Thursday, March 06, 2014

Business 'frustrated' by Crabapple overlay.


Flowers From Us, a Crabapple-based florist, is the first business to expand under the Crabapple Overlay Design guidelines. The owners say the whole process has been frustrating and expensive. The city contends it has worked with them to get an acceptable building.

Flowers From Us first to expand under new rules.

Courtesy Jonathan Copsey; The Milton Herald

March 05, 2014 MILTON, Ga. – The Crabapple Overlay District is a set of zoning regulations that seeks to hold the "look" of a building over the use. Formulated in 2012 over a years' worth of public meetings, it includes design guidelines for residential and commercial buildings.

When it was created in 2012, it was seen as a high point in Milton's development.

But if you asked the owners of Flowers From Us what they thought of the Crabapple Overlay District, words like "horrible," "nightmare" and "frustrating" would come to mind.

Sid Flowers and Thom Foreman have spent the past two years expanding their business, located in a small house on Mayfield Road just a block from downtown Crabapple. This expansion was the first under the new guidelines and, they say, left much to be desired.

The pair moved their business 10 years ago from a Dunwoody strip mall into a small 1,500-square-foot house in Crabapple.

"Business has been great here," said Foreman. "We saw a 360 degree turn in businesses [when we moved here]. We found this place and it worked out."

The house is quaint, but certainly small. Flowers and Foreman have a team of floral designers who work with them and when there are several weddings to prepare for, the business can become very tight.

"We needed more room," Foreman said.

The new addition was meant to help this. Primarily an open working area where the flowers will be arranged, the addition would nearly double the footprint of the business.

Unfortunately, over the past two years, the process has been fraught with frustration.

When the pair went to City Hall to seek permits for the addition, their vision was for a barn-looking building attached to the rear of the cottage.

"That vision was rejected when we walked through the door," Flowers said.

What they ended up with was what they called a "New England-style" building that ended up costing them twice what they initially planned. It took nearly two years to get approval.

"Why they didn't leave it equestrian [style], I don't know," Foreman said.

The code describes the style as "Queen Anne."

They grew more upset when they saw the designs for the new Fulton County Public Library a block from their building – it looks like a barn.

The style they went with best fit the house from which they operate. However, as with most things, the devil was in the details, or in this case, the finishes.

Window sizes and spacing, molding, roof type, brick type, stone type and aesthetic accoutrement lengthened the process and inflated the price tag.

"All the aesthetics they wanted us to do raised the cost tremendously," said Foreman. "It doubled what we initially wanted."

Several meetings were held with architects and city planners to hash out a final, approved design.

"We were the first to try to build anything since they did the overlay," Foreman said. "Nobody had an answer."

He said much of the process was frustrating because it seemed to be based on interpretation rather than any code.

In 2012, everyone was still learning the rules of the new overlay, said Milton Community Development Director Kathleen Field.

"Everyone was learning," Field said. "This was a big change from the old way of zoning."

However, she said she and her staff were as accommodating as they could be to help Flowers and Foreman in their expansion.

"We spent a lot of time and several meetings helping them accommodate their plans," she said. "We tried to be as helpful as we could."

Any structure that is built in Crabapple must go through the design review process with the city, said Field. This applies to both residential and commercial properties.

In Crabapple, so far it has been nearly entirely residential buildings that have been built.

"Crabapple is really hot," Field said. "People are looking at every potential development site. We're also starting to see some commercial-related activity. People are coming in with plans."

The development rule of thumb, she said, is that once a recession is over, residential building returns first with commercial and office construction following a year or so behind.

"We are just now starting to see the pick up now in commercial," Field said.

For Flowers From Us, they might not have too much lead time over any possible new businesses. Their expansion is nearly complete and should be open in April.

Flowers and Foreman said the process was such a headache they questioned whether they wanted to give up and take their business elsewhere.

"We want to stay in Milton, but we want the city to know what they are doing to small businesses," said Flowers. "I would absolutely not do it over again."

Field said she and the city helped as best they could.

"I thought we went out of our way to help accommodate their project in the guidelines," she said.

"I think what they ended up with, they will be proud of."

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