In its first meeting, the Brookhaven Zoning Board of Appeals denied a controversial variance request from a restaurateur before packed crowd.
“The little white house,” which served as home base for the Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven during the city’s startup, is being eyed as the future home of a restaurant. Scott Serpas, chef of Serpas True Food in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, wants to use the small Caldwell Road bungalow for his next dining venture.
The property, at the corner of Caldwell and Dresden drives, falls within the Brookhaven Peachtree overlay zoning district, which requires all new construction be at least two stories and no less than 28 feet high.
Serpas requested the variance in the hopes of building an addition to the house while leaving it at one story.
“Given that we face Caldwell and we’re on the border of the neighborhood district, the requirement of a 28-foot addition… doesn’t seem appropriate,” said architect Michael DeCarlo. “We want to keep the rooflines low and really keep it looking like an old house.”
DeCarlo said a restaurant in the house would serve as a natural transition between the bustling Village Place development on Dresden Drive and the adjacent neighborhoods.
Many residents packed into the small Brookhaven Bank conference room where the meeting was held March 4 to express support or opposition to the project.
Jeff Mueller, who was in favor of the application, said he didn’t think the second floor was practical.
“It’s actually counter-productive to the neighborhood. I like that they’re going to keep the bungalow feel. I’ve looked at the plans and I think they’re spot on,” Mueller said.
Brookhaven staff recommended approving the variance application. “Staff finds that to compel this property, which is on the outer edge of the overlay boundary, directly across the street from a stable neighborhood comprised of one-story, low-pitched roof homes, to develop at this scale is inappropriate,” staff members wrote in a memorandum to the board.
City Planner Howard Koontz said the intention of the overlay is to guide new development, not additions to existing buildings.
“It’s an adaptive reuse, not a tear down/rebuild,” Koontz said. “Staff can see the efficacy of the request.”
Several members of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance, an organization that acts as a guard dog for the overlay, spoke out against the application.
Thomas Porter said the property does not meet the hardship requirements for a variance. “There’s nothing unusual about this lot,” he said.
He also argued that there are several other issues with the proposal.
“You’re providing 10 parking spaces for a restaurant that would seat 100 people,” Porter said. “They’re going to park on every residential street there is. Already there’s a lack of parking in this area. It’s going to be unsafe. There’s no sidewalks.”
Dan Woodley, the original developer of Dresen Drive’s Village Place, said the variance request is “not right.”
“It completely undermines the overlay district,” Woodley said. “The people of Brookhaven want quality development. They don’t deserve this mismatched plan.”
Ultimately, ZBA sided with opponents, citing insufficient proof that a variance is necessary.
Board member Cory Self made the motion to deny the application. “I don’t see any lot restrictions that prevent them from doing a two-story building. I don’t believe this is an undue burden,” Self said.
Hope Bawcom seconded the motion. “I do feel granting it would be a special privilege. There are other businesses in the same area that have complied with the overlay,” Bawcom said.