A new developer is eying three properties on Roberts Drive across from Austin Elementary School for a gated community advertised for “empty nesters,” which raises some density concerns with neighbors and echoes a similar proposal from two years ago. The proposal now incorporates the historic Swancy Farmhouse, whose owner opposed the previous project.
The development would create 15 lots for single-family homes on a 3.3-acre area that includes 5318 and 5328 Roberts Drive and the Swancy Farmhouse at 5308 Roberts Drive, according to a presentation to the Planning Commission on Aug. 11. Right now, those three parcels include three single-family houses, two of which would be demolished.
Developer Peachland Housing Group requested the parcels be rezoned to allow more houses to accommodate the project, saying it would help the city with its plan to have better living options for senior residents, according to its rezoning application. The development is slated to be age restricted for residents over 55 years old, according to a letter from the developer to the neighbors.
The city Planning Commission deferred its vote on the rezoning request until its Sept. 15 meeting because of concerns from neighboring residents regarding possible problems with stormwater management and the borders of the development.
Rock River Realty proposed the same zoning change in 2018 to accommodate 10 houses, which would have also been aimed at senior buyers, but withdrew its application in 2019. That development included two-story houses with three bedrooms on the second floor and two-car garages.
Peachland Housing Group proposes one-and-a-half stories for residents to not need to use stairs with more emphasis on front porches and private backyards. Landscaping would be done by a homeowners association, according to the project application.
The developer says the rezoning request to allow more houses would provide a transitional area between the large, family homes in the Dunwoody Knoll subdivision and the townhouses in Fairfield Townhomes and Dunwoody Walk.
Dunwoody Homeowner Association President Adrienne Duncan said the DHA opposed the project because the developer has not reached an agreement with the Fairfield Homeowners Association to use its drainage easement, which she said is outlined in the project proposals.
The 20-foot-wide drainage easement has an underground storm sewer pipe that allows runoff water from Fairfield Townhomes to flow downstream, according to the rezoning application. Developers want to relocate the easement and stormwater infrastructure but need to come to an agreement with Fairfield homeowners before doing so.
“DHA believes that a rezoning of these properties in anticipation of a new development is a moot point until the developer and local HOA can come to an agreement,” Duncan said in a statement read to the Planning Commission during its Aug. 11 meeting. “DHA believes that without such an agreement, any talk of rezoning or building is a non-starter.”
Robert Miller, a partner on the project who is also a board member of the city Development Authority, told the commission that it’s difficult to find a new location for the easement until developers evaluate the area to figure out what could work for stormwater management.
Members of the Fairfield HOA requested the commission to defer its vote to have more time to work out details with the developer before the rezoning happens. Some residents said the development was too dense, which may create stormwater management problems because of an increase in hard surfaces, while others worried about a border area between that community and their own.
Miller said a buffer zone is not required by the city between residential zoning districts. But, he said, the development has plans for wooden fences and shrubbery as a screening area between the proposed neighborhood and existing neighborhoods.
The development aims to give housing options for seniors who are downsizing from larger family homes, Miller said.
“The proposed development will use a universal design to provide a variety of senior-appropriate housing options in a walkable location to Dunwoody Village that will allow residents to thrive in all stages of life while addressing a priority within the comprehensive plan,” the rezoning application reads.
David Haverty, the owner of the Swancy property, was one of the biggest critics of the previously proposed development by Rock River Realty. The farmhouse, built in 1889 has been designated as historic by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust.
At the time, Haverty said that development would have surrounded his house with pavement and eliminated any privacy. Other critics said it’s location across from the 900-seat Austin Elementary would have made the previously proposed two-story houses attractive to families who want their children to attend that new school.
Current neighbors are more concerned with the Peachland Housing development’s density rather than its age restrictions.