An early look at plans for a Ritz-Carlton hotel and residential tower in Buckhead was full of colorful descriptions of its “elevated lifestyle” away from the “burden” of Downtown Atlanta. But a zoning review group was looking for numbers, not words, on density, parking and traffic impacts that likely will loom large if the plan moves ahead.
The proposal for the tower, a companion to an existing residential and office tower at 3630 Peachtree Road, made a preliminary appearance Aug. 5 at the Development Review Committee of Special Public Interest District 12, a zoning area with design rules and limits.
The project is being developed by a limited liability company called 3630 North whose registered agent with the state is Ty Underwood of the real estate firm Atlas Interests.
The current, 438-foot-tall tower at 3630 Peachtree, at the intersection with Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, opened about 10 years ago and also has Ritz-Carlton-branded condominiums.
The new Buckhead Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences tower is planned for the rear of the property, adjacent to a parking deck, and with the hotel’s conference center built atop the deck. The glass-walled tower is planned at 329 feet tall, with 85 residential units and 256 hotel rooms. The current driveway on Peachtree would become a “motor court” with a vegetation-covered “green wall.”
Bruce McEvoy of the project’s design firm, Perkins and Will, gave the DRC a brief conceptual presentation full of lavish language promising that guests and residents would enter “through a garden of delight, and ultimately to a haven full of exceptionally imaginative experiences.”
He said the project is “really trying to build on the legacy of Buckhead,” meaning an “escape” from the rest of the city and “the idea of Downtown being a sort of burden.”
However, DRC members were more interested in the developer’s burden to demonstrate that the project fits into zoning and works traffic-wise. That proved difficult, partly due to a lack of details at hand, and partly as project attorney Harold Buckley Jr.’s Zoom audio failed repeatedly during explanations. The consensus was that the team needed to come back with more details. The project is expected to return to the DRC next month.
Zoning and density
The zoning is complicated, with the project relying on layers of past entitlements and more recent changes. The general concept is that the project completes a build-out of the site allowed under a zoning dating back to 1986 and of which the existing tower was just part of the permitted density. A twist is the differing rules of SPI-12, which was only an overlay at the time the existing tower was built and is now part of the underlying zoning. Especially key is a different way of limiting density, using design rather than floor-area ratio.
In a letter to the city from Buckley submitted to the DRC, he says the project needs only a special administrative permit to allow the hotel use.
But DRC members were not able to fully understand the zoning and density aspects. Denise Starling, who also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Livable Buckhead, said that the current zoning would cap the building height at 225 feet. Buckley said the developer would satisfy that by restricting the hotel part to the lower floors, but it was not clear how that allowed the rest of the building to be more than 100 feet taller.
McEvoy was unable to give specific numbers for the size of the conference center, roughly estimating it at about 15,500 square feet and saying that, due to the pandemic’s effect on the hotel and event industries, he was instructed to cut the event space by 20%. He said that working with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and parent company Marriott International is “a little challenging right now given that they’re a skeletal crew” due to the pandemic.
Parking and traffic
Project consultants from the planning firm Kimley-Horn said they were studying the complex situation of parking, but had not done any road traffic studies, which drew objections from DRC members. The impacts of left turns from Peachtree onto Peachtree-Dunwoody is crucial to study, said DRC member Nancy Bliwise, who also chairs Neighborhood Planning Unit B. And member Sally Silver said the project could “wreak a lot of havoc” on a planned conversion of the nearby intersection of Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard into a roundabout.
On the parking front, the project would not add any parking spaces, and would remove some from the deck by cutting a new building entrance into it. Kimley-Horn consultants said that solutions will involve shifting reserved parking there and reworking a shared parking arrangement in the deck of the adjacent Wieuca Road Baptist Church. Some DRC members expressed skepticism about the parking capacity and sought more details that were not immediately available.
One element that drew praise was that the changes to the existing 3630 Peachtree parking deck would eliminate an exit that McEvoy called “horrible” and “kind of a nightmare” in terms of pedestrian safety. Starling also praised the “motor court” design.