By Jason Massad

It might not be easy to revamp the historic “heart” of Dunwoody – an aging shopping district with distinctive colonial architecture located around Chamblee Dunwoody and Mount Vernon Roads.

But anything worth doing is worth doing correctly, city officials say.

The city has begun an initial round of community-input meetings. The meetings are casting a wide net in order to help articulate the community’s vision and create buy-in from residents for the future of Dunwoody Village.

The area is anchored by the Cheek-Spruill Farmhouse, also known as Dunwoody Farmhouse, and surrounded by aging shopping centers and well-established neighborhoods like Ashworth, The Branches, Vernon North and Cedarhurst.

But why is the district the “heart” of the city of Dunwoody? City officials themselves aren’t exactly sure.

“I would say that phrase means different things to different people,” said Kimberly Greer, assistant to the city manager. “It is a very important area to a lot of our residents.”

The city is moving forward with a plan that would modernize the area without losing the “sense of place” evoked by the distinctive red-brick architecture. Two upcoming meetings will further define local residents’ vision of Dunwoody Village.

Bill Grossman, head of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, said that he would reserve judgment on a Dunwoody Village plan until it becomes clearer. He said the Dunwoody Homeowners Association originated decades ago in response to proposals for multi-story apartment buildings in and around the area.

Whether or not to include residential development at Dunwoody Village is “an issue that is to be identified during the Dunwoody master planning process, and that’s an eight-month project,” Grossman said.

Forecasting an economic upswing, Greer said in the next five to 10 years the area could be well positioned to attract developments, such as mid-scale restaurants, retail boutiques, office space and townhomes.

“We need to consider the things that the market is telling us,” she said.

The architecture of the district is – technically speaking – pre-1900s, mid-Atlantic American Colonial, Greer said. The distinctive look of the area is somewhat of a polarizing issue, as is the issue of whether to build lofts or townhomes in what could become a retail, commercial and residential space as the district attracts developers.

Regarding the architecture, Greer said, “Some people really love it and some people could take it or leave it,” she said. “The people who really like it want other s to know that it’s a historic and special place.”

A recent round of meetings would suggest that the redevelopment of the area is drawing plenty of interest.

More than 200 people attended a kickoff meeting in September. A focus-group meeting on Oct. 28 attracted more than 80 people who talked about things they liked and wanted to preserve in the area and about areas that could be improved. A Publix shopping center in the northwest corner of the area, for instance, is a convenience of the shopping district, they said.

But certain areas are sensitive in the redevelopment of the village. Buffers that separate the district from homes that ring the area are a hot topic. So is whether to add any apartments, condos or townhomes.

“Dunwoody Village is surrounded by single family homes, so we need to be aware of transitions and buffers,” Greer said. “Residential is a polarizing issue. We have heard areas in favor and those who are very heavily against it.”

The city’s comprehensive plan outlines an area that is a mixed-use development that is walkable and that encourages developers to create green spaces that will be community assets both inside and outside the district.

Warren Hutmacher, Dunwoody city manager, said the planning process is a way to inform city leaders about where to make public investments to the district, like the improvement of sidewalks.

“We need to know what they would like to see Dunwoody Village turn into so we know where to make additional public investments,” he said.