Business was brisk on an unusually warm recent Friday afternoon at Under the Pecan Tree, located in The Shops of Dunwoody.
Nearly a half-dozen people were in the quaint shop, sauntering through the aisles looking at all kinds of jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, rings.
“A lot of people walk to the store, especially on Saturdays,” said owner Amanda Scoles.
Walking is part of the overall plan for the Dunwoody Village Overlay District where The Shops of Dunwoody are located. The area’s distinct Williamsburg architectural style, with brick exteriors, is designed to create a town center feel while attracting people to the area via restaurants and boutique shops.
“We usually have plenty of parking because we’re open during the day and the restaurants stay open in the evening,” Scoles said. But now that a Vintage Pizza is opening across the lot (“Yay!” cheered Scoles), the parking may become even tighter.
“Who knows what will happen?” Scoles asked.
Parking has long been an issue with the Village Overlay District, approved nearly a decade ago. Recently, a string of businesses, including the relocated SunTrust Bank, have asked for and received special land use permits for more parking than is allowed by the Village Overlay.
On Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, across the street from Under the Pecan Tree, the owner of the Chevron gas station want to sell his business property to developer Jacob Lang so he can find a new, bigger location. Lang wants to put in a nearly 10,000-square-foot building with space for a 6,200-square-foot restaurant and 2,500 square feet of retail space. The site abuts the Dunwoody Village shopping center and its parking lot.
To do what he envisions, Lang needs more parking than is allowed in the overlay district – 4.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet rather than 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet — and he’s asking the City Council for a SLUP. The council is expected to vote on the request March 13.
But the owners of the Dunwoody Village property, Regency Centers, are fighting against the SLUP because they believe no matter how much parking Lang gets, patrons to his development will end up parking in their lot, taking away already limited space for their tenants.
Regency attorney Kathy Zikert said in an interview most restaurants require 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet. If Lang redevelops the Chevron station, there is no way there will be enough parking for his customers and Regency tenants customers, she said.
“And we can’t build a drawbridge or moat to keep them out,” Zikert said, half-joking.
“We have wanted more parking for years,” she said. “The overlay standard is to get people to walk. But there isn’t enough [density]. Dunwoody Village will always be a vehicular attraction.”
Ian McPherson, who owns Ruin Skateshop in Dunwoody Village and just around the corner from the Chevron station, said his side of the shopping center rarely has too little parking. He said he likes Dunwoody Village because of its “neighborhood-centric feel.”
“I like that it’s strict and looks old-school,” he said.
But the town center vibe the city wants is just not there, he added. Other than Bruster’s ice cream shop, the businesses surrounding Ruin are dentists and a dance studio – businesses that require appointments. He said he wished there were more retail stores where people can walk in and shop.
“There needs to be something to do here, to bring people in,” he said. “Everything here is restaurants — that’s the only thing that survives here. We need more retail. Right now, it’s just us and Walgreens.”
Lang said he’s a strong advocate for overlay districts in general, but until a new development comes along the problems with them may not always be readily apparent. “And that’s why you have a SLUP and variance process,” he said.
The 3-to-1 ratio for restaurants may work better at urban Atlanta locations because of high density areas where people live in apartments close to restaurant and retail centers, Lang said. “There’s a lot more single-family homes in Dunwoody,” he said.
Lang said Regency is trying to make his development an argument to the city for why Dunwoody Village needs more parking.
Zikert said, however, the city is “caught between a rock and a hard place.”
“The city is not the culprit,” she said.