Despite concerns from homeowners, the Dunwoody Planning Commission has recommended approval on the rezoning of two properties in the Dunwoody Village.
The commission recommended that the Shops of Dunwoody at 5500 Chamblee Dunwoody Road and an adjacent carwash at 1244 Dunwoody Village Parkway be rezoned from their current zoning in the city’s Local Commercial and Dunwoody Village Overlay District to the city’s DV-4 or Village Center District.
“As much as I feel for all of the homeowners, I think my recommendation is that we need to give the developers as much leeway as we possibly can in order to make the Dunwoody Village as great as it possibly can be,” said Commissioner Jared Abram.
On Nov. 30, 2020, the Dunwoody City Council approved a rezoning to remake the area known as Dunwoody Village – a collection of stores and shopping centers – into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly spot. However two properties in the area – The Shops of Dunwoody and the carwash – were left out of the rezoning due to a dispute over the size of the buffer zone between the Village and neighboring residences, mainly about 150 feet between the western property line and a subdivision called Dunwoody West.
The owner of The Shops of Dunwoody ended up suing the city, saying the buffer zone limited the available redevelopment area. In order to resolve the lawsuit, the city and the property owners came to an agreement that the space between the Village and nearby residences would stay at 150 feet, but 35 feet of that would be undisturbed while the remaining 115 feet could be redeveloped into green space under Dunwoody Village zoning regulations.
“The idea is to make a pretty park that the folks who live in the new development will enjoy and let their kids play in,” said Den Webb, attorney for the property owner. “We’re not talking about paved open space. We’re not talking about a parking lot. We’re talking about a park.”
But members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association say anything less than 150 undisturbed feet would be a violation of a 1977 zoning condition of the property. The city has stated it believes the zoning condition does not exist, but the commission previously deferred a decision on this rezoning at a July 13 meeting to give the DHA more time to prove the existence of the condition.
During the commission’s Aug. 10 meeting, a city presentation stated that the case file for the 1977 rezoning application to develop the shopping center is missing and the city does not have access to it. The city presented the commission with documents such as meeting minutes and zoning applications that referenced a buffer between the residences and the Village. However, the city maintains the buffer was the product of a private agreement between commercial and residential owners that has since expired.
Some commissioners wondered if it would be best to wait for guidance from the court before moving forward. Community Development Director Richard McLeod said that if the rezoning passed with the compromise intact, the lawsuit would be resolved. Webb said that would be the case.
“If this is approved, the lawsuit is settled,” he said. “This is a negotiated agreement between the city and the property owner trying to settle the lawsuit.”
DHA Attorney Brian Daughdrill said in the 30 days that the commission granted to the DHA, it has been able to compile a few more documents, but has not been able to inspect all records that DeKalb County might have.
“We have actually moved to intervene in the case and if the board allows us to intervene … we’ll then be in a position [where] we’ll use the compulsory power of the court to try and get this information,” he said.
Daughdrill also said even if the exact original document proving the existence of the condition could not be located, zoning applications mentioning the buffer provide a “rational basis” to believe it might exist.
“You all have a rational basis,” he said. “There is evidence that this is how it was done.”
Some Dunwoody residents showed up to speak in opposition to approval of the rezoning. DHA President Bob Fiscella said he didn’t understand why the city was moving forward when the developer has no plans for the site in question.
“The commercial owner of this property, to my knowledge, has not filed any paperwork about redevelopment,” he said. “I’m still not sure why we’re doing this right now when we just don’t know.”
Commission Chair Bob Dallas said he understood the concerns of homeowners, but ultimately thought the development would be beneficial to the area and had the ability to drive up market values.
“That has been done elsewhere throughout this region, and values have gone up,” he said. “It’s just what the market likes, even though the individuals who live there today may not like it all.”
While four commissioners voted for the rezoning, two commissioners, Robert Price and Erika Harris, voted against recommending approval. Harris said she was uncomfortable with moving forward because she didn’t feel the commission had been presented with an answer to the problem.
“We’re not here to make a decision, but we also haven’t been presented with a situation where there is a defined answer as to whether the 150-foot buffer does indeed exist as a condition or the 150-foot buffer was an agreement between the residential and the commercial property owners,” she said. “Having that instability makes this a very different conversation.”
The rezoning is expected to go before the Dunwoody City Council on Aug. 23.