A proposal to demolish a long-vacant Cheesecake Factory restaurant in a prime Peachtree Road location sounded delicious to a Buckhead zoning review group. But a plan to surround the site with a chain-link fence partly topped with barbed wire for an indefinite period was sent back to the kitchen for more cooking.
The plan for 3024 Peachtree Road came before the Development Review Committee of the Special Public Interest District 9 zoning area on Aug. 5 in a virtual meeting. Owner Peter Blum is seeking an administrative variance to allow for the 8-foot-high fence along Peachtree.
Norman Koplon, a consultant to Blum, told the DRC that homeless people are regularly entering and living in the structure. In an application letter, Blum emphasized the trespassing and liability issues.
“The situation is out of control,” Blum wrote. “The interior of the building has been destroyed, and our goal is to have it demolished at the earliest possible time to prevent loss of life.”
The restaurant structure was built in 1993 and vacated by the Cheesecake Factory in 2014, when it moved to the Lenox Square mall.
Sitting between Buckhead Avenue and Pharr Road, the 0.82-acre property stretches back about 500 feet into the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood. The former restaurant is a two-story building with nearly 9,000 square feet of space. The rear is a parking lot that is sometimes rented for event parking, according to Blum’s representatives.
Blum heads a limited liability corporation that owns the neighboring site at 3030 Peachtree, now occupied by a massive Restoration Hardware furniture store after a successful redevelopment. But the Cheesecake Factory site has had no such luck, despite occupying prime real estate facing Buckhead Village.
Koplon said that the plan is to demolish the restaurant, but keep its foundation slab and the parking lot in case a future developer can reuse them. The fence would be used to secure the site until then, and would be topped with three strands of barbed wire on its southern and western sides, which do not include the Peachtree frontage.
The look and utility of a fence, especially with no redevelopment in sight, were concerns for DRC members. Denise Starling, who is also executive director of the nonprofit Livable Buckhead, said she didn’t like the precedent of allowing fencing along Peachtree.
“If we’re going to make this better, let’s make it better,” said Sally Silver, the DRC’s representative from City Councilmember Howard Shook’s office. “Let’s not just put a Band-Aid on it.”
DRC members suggested scraping the entire site clean, including the slab and asphalt, and covering it with grass. Some members noted that the amount of parking in the lot would not be allowed in a redevelopment under current zoning anyway.
However, Blum’s representatives had concerns about maintaining possibly useful features and whether grass would continue to attract trespassers.
In an eventual compromise recommendation, the DRC called for the building slab to be removed and grassed over and for the fencing to start at the parking lot instead of at the street, a setback of roughly 150 feet.
The DRC’s recommendation to city officials is purely advisory.