LAND USE ELEMENT While every element of the Comprehensive Plan is central to implementation of the City’s vision, goals, policies, objectives and strategies, it is this Land Use Element that is most influential in terms of everyday decision-making. The Land Use Element is most often (and properly) cited in support or denial of zoning and other land use changes. The most important graphic of the Comprehensive Plan is the Future Land Use Plan Map, contained and described in this element. It is that map which will continue to be cited as an overall expression of the City’s land use policy, though care must be taken to interpret that map with due regard for this text and its goals, policies, strategies, tools, and objectives.
In many ways, the Land Use Element is the central organizing element of the entire Comprehensive Plan. Natural resource protection goals and policies are necessarily implied within the Land Use Element, where they have not been reiterated or referred to explicitly. Community facilities and services plans are based in large part on the land use patterns and future development potential described in this Land Use Element. The recommended land use patterns reflect the City’s vision and history. Housing policies are integrated in the land use recommendations of the land use plan. Economic development objectives are fulfilled, if not directly recognizable, in terms of the overall design of the land use plan. Transportation plans influence land use patterns and vice versa, and those occurrences are taken into account.
This chapter begins with data and descriptions of how land use has evolved in Roswell since 1969. It is important to recognize and build on prior planning efforts, which include a “701” plan during the era of urban renewal, a development plan in the late 1970s, and Comprehensive Plans prepared for the years 2010 and 2020. The historic data have more than historical value, however, in the sense that Roswell today is a product of prior development patterns and land use outcomes of earlier decades.
A detailed existing land use inventory was provided in the 2020 Plan. Existing land use was updated in this rewrite to account for changes between 2000 and 2004. Major development trends during that time period are summarized here. The 2020 Plan provided a detailed analysis of land use issues, including possible transitions in land use, and prospects for incompatible land use arrangements, among others. Much of that analysis in the 2020 Comprehensive Plan is still relevant for the 2025 planning horizon and is therefore retained in this Land Use Element update. The 2020 Plan organized the discussion of land use issues around eight planning areas, which at the time included some unincorporated fringe areas north and northeast of Roswell. The planning areas have been retained in this revised Land Use Element to the extent that the detailed descriptions of land use trends and issues provided according to those eight planning areas. Unincorporated lands have been dropped from the description and assessment in this update for the year 2025.
Since the 2020 Plan was adopted in the year 2000, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs adopted new minimum planning standards (those effective January 1, 2004). Compliance with that set of planning standards necessitated some additions to the 2020 Land Use Element as adopted in 2000. The 2020 Land Use Element, however, provided extensive information on infrastructure needs, protection of natural resources, identification of infill and redevelopment potential, and other factors directly affecting land use (not required to be discussed in the Land Use Element at that time but which received adequate treatment in the 2020 Plan). To the extent new trends have emerged, or the information in the 2020 Plan would now be incorrect or outdated, this Land Use Element has been modified, updated, or corrected.
This chapter represents a minor update of the adopted 2020 Comprehensive Plan’s Land Use Element. The land use plan, which has been amended in minor ways since the 2020 Plan was adopted in 2000, is still an accurate reflection of the City’s vision, goals and policies. There are some minor changes made to the map to account for differences between actual and planned land uses, but these changes from the 2020 Plan are quite limited in substance.
Finally, the framework for regional planning has further evolved since the 2020 Land Use Element was written. Since the 2020 Comprehensive Plan was prepared and adopted, the Atlanta Regional Commission substantially revised its Regional Development Plan. That new regional plan necessitated significant changes to the Land Use Element adopted in the 2020 Plan in order to realign local and regional policy statements and expectations for land use programs.
HISTORIC LAND USE TRENDS, 1969-1999 Historical Land Use Patterns, 1969 Roswell’s first land use plan was developed in 1969 and 1970 using funds from the Urban Planning Assistance Program authorized by Section 701 of the Housing Act of 1954. In 1969, Roswell covered only about 2,300 acres and had a population of approximately 5,500 and 1,600 housing units. The city limits extended only as far southwest as Willeo Road, the Lake Charles subdivision to the northwest, Alpine Drive to the north, part of Grimes Bridge Road to the northeast, and Big Creek on the east. At that time, the City had annexed land for what later developed as the North Point subdivision.
The overall population density of the City in 1969 was only 6.2 persons per acre. The City in 1969 was generally served by public water. A sewerage collection system serving all of the City’s residential areas was not available, but a general obligation bond referendum had been passed for the construction of a sewer system.
Roswell’s Land Use in 1969
Percent of Developed Land
Residential – single family
Residential – two family
Residential – multi-family
Public and semi-public
Streets and highways
Total developed land
Total land within the City
Source: Field Survey, Kidd-Wright Associates, Inc., November 1969. In Kidd-Wright Associates, Inc. March 1970. Existing Land Use and Housing Study, Roswell, Georgia.
