A major development, including a national grocer and restaurants, could soon be under construction in the heart of Perimeter Center. But some local officials wonder why no apartments were included in the proposed project as part of the city’s vision to transform the high-density district into a “live-work” area.

The Dunwoody Planning Commission voted April 9 to recommend approval for Branch Properties to build a shopping center dubbed “Perimeter Marketplace” on about 10 acres between Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Ashwood Parkway and Meadow Lane Road. P.F. Chang’s restaurant is currently the sole open business on the property. The site also includes a stormwater detention pond. The City Council is expected to consider the project next month.

The site plan of the Branch Properties development. (Special)

The shopping center would be anchored by an approximately 25,000 square foot national “prototype” grocer, according to the developer. A RaceTrac gas station and convenience store would be located at the corner of Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Ashwood Parkway and a drive-through bank on Meadow Lane Road. The shopping center would include five one-story buildings fronting the three roads and suited for restaurant or retail. P.F. Chang’s would be relocated into one of the buildings.

The Branch property is located in what is designated as Perimeter Center 2 within the Perimeter Center Overlay District. The Perimeter Center Overlay was approved by the City Council in 2017 and includes requirements for streetscape improvements and pedestrian and bike accessibility.

PC-2 was designated “primarily for employment uses, residential buildings, and limited shopfront retail and services.” Mayor Denis Shortal last year attempted to tweak this definition to include the word “limited” in front of the word “residential” to try to dissuade such development, but his effort failed.

Branch attorney Laurel David was asked by the Planning Commission why this proposed development did not include a residential component as recommended in PC-2.

“If there ever was a day the city of Dunwoody would like to approve an apartment complex, we’d be happy to oblige,” she answered.

The city has not approved building apartments since it incorporated a decade ago. City officials estimate there are nearly 9,500 apartments in the city. The number of single-family homes and multi-family homes, which includes apartments, townhomes and condominiums, is approximately 20,000, according to the city, making the single-family versus multi-family mix in Dunwoody is approximately 50-50.

Planning Commission Chair Bob Dallas pointed out the City Council in December approved 900 for-sale condominiums as part of the Grubb Properties mixed-use development on 20 acres on Perimeter Center East, also in the Perimeter Center Overlay District. David said it was currently difficult to get financing for condominiums due to the pre-sale requirements and Branch was not interested in taking that route.

Grubb Properties had originally proposed building a combination of 1,200 apartments and condos. But backlash from the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and members of the City Council opposing apartments forced the company to agree to build only for-sale condos. The project is expected to be built out over a decade, but no groundbreaking has been set.

Dallas said he believes the city has set a precedent in its pushback against apartments, including with the Grubb development, that discourages developers from wanting to build residential units despite the Perimeter Center Overlay District’s zoning recommendations.

“[I] think historically we’ve set a trend in this city that despite what our zoning code says, despite what our overlay districts say, we don’t allow what they say because we’re so opposed to non-owner-occupied residential,” he said.

Luxury apartments would have been ideal at the Grubb project and at the proposed Branch project, he said.

The city’s Community Development staff noted that the property’s future land use is part of the Perimeter Center Overlay District and is “intended to be developed into livable centers that are to include a mix of housing, first-class office and retail in an environment that includes pedestrian and bicycle-oriented amenities.”

Gasoline sales are also not allowed in the PC-2 district, according to city staff.

“Finally, when evaluating the mix of uses, the project does not include a residential living component; therefore, the site does not create conditions of a true ‘live -work’ environment, which is emphasized within the PC Districts,” according to the staff’s memo to the Planning Commission.

Staff, however, recommended approval because the proposed project does include some of the city’s comprehensive plan by incorporating restaurants, retail and service uses within walking distance of existing office and residential buildings. The staff also said because the project includes sidewalks and bike paths on the roads surrounding development as well as construction of a new, public road connecting Meadow Lane Road and Ashwood Parkway, the plans are consistent with the Perimeter Center Overlay District.

The pond on the Branch site would be filled so a parking lot could be built over it. One acre of the site is being set aside for future development, most likely a hotel. The developer plans to build a portion of the new Ashford-Dunwoody commuter trail, which includes separated pedestrian and bicycle facilities along the west side Ashford-Dunwoody Road between Hammond Drive and Perimeter Center West.

Commission member Erika Harris asked why Branch did not consider building a parking garage on the property rather than a surface parking lot to reduce the amount of asphalt and keep more green space.

“At $20,000 per parking space, we’d need apartments to make that work,” David said.

Branch is asking the property to be rezoned from commercial with conditions to commercial without conditions. When Branch sought variances for the property for their proposed redevelopment earlier this year, city staff uncovered 1996 zoning requirements that stated only four restaurants could be built on the site. The zoning also banned eliminating the pond now on the property.

Branch came back to the city and is asking to keep the rezoning commercial but just remove the conditions. Branch is also seeking variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals including reducing the front setback from 50 feet to zero feet along Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Ashwood Parkway and Meadow Lane Road; increasing the impervious lot coverage from 80 percent to 86 percent; and to encroach in the city’s 75-foot stream buffer.

These variances are requested in part to build the restaurant/retail buildings closer to the streets, to activate the pedestrian streetscape and to hide the parking lot.