After the city of Atlanta decided to propose amending its zoning ordinance to address the problem of party houses, Sandy Springs could follow suit.
“We’ve got enough warning that it’s a growing problem,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said. “And with Atlanta coming down with strict legislation, that’s going to push the problem into Sandy Springs. So we can’t sit back and wait and hope it doesn’t come.
“We need to anticipate it’s a likely result of what the city of Atlanta has done. So we’ve got to do something. It’s clear we have to make changes to our code and then if someone does throw a party of this type, we must get on top of it quickly and get it under control. If it’s not legal, shut it down quickly.”
At the Atlanta City Council’s July 1 meeting, District 8 Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents part of Buckhead, introduced legislation in partnership with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her office to amend the city’s 1982 zoning ordinance to better regulate party houses, which are homes used illegally for large-scale commercial events that often cause public safety and quality-of-life problems for local neighborhoods.
The proposed law change comes after residents living near a home at 4499 Garmon Road in Buckhead reported of a party there June 29. The same house reportedly hosted similar parties in 2018.
In Sandy Springs a recent party house at 4889 Northland Drive drew the ire of eight residents who spoke out against it at the June 18 city council meeting. Shortly after the Neighbor published an article about that party house, two residents contacted the newspaper about two other recent party houses in that city.
The residents, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they were contacting their local council members (Andy Bauman and John Paulson, respectively) to inform them of the party houses in hopes of some action being taken.
The first resident said a party house near Lake Forrest Drive used his street for overflow parking. The same rental house, the resident said, has been used as a location for TV show or movie shoots, and the producers for those shows and films have been professional about warning residents they would be filming there.
“But there is no warning about the parties taking place in the house,” the resident said.
The second resident said a party house on Regency Circle, a small private street with one house and two vacant lots, also was an issue for neighbors, hosting one party in late May and another in early June.
“There was security present but the police were eventually called due to the noise and other concerns given by neighbors calling 911,” said that resident, who lives nearby.
But more of an issue, the second resident said, is the fact that it’s a rental property and there appears to be someone living the house, but the individual residing there also appears to be operating a commercial business related to the music industry.
“It’s a code enforcement issue with the way the house is serving as a business and it occasionally hosts parties. Many cars are coming in and out all day,” that resident said. “We feel concerned that code enforcement is having a hard time seeing to it that the codes on business activities in residential homes are followed. ...
“My understanding is you can’t run a (home-based) business where you have outside employees coming and going and have multiple customers coming in and out all the time. These are things that are in place (there). When you see six or eight cars outside, it looks like that’s the case, with people coming and going. … It’s like code enforcement is not interpreting its own codes here.”
Of those two party houses, Paul said, “We’re in the process of trying to identify those and want to make sure those owners have a permit. If they want to operate a commercial party, it’s not allowed. We want to make sure the police and code enforcement are aware of it and can intervene if necessary.”
House parties have become a problem in other parts of metro Atlanta, too. According to a WSB-TV report, a July 6 house party in Snellville hosted by singer Rick James’ daughter drew thousands of individuals who parked their vehicles on both sides of a residential street, angering neighbors.
Paul said the party house issue in Buckhead and Sandy Springs is a combination of those communities having several celebrities as residents, some rental home owners wanting to generate revenue and the advent of the online rental market through websites such as www.airbnb.com and www.agoda.com.
“The one on Northland is probably the worst one I’ve heard about,” he said. “We’ve had some smaller ones. I was driving on Heards Ferry (Road) and saw some guys in black T-shirts saying ‘Security.’ It’s how we manage that without violating people’s property rights. (The parties) need to be permitted and the crowds are managed for their choosing.”
Paul said Sandy Springs’ approach to the party house problem is to first “discourage it as much as we can, particularly in residential neighborhoods,” especially when it comes to renting a home just to host a party.
“Oftentimes these parties are not compatible with the neighborhoods,” he said. “The occasional private party is OK but not the large ones. … As long as they don’t interfere with the traffic flow, we don’t want to create an ordinance that limits what people can do (legally) in their neighborhood. …
“If it qualifies for a major party, they have to get a permit and work with our police department. We’re looking at the whole thing. This has kind of been burgeoning in the last year or so.”
Paul said the party house issue is a delicate one because the city doesn’t want to violate residents’ property rights.
“Where do you draw the line?” he said. “That’s the challenge. Is it for a birthday party for five people or 500 people? There’s no question this is a new area. A couple of years ago, it wasn’t so much of a problem.”
The mayor said there’s no timeline on when Sandy Springs could possibly change its zoning ordinance to address the problem, but how Atlanta crafts its amendment likely will dictate what it does.
“We’ll sit down with the legal (department) and see what changes or modifications we need or if we need to start over again based on what Atlanta does,” Paul said.