The urban area in 1969, as defined by the Existing Land Use and Housing Study, extended (in a clockwise direction) west to Willeo Creek (the Cobb County line), a straight line running east-west north of Jones Road and Mansell Road, Foe Killer Creek, and a large area east of the North Fulton Freeway (Georgia 400). Much of the land in the “urban” area was scattered rural residential uses, but “rapid” residential development was occurring outside the city limits of Roswell. The first phase of the Martins Landing development was underway along Riverside Road, with perhaps a few dozen homes already constructed. The Existing Land Use and Housing Study notes that Roswell had excellent potential for development of relatively high-income housing. It notes further that the regional development trend was one of outward mobility of higher income groups from Atlanta to the north.
Multi-family development within the city limits existed at Mimosa Boulevard, Renee Drive, Frazier Street, Grove Way, and Myrtle Street. Such developments included 62 units operated by the Roswell Housing Authority. Areas that were considered “blighted” in 1969, or at least potentially qualifying for inclusion in redevelopment projects, were residential neighborhoods along the following roads: Pleasant Hill Street, Bush Street, Sloan Street, and Webb Street. Areas identified as “rehabilitation areas” included Zion Circle, Minhinnette Drive, South Atlanta Street at Jones Drive, Bannister Drive, and West Side Drive.
Commercial development in 1969 was oriented primarily toward U.S. Highway 19 (now SR 9), with older businesses concentrated at Crabapple Road and Alpharetta Street. The study notes that commercial activities in 1970 were “scattered” along the highway in a “random strip fashion.” Moreover, commercial strip development was continuing in a “random, leapfrog pattern” north on U.S. 19 outside the city limits. However, the strip commercial development was found to be not as severe as what was occurring south of Roswell along Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. Roswell had a very small industrial area, containing only six industries, operating close to residential neighborhoods.
Historical Land Use Trends, 1969-1979 Roswell adopted a Future Land Use and Thoroughfare Plan in 1970. However, it quickly became outdated. Due to rapid in-migration to Roswell and the north Fulton County area in the 1970s, Roswell’s basic character underwent a dramatic transformation from a small urban fringe town to a rapidly growing suburban city. Roswell grew from a population of 5,430 in 1970 to more than 20,000 persons by 1978. Major suburban retail development along Alpharetta Street and Holcomb Bridge Road began to occur by 1972. Industrial development had not occurred to any significant extent, although the potential for industrial development was recognized in the Roswell Development Plan (1978). In 1975, commercial employment densities were approximately 6.5 employees per acre, while industrial-wholesale uses averaged approximately 13 employees per acre.
Factors that contributed to the rapid transformation of Roswell during the 1970s included, in addition to an aggressive annexation program: freeway access via Georgia 400 to Perimeter Mall and adjacent employment centers; the availability of large tracts of developable and relatively inexpensive land; increasing disposable incomes of Roswell’s residents; and the existence of public services and utilities. Land use problems and trends during the 1970s included extensive strip commercial development along Alpharetta Street and Holcomb Bridge Road, environmental degradation, and “sprawl and poor land use patterns” (Roswell Development Plan 1978).
Land uses in Roswell’s planning in 1975 are summarized in Table 9.2 below.
Source: Roswell Development Plan, 1978 (Table 9). Percentages calculated by Roswell Planning Staff, 1999.
Roswell began development of a new land use plan in 1975. The Roswell Development Plan, however, was not adopted until Fall 1978. Roswell, by the late 1970s, had substantially expanded its urban area to Willeo Creek, Woodstock Road and Hardscrabble Road to the north, Foe Killer Creek along the northeast, and a substantial area of land east of Georgia 400. Single family residential developments were scattered in all areas of the City. By 1979, major subdivisions had been constructed, including Northpoint, Martins Landing, and Saddle Creek. Subdivision development was also occurring along the north side of Old Alabama Road.
Public sewerage was still a limiting factor on growth in several areas of Roswell by the late 1970s. However, Fulton County was planning construction of a sewer interceptor system to serve most areas within the city limits by the mid-to-late 1980s.
Diversification, 1979-1985 The Roswell Department of Zoning and Inspections (now Community Development) completed an inventory of rezoning actions that were approved between January 1979 and June 1985. These figures, summarized in Table 9.3 below, provide insights as to the nature and type of development activity during that time period.
