The developer for a planned restaurant/retail building at the visible corner of Mount Vernon and Chamblee-Dunwoody roads is set to ask the city to approve a sleeker, more contemporary architectural design they say they need to attract a fast-casual restaurant.
One major problem – the new design doesn’t fit in with the decades-old Dunwoody Village Overlay District.
Crim and Associates, developer of the property at 5419 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, are hoping the city will approve their new design concepts that include a flat roof, black-framed all-glass doors and large windows with no shutters that come together to create a more industrial look.
None of these items are currently allowed in the overlay district. The current overlay district mandates a colonial Williamsburg-style architecture instead.
Crim and Associates got a special land use permit for the property last year to add more parking than allowed in the overlay. At that time, the company also got site-specific approval for a design that fit in with the overlay – all brick, pitched roof, office-like appearance.
But Archie Wanamaker of Crim and Associates, during a June 4 open house community meeting on the patio of a busy Marlow’s Tavern in Dunwoody Village, said his company can’t find restaurants that want to locate in the original design.
Crim and Associates is ready to sign a deal with a Florida-based fast casual Mexican restaurant, which he described as a “Chipotle-lite.” But the restaurant owner wants the new design, not the old one, Wanamaker said. He did not name names but said they were seeking two tenants.
“This would be great if it was a bank,” he said of the original design. “But nobody wants another bank.”
The Williamsburg architectural style is out-of-date for the city where younger people are moving, where companies like State Farm are located and where people want hipper options, he said.
“People in Dunwoody are crying out for restaurants and cool stuff,” he said. He also cited Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” and his idea that if you don’t shift, you don’t become great.
“Dunwoody has to change to get to the next stage,” he said.
Crim and Associates is also developing the new Dunwoody Green commercial property at the intersection of North Shallowford Road and Dunwoody Park within the city’s larger Project Renaissance development.
Wanamaker said they have a great deal of interest at the Dunwoody Green site from chef-driven restaurants, breweries and other “cool, sexy, inviting” businesses. “Because we don’t have restrictions,” he said.
But why buy a piece of property knowing it was in the Dunwoody Village Overlay with so many restrictions?
Plans were for Rize Pizza to go into the site and Rize was going to build the building as originally approved, Wanamaker said. Before the deal could be finalized the CEO was fired. When that deal fell through, the hunt was on for a new tenant. The new tenant they found prefers the updated design. And to seal the deal, Crim and Associates must get city approval for the new design.
City officials told Crim and Associates they needed a SLUP to get the new architectural designs approved, which means going before the Planning Commission and City Council again for approval.
But Bob Lundsten, member of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, said they are attempting to change the zoning code and that means getting approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The DHA played a major role in setting up the overlay district.
“Architecture is not part of a SLUP,” Lundsten said at the Marlow’s gathering. “The underlying use is Williamsburg architecture. This is a change in zoning … I may not like the village overlay, but it’s served its purpose for the past 35 years. This is not the way to go about changing it.”
The ZBA also requires an applicant to prove a hardship before a zoning code can be changed.
Wanamaker said their hardship is not being able to find restaurants willing to go into a building with the original design because it looks like an “office building.”
Community Development Director Richard McLeod attended the gathering at Marlow’s. He said he would check with the city attorney to find out what process Crim and Associates needs to take to seek approval for the new design — whether through the Planning Commission or ZBA. Wanamaker said they would do what the city directs them to do but planned to submit plans to the city June 5.
The different looks are part of an evolving attitude within the city about Dunwoody Village. Friends Sheila Levy and Kate Lee happen to represent opposing views and expressed their differences before eating dinner together.
“I actually like it,” Levy said of the new design. A Dunwoody resident for 10 years, Levy said the new architectural design is the shot in the arm the city needs to cater to a younger demographic.
“I think it’s updated and will bring in a newer crowd,” she said. “It’s something trendy.”
But for Lee, whose parents moved to Dunwoody in 1966, the current overlay district is ideal.
“I don’t think we need to go that far,” she said of the newer design, calling it a “jarring difference” from what is in Dunwoody Village now. “Why do we need something trendy?”
Bona Allen, a CFO with a building and design group, moved to Dunwoody in 1969 and said he remembers when the Dunwoody Village property was built out. He liked the new design of the planned building, calling the old design sterile and institutionalized.
“I think it’s time to move on and do some updating,” he said of the restrictions within the overlay district. “I think it’s outdated.”
DHA President Adrienne Duncan was also at the meeting and said the DHA may hold a future community forum to discuss the overlay district.