always held close to the property in question.

Unlike the Community Council meeting, which is held at the same time and location each cycle, the Pre-Submittal meeting is held close to the community where the property is located. According to a development manual found on the DeKalb planning website, the applicant must hold a publicized Pre-Submittal community meeting with surrounding neighborhood associations and/or community groups within one-half (1/2) mile of the subject property. This also includes adjacent and nearby property owners within five hundred (500) feet of the subject property.

The applicant can choose where to hold the meetings, but they are required to be scheduled at 7pm on weekdays (Monday – Friday). This allows local residents a better opportunity to attend the meetings after work or dinner, when it’s a little more convenient. The meetings can be held at a variety of places, but many times they’re scheduled at a local library, church, bank or community center. Regardless of the location, the meeting has to stay within that half mile radius to allow local residents a better chance to attend.

DeKalb County requires the applicant to notify the public of the Pre-Submittal meeting in writing, which is usually a mailed letter. Mailed notifications must be sent at least 15 day before the meeting occurs. These mailing go out to property owners adjacent or nearby to the subject property. Unfortunately, these mailings can be easy to overlook or are insufficiently distributed. It’s not uncommon for local residents to miss the Pre-Submittal meeting due to mailing errors or misplaced notices. I’ve seen many residents confuse these notices for junk mail or spam and just toss them away. These common errors highlight the importance having a well-organized neighborhood to ensure community awareness of important local events! Consider joining a neighborhood-focused group such as Nextdoor so you can stay informed!

What happens during the Pre-Submittal meeting?

Gathering information is important when learning about an application.

At the beginning of each Pre-Submittal meeting, the applicant will usually display large maps or drawings of their current site plan. Sometimes the developer will include smaller printed plans for each member of the community to keep. During the Pre-Submittal meeting, you should expect a full rundown of what the site plan includes. The developer should discuss their intentions and what kind of impact it will have on the community. Once the applicant has completed their initial presentation, they usually open the floor to take questions from the community. This is where your questions, concerns and input can make a big difference! The questions you ask will help expand on topics that the developer either missed during their presentation or, in some cases, purposely omitted.

The Pre-Submittal Meeting is the key time in zoning process to ask the most questions. There aren’t many other opportunities in the zoning process where you can have a quality Q & A session with the developer, which makes the Pre-Submittal meeting unique. The Community Council meeting, the next official public meeting, usually allows time for public questions but it’s not uncommon for these meeting to run late. This reduces the the amount of time allotted for each agenda item and you may not get a chance to ask your question(s). This is especially true if the agenda is full and/or your item appears last in the lineup. You can find the current rezone agenda on the DeKalb Planning website. Find out where your item is in the list and be prepared!

A meeting for the community

Don’t expect public officials to be at the Pre-Submittal meeting.

It’s important to note that the Pre-Submittal meeting is specifically intended for the public, not necessarily county officials. I often hear frustrated neighbors at the Pre-Submittal meeting with complaints such as “Where are our commissioners? Why aren’t they here?”. It’s natural to look for guidance from our representatives when confronted with a process you may not be familiar with. However, the design of this meeting is for the public to directly engage with the developer, not with county officials quite yet (those chances will come in later meetings). County Commissioners, Planning Staff members and other officials are typically not in attendance for the Pre-Submittal meeting. The benefit to this is that as a neighborhood, you can take your findings from this meeting and formally present your concerns and ideas directly to the Community Council, Planning Commission and County Commissioners. These governing bodies rely on your input, in your own words, to make their recommendations.

Although it’s not required by the county, Community Council or Planning Commission members will sometimes attend Pre-Submittal meetings. They usually come in an “unofficial” capacity and are there just as curious & concerned citizens. Sometimes they’ll offer advice or clarity on a topic, but many times they’re there just to learn about the development and provide oversight only when needed.

Asking the right questions

Learn as much as you can about the development by asking important questions!

Out of all the meetings in the zoning process, the Pre-Submittal meeting will give you the most one-on-one time with the developer. It’s important to ask as many meaningful questions as you can. If you’re new to the process, unsure of the site plan or not familiar with the area, you may not know what questions you should ask. To help, I’ve compiled a list of common questions that should get you started. Use these questions as a basic guide so you can cover as many topics as possible. Take detailed notes and notate the questions the developer doesn’t have answers to. If you think of something that may be relevant to the property or how it impacts your neighborhood, just ask! Remember, every neighborhood and development is different and requires its own set of zoning guidelines and questioning.

