Two hotel projects met different fates at the Dunwoody Planning Commission Aug. 8, with one winning approval and the other deferred for more work on details.
Trammell Crow Company’s transit-oriented plan for a 16-story office tower and a 10-story hotel at 1134 Hammond Drive, next to the Dunwoody MARTA Station, won a 3-1 vote recommending future City Council approval with certain conditions.
But Prado Perimeter Center LLC was forced to wait, by a 4-0 vote, until the September meeting for a decision on its plans for a 121 Perimeter Center West. That plan involves adding a 7-story, AC-brand hotel, a 5-story parking garage and a large restaurant alongside an existing building that houses a SunTrust Bank and a Tin Lizzy’s restaurant.
Those are two of three new hotels recently proposed around Perimeter Mall, where they would join an already busy existing hotel market. The other recent proposal is a revived plan for a 12-story hotel and restaurant space at 84 Perimeter Center East, currently a vacant bank that served as a location in this summer’s hit movie “Baby Driver.” That proposal won a unanimous Planning Commission approval recommendation last month.
Three residents who attended the Aug. 8 meeting had some differing reactions to the plans.
Nancy Keita and former mayoral candidate Chris Grivakis criticized both projects to varying degrees for tree loss, traffic increases and urban scale.
“What we’re doing is loving the Perimeter to death” with high-density projects, said Grivakis. By allowing large garages, he said, residents “risk basically pouring cement all over Dunwoody and calling ourselves the parking deck city.”
Keita said her neighbors have taken to using a pun on the city’s name: “Dunwoody, where trees go to be done.”
Wyesha Dillard had a different take. She recently moved from Midtown to Dunwoody to be closer to her Perimeter Center job, part of the younger generation of employees looking for transit-oriented development and a more live-work atmosphere.
“People like me would like to see more things like this,” Dillard told the commission.
Trammell Crow is essentially taking a plan for the office tower, proposed and abandoned last year by developer Transwestern, and adding a hotel. The project requires a special land use permit for increasing the height beyond 35 feet or two stories. It also seeks several variances for reduced setbacks.
The plan retains Transwestern’s concept of erecting the tower in what is now a surface parking lot along Hammond Drive and buying an existing MARTA parking garage for the tower’s use. The tower and the garage would be connected by an elevated walkway.
The hotel would be tucked into a triangular area – also now a surface parking lot — behind the tower and right next to the mall’s massive parking garage. The hotel and the tower would have an elevated walkway and terrace connecting them. Jessica Hill, an attorney for the developers, described the hotel as “screening” the parking garage from view, though as Keita pointed out, it is now screened by large trees that would be cut down for the project.
Traffic was one point that drew commission questions. The only direct traffic study related to the project was one Transwestern did for its original, 20-story tower proposal, before city officials reduced it to 16 stories and that developer sold out. Instead of a new traffic study, Trammell Crow representatives said, they conducted a comparison of the two projects’ size and uses and determined that rush-hour traffic would be lower, by 7.9 percent in the morning and 1.4 percent in the evening.
However, a city staff memo noted that the comparison also found that the overall daily traffic volume would be 7.1 percent higher. Commissioner Thomas O’Brien asked whether there is any industry standard for making such a comparison-based traffic estimate; Trammell Crow representatives did not answer directly, saying only that there is a standard for determining traffic “levels of service.”
The commission voted to recommend approval of the project with staff-suggested conditions, mostly related to allowing future sidewalks and bicycle paths, and with the understanding that the plan will allow for a potential connection to the proposed Perimeter Park north of the station.
“This is something that’s both good for the city and good for the development,” said commissioner Paul Player.
The single “no” vote came from commissioner Renate Herod, who said the area should have “special” hotels.
“I just don’t see how a hotel between the back of a building and a parking garage can be special,” she said.
121 Perimeter Center West
The commission decided that the Perimeter Center West plan was not ready, as the developers and city staff continue to negotiate over permission to rearrange the site.
The developers need approval to amend the site plan as rezoned in 2010. They also need a special land use permit for height; to ignore or change newly imposed streetscape requirements; and to allow the bank’s drive-through to be moved to a spot visible from the street. Most of those requests are still being debated.
In addition, the parking garage needs a variance to reduce a 40-foot setback to 10 feet. That would put its wall only 20 feet away from a neighboring apartment building’s balconies, according to a city staff memo. Den Webb, an attorney for the developers, said that without the setback, the smaller footprint would mean the garage might have to be an additional story taller, making it nearly as tall as the hotel it would serve.
On the streetscape standards, Webb said the developers have a counter-proposal for Perimeter Center West that would save trees by re-routing a sidewalk. But staff members indicated they had only seen some of those plans on the day of the meeting. Webb also said the developers want out of a city request to turn an existing east-west driveway through the property into a full-fledged, public-access street, which he suggested was both illegal and infeasible.
The drive-through relocation is key to the plan, Webb said, but also could be affected by other elements the developers themselves are unsure of, including the legal status of a shed on the property.
“We cannot do this deal unless we find someplace else for that drive-through to go,” Webb said. He also asked the commission to recommend approval of the plan contingent on working out streetscape details and by converting some of the staff’s recommended language from “will” to “would.”
The commission was not ready to make a decision, and among the advice from chair Bob Dallas was to work on a nicer design for the parking garage.