As can be inferred from Table 9.3, Roswell, in addition to providing for more single-family subdivisions, expanded its multiple-family land (and housing stock) and substantially expanded its non-residential land supply through rezoning. Based on this rezoning information, the Roswell staff compared the numbers to the land use projections for the year 1995 as provided in the Roswell Development Plan. The staff concluded that the City had greatly exceeded many of the future land use projections. In particular (assuming rapid development of rezoned parcels, as was generally the case), by 1985 the City had already exceeded its commercial acreage projected for 1995; there was almost double the acres of office-professional zoning/use that was predicted in the development plan for the year 1995. Industrial zoning was four times the amount in 1985 that was projected for 1995. Interestingly, though not noted in the 1985 report, Roswell had rezoned almost 600 acres of land for medium to high-density residential (i.e., multi-family and townhouse) use, which was roughly equal to the plan’s projection for medium and medium-high residential land in 1995. Hence, in a period of just seven and one-half years, Roswell had met or exceeded the expected pace of development for commercial, office, light industrial, and multiple-family residential uses. During this period, the City had, through the rezoning process, provided for a diversified mix of residential uses (including apartments and townhouses) and a substantial commercial and industrial economic base.
Residential Subdivision Lots and Acreage Approved, 1980-1989
Number of Lots
Note: Figures include fee simple townhouses. * Incomplete data. Source: Roswell Community Development Department, 1999.
In 1980, the Roswell Planning Staff began compiling statistics regarding the number of lots and acreage involved in approved final plats. During the decade of the 1980s, subdividers in Roswell platted almost 5,500 lots on approximately 2,800 acres. Table 9.4 summarizes that information.
Prior to the development of the Comprehensive Plan 2020, the most recent acreage estimates for land use were prepared for the year 1990. Table 9.5 summarizes land use existing in 1990.
Roswell Land Use in 1990
Land Use Category
Approximate Acreage - 1990
Percent of Total Area
Commercial and office
Public and semi-public
Parks and open space
Historic (mixed use)
Source: Roswell Comprehensive Plan 2010
Rezoning Activity, July 1985 to 1999, and Implications
The Roswell Planning Staff undertook an analysis of the rezonings approved since the 1985 Summary of Rezoning Petitions Approved January 1979 to June 1985 was completed. That analysis was done in an effort to identify major land use trends during that period. In addition, such information is useful to the Planning Commission in considering the amount of land zoned for particular categories, which is one of many criteria for considering rezoning requests. The analysis excluded rezonings that were changes of conditions or rezonings of properties that were already partially zoned for the approved zoning category. Attention was also given to the amount of property zoned “from” particular categories as well as “to” various zoning districts, so as to gauge the “net” result of rezoning actions during the fifteen-year period.
Although Roswell rezoned approximately 215 acres to the I-1, Light Industrial, Zoning District, approximately 203 acres were rezoned from the I-1 category. There was very little increase in light industrial acreage during the time period, suggesting that land reserved for light industrial use has been sufficient and/or developed for other uses. Given few, if any, recent requests for I-1 zoning, it appears that the City reached the end of its light industrial land supply given market trends by 1999.
Although the City rezoned 102 acres to O-P, Office Professional from July 1985 to December 1999, it also zoned 99 acres from O-P to other categories, leaving in effect, no net increase in the number of acres of office professional zoning.
However, there was a marked trend toward rezoning to the City’s “multi-story” zoning categories during the time period. Approximately 276 acres were rezoned to office commercial, office professional, and hospital multi-story zoning districts. The implication of this finding is that the office market shifted from offices for individual establishments to a planned mix of office uses in mid-rise structures. Most of these “multi-story” rezonings occurred in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Commercial zoning, primarily highway commercial, increased by 261 acres from 1985 to 1999, suggesting that opportunities for retail and service development were still strong in the marketplace. However, almost all of the areas identified in the City’s land use plan for future commercial development by 1999 were largely built-out, and the City as a result denied commercial zoning requests that were found to be inconsistent with the land use plan.
With regard to multi-family development, there was an increase of approximately 400 acres during the time period. All but approximately 86 acres (most within the “Archstone” apartment complex east of Georgia 400 on Holcomb Bridge Road, which is zoned R-4A), was zoned R-3 which allows up to eight units per acre. Many of the R-3 rezonings occurred during the 1993-1995 time period and were townhouse developments. The higher level of multi-family rezonings approved (not to mention those that were requested but denied), along with more recent trends such as development of townhouses in commercial and industrially-zoned parcels, suggests that there was a significant market for R-3 multiple-family residential development during the time period.
Residential Subdivision Platting Activity, 1990-1998 Final subdivision platting in the 1990s amounted to less than one-half of the number of lots and acres platted in Roswell during the 1980s. However, the amount of subdivision activity was quite significant. Table 9.6 summarizes the annual trends. Note that subdivision platting activity trailed off noticeably in the late 1990s, as vacant residential parcels in Roswell became increasingly scarce. Platting activity for 1999 dropped below 1997 and 1998 paces.