Creating a site plan involves several trained professions such as engineers, hydrologists, arborists and surveyors. These specialized fields each require a particular set of skills and knowledge. We shouldn’t expect a developer to be an expert in every topic. If the applicant doesn’t have an answer to your important drainage question, let them contact their hydrologist and get back to you. It’s better to wait and get an accurate, thorough answer rather than having them take an uninformed guess at the meeting. Be sure to get their contact information after the meeting and follow up with them in a day or two with your question(s).

Asking a variety of questions can serve two purposes during your Pre-Submittal meeting. The first is pretty obvious; you ask a question and you get an answer! The second purpose, however, is more of a test. Think of it almost like a job interview. If you find that the applicant is constantly struggling to find answers to your questions or doesn’t have physical evidence to support their proposal (such as detailed site plans or professional studies), then maybe they aren’t as well prepared as we would expect them to be. Maybe there’s a lot they need to consider before moving forward. This will give you a good gauge on how well they’ve thought their process through and identify red-flags as they arise. Your community can use this information to determine the steps you should take moving forward at the next meetings.

Site plans can change

Developers often update site plans based on community input.

We have to remember that developers all have different amounts of experience and skill levels. Sometimes even a skilled, well-established developer can overlook some relatively obvious things from a site plan. Many times, they rely heavily on their planner or architect to include fine details. For instance, I’ve seen a site plan from a large development with nearly 400 apartments where the developer forgot to put dumpsters in the plan! It seems like such a small thing to miss, but when every square inch of a site is accounted for, it’s a critical omission that could be costly to fix and could drastically change the layout of the site plan.

When you start to think of all the different aspects a large development takes to function properly, it’s almost overwhelming! Because of this, use common sense when asking questions. If the developer doesn’t know what style of street lighting is going in or maybe how many bike racks there are, that’s OK. Site plans can be fluid and may change quite often throughout the zoning process – even up to the day it’s approved by the Board of Commissioners. Meaningful communication with the developer and your Commissioner(s) can clear up many issues you may have. Ultimately, working together could enhance the property in the developer’s favor as well as your neighborhood’s favor.

If all else fails, ask for another meeting!

It’s important to stay thoroughly informed during the zoning process.

Pre-Submittal meetings can be stressful. When you gather together long-time residents with a new developer who wants to change the view from their back window, modify their daily routine or threaten the integrity of of their neighborhood, tempers can flare. Plus, if it’s a large or complicated site plan, the amount of information you need to learn can easily be overwhelming. If you feel the developer has fallen short of some key points, they haven’t covered all the topics you were hoping they would or you think some of your neighbors were disenfranchised by not receiving notice letters of the meeting, the best thing to do is ask for another meeting. It’s a simple request and most developers would be happy to oblige.

Although is not required by DeKalb County, many developers who are determined or more experienced in the process may voluntarily hold several public input meetings. This helps the community engage in public discussion and strengthens the bond between the developer and the community at large.

Only request additional meetings if you think it would invoke meaningful discussion, encourage a larger turnout or promote clarification on key subjects. Remember that renting venues for meetings and printing extra materials can cost time and money. Be mindful of the cost and time it takes the developer to assemble another meeting.

Pre-Submittal Meeting Pro Tips:

Remember these important tips to ensure a successful meeting.

Bring a notepad and pen for notes

Taking detailed notes is critical so you can refer to them when you do research & address the Community Council.

at the door

Developers are required to have sign-in sheets at the door and it's important you include your name. This show's proof that a Pre-Submittal meeting was held and helps determine how many people were in attendance.

Ask for larger site plans if necessary

If the applicant gives you small or completely illegible printouts of the plans, request larger or better quality prints. An 8.5″ x 11″ (letter size) is acceptable but an 11″ x 17″ (tabloid) is sometimes more appropriate if the site plan is complex. The larger 11″ x 17″ size will show more detail and is the standard choice for most developers.

Ask for another meeting if needed!

Remember, if you think another meeting would benefit the community or if there’s a lot of changes happening in the site plan, request another meeting. They can be held anytime, before or after the Community Council or Planning Commission meetings. Additional meetings are not uncommon and are encouraged if you or your neighbors feel you need more information.

Help cleanup after the meeting

If your meeting place is at a public facility like a library or community center, offer to help tidy up afterwards if you have time. This is usually just stacking chairs or moving tables back. Our librarians shouldn’t be tasked with cleaning up after each meeting. A little help can go a long way!

Try to eat before the meeting if possible

Eating a meal before the meeting will supply you with energy and attentiveness in case your meeting runs late.

Next Step!

The next public meeting is the Community Council meeting.
Let’s take a look at what to expect!

Next Step!

The next public meeting is the Community Council meeting.
Let’s take a look at what to expect!