A new Dunwoody mixed-use development on 10 acres in the heart of Perimeter Center is expected to break ground early next year, anchored by a grocery store and including restaurants, retail space, a bank and a gas station.
A stormwater detention pond popular with migrating Canada geese will be paved over for a parking lot as part of the redevelopment.
The Dunwoody City Council voted 6-1 at its June 10 meeting to approve the Branch Properties’ “Perimeter Marketplace” project to be built at the former dining hub at the intersection of Ashford-Dunwoody and Meadow Lane roads, where now only a P.F. Chang’s restaurant remains open. P.F. Chang’s is expected to relocate into one of the new restaurant buildings as part of the project.
Supporters of the project on the council say the new shopping center will revitalize the mostly vacant area, which fronts a major city thoroughfare in the bustling Perimeter Center, a short distance from Perimeter Mall.
The project also includes adding a stretch of the long-planned planned Ashford-Dunwoody Road commuter trail, improving the streetscapes along the roads surrounding the development, and building a new public road connecting Meadow Lane to Ashford Parkway. And while the pond may be popular with geese and ducks, some city officials say it is dirty and unsightly and takes away from the look of a modern urban center.
Opponents said the project destroys what little green space there is in Perimeter Center by paving a pond to put in a parking lot, among other issues. The developer did agree to preserve about 1 acre as a temporary pocket park but has plans to build a hotel there.
Councilmember Tom Lambert, who cast the lone “no” vote, said Perimeter Marketplace does not conform to the Perimeter Center Overlay the council approved in 2017. That plan includes zoning conditions intended to promote “live-work” redevelopments including multiuse residential and emphasizing walkability.
“This is a car-centric development, not people-centric,” Lambert said. “[The overlay] is supposed to reduce surface parking, but this is creating a giant parking lot. It’s supposed to create public gathering spaces, but that’s a temporary pocket park.”
The Perimeter Center Overlay is supposed to be a guiding document for zoning, he added. “And if it’s not, maybe we should revisit it,” he said.
Community Development Director Richard McLeod acknowledged the project was like “ramming a square peg into a round hole.” Branch Properties was asked to rezone the property to meet the new Perimeter Center standards, but is not required to do so. Instead the developers received major modifications to the original commercial zoning, which only allowed four restaurants and prohibited paving the pond.
Because the project includes plans that are consistent with the overlay’s streetscape, building a portion of the Ashford-Dunwoody Road commuter trail and includes connectivity, it is consistent with the overlay, said city planner John Olson.
“From land use, this is not quite there; it’s close,” Olson said. Where the project falls short of fulfilling the Perimeter Center 2 zoning, he said, is that there is no residential component. The Planning Commission brought up that issue at its April 9 meeting when it voted to recommend approval of the project.
Branch attorney Laurel David said when the developer first started planning the project last August, it considered rezoning the property to PC-2, which is designated as primarily for employment uses, residential buildings, and limited shopfront retail and services.
“Branch wanted to build mixed-use with apartments, a parking deck, retail … and that allows for more open space,” she said. “You can’t [financially] support a parking deck with an office building. What is left is retail and restaurants. And we all know what the appetite [in Dunwoody] is for multifamily, so they didn’t pursue that.”
Councilmember Terry Nall said he supported the project, describing it as a “small village” that includes outdoor seating with a pocket park. Perimeter Center residents and workers need a grocery store other than Walmart and another gas station is “desperately needed” in Perimeter Center, he said. Traffic improvements as part of the project will alleviate congestion and there are also apartment buildings within walking distance, he said.
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said she had planned to vote against the project and noted she was the sole council member to vote “no” on the Perimeter Center Overlay. But the city is getting a commuter trail and some landscaping, she said.
“I don’t love the project, but it helps us reach some of our goals,” she said. “This is the best Branch is going to offer us and this is their property.”
Mayor Denis Shortal added he thought a better development could go on the prime real estate, but added this project is better than vacant land.
“It’s better, but it’s not perfect,” he said. “And if all the citizens take one goose and one duck home, all would have a home.”
What the project includes:
- A 25,440 square foot anchor “prototype” grocery store to include a large section of “grab-and-go” meals for lunch and dinner.
- A 5,411-square-foot RaceTrac convenience store with 8 gas pumps at the corner of Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Ashwood Parkway that will be open 24 hours a day.
- A 2,800-square-foot bank on Meadow Lane.
- A total of 35,400 square feet of restaurant and retail space built out in five buildings.
- About 1 acre of the site that will be the site of a future hotel will be initially saved as greenspace.
- A westbound left-turn lane to be added on Ashwood Parkway.
- An eastbound left-turn lane to be added at Ashwood Parkway and Ashford-Dunwoody Road.
- A southbound right-turn lane to be added at the intersection of Perimeter Center Place and Meadow Lane Road
- The developer will contribute up to one-third of the funds needed to extend the northbound left turn lane from Ashford Dunwoody Road on to Meadow Lane Road, not to exceed $33,000.