The Dunwoody City Council heard the first read of a controversial rezoning of two properties in the Dunwoody Village at an Aug. 23 meeting, leaving some council members asking for more information and some ready to vote no.
Councilmember John Heneghan said he did not support the rezoning of two properties in the Dunwoody Village – the Shops at Dunwoody at 5500 Chamblee Dunwoody Road and an adjacent carwash at 1244 Dunwoody Village Parkway. The proposal is to rezone the properties from the city’s Local Commercial and Dunwoody Village Overlay District, to the city’s DV-4 or Village Center District.
“I do not believe the proposed DV-4 Dunwoody Village Center zoning proposal on the edge of Dunwoody Village … will permit a use that is suitable in the view and use of the development of adjacent and nearby properties, namely the residential,” Heneghan said.
The Dunwoody City Council initially approved a rezoning to make the collection of stores and shopping centers known as Dunwoody Village into a mixed-used development on Nov. 30, 2020. The city removed the Shops at Dunwoody and the carwash from the rezoning due to a dispute over the size of the buffer zone between the Village and some neighboring residences, namely about 150 feet between the western property line and a subdivision called Dunwoody West.
The owner of the Shops of Dunwoody sued the city, saying the buffer zone limited the available redevelopment area. The city and property owners eventually came to an agreement that the space between the Village and the 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.
However, members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association say less than 150 feet of undisturbed buffer would violate a 1977 zoning condition of the property and allow development to infringe on the residential homes nearest to the Village. During the Aug. 23 meeting, affected residents – many of whom wore red to signify their opposition to the rezoning – brought up the alleged zoning condition from 1977 as a reason not to move forward.
DHA President Bob Fiscella said a large part of the reason Dunwoody became a city was due to unpopular zoning decisions from DeKalb County.
“Now it appears the city, or at least city staff, is making an effort on a buffer that has existed for at least 44 years,” he said. “To top it off, staff cannot produce the full ordinance that made this buffer law back in 1977. There’s [sic] a lot of assumptions being made by staff, and they cannot tell you definitively that an undisturbed buffer is not part of the conditions of the 1977 ordinance.”
City staff has not been able to locate the original 1977 rezoning documents that the DHA says would prove the existence of the buffer as a zoning condition, and officials maintain that the buffer was the product of a private agreement that has since expired.
The Reporter has also requested documents from DeKalb County, but has not been able to locate the original rezoning application.
In addition to the dispute over the buffer, some residents and council members brought up concerns about the decision to rezone the properties to DV-4, which is typically reserved for buildings in the center of the Village.
In the original 2020 rezoning, both properties were zoned for DV-1, the Village Commercial District. According to city documents, the permitted uses for the districts are similar, but DV-4 allows for an additional story on buildings and more impervious surfaces, like concrete or pavement.
Although he said he did not want to move forward with the zoning as is, Heneghan did bring up a number of solutions for the council to consider. He said he would be willing to discuss other zoning districts within Dunwoody Village, such as DV-2 and DV-3, that might be friendlier toward residents.
“Another solution is to look at the equity of the Dunwoody Village plan as it’s in place, where I believe we should rezone this property possibly to something more appropriate with the rest of the plan,” he said. “I believe that this property, based on the neighbors, the buffers, could possibly be zoned into something else.”
Heneghan said another solution would be voting no on the rezoning to give more time for residents to find the original rezoning documents from DeKalb County. At a July 13 Dunwoody Planning Commission meeting, DHA members asked for a deferral on any recommendations on the rezoning so they could look for the original zoning application. By the next Planning Commission meeting on Aug.10, they had been able to compile a few more documents, but not the original application from 1977.
Heneghan also said voting no would give the developer of the property more time to speak with affected residents.
“Based on what I know of this proposal in front of us, this upzoning was not vetted nor discussed with the public prior to the Planning Commission,” he said. “I understand that the residents do not feel they were a part of this negotiated compromise, as they believe city communication has been limited. And I’m told that the developer has refused all communication with the residents of Dunwoody.”
Den Webb, attorney for property owner Peachtree Shops of Dunwoody LLC, denied the allegation that the property owner has refused to speak to neighboring residents.
In addition to the issue of the zoning condition, DHA attorney Brian Daughdrill stated that the city violated zoning procedures because it originally mislabeled the current zoning of the two properties as C1 instead of C1-Conditional. The agenda item for the Aug. 24 City Council meeting labeled the zoning as C1-Conditional, but the item from the July 13 Planning Commission meeting labels the zoning as C1.
“The zoning procedures law and your own ordinances require that you advertise zoning from the existing district to the new district,” he said. “That’s a violation of zoning procedures law. It’s grounds to invalidate the vote no matter whose side you’re on.”
The city did not respond to questions in time for publication about whether this mislabel constitutes a zoning procedures violation.
Speaking for the property owners, Webb said he hoped the city would accept the proposal so everyone could “move forward” and end the lawsuit.
“I think the compromise before you, at least from our perspective, has the hallmark of a true compromise,” Webb said. “It’s certainly not what anyone really wants – it’s not what my client wants … but it’s something [they] can live with and we hope it’s something the city can live with as well.”
The City Council’s next meeting will be held on Sep. 13. The entirety of the Aug. 23 meeting can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page.