Several Dunwoody city officials appear ready to move forward with controversial new regulations that would make it more expensive to erect certain kinds of buildings in the city.

“I am no longer convinced that replacing old garbage [buildings] with newer, not-so-nice [ones] is the way to go in our community,” Dunwoody City Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said during the council’s July 14 meeting. “I think we have an obligation … that what we leave as our legacy is better than what we were left.

“Dunwoody is a prime location. … If they build a higher grade or a higher class [of building] … that’s OK with me.”

But not every council member agreed that the city should continue developing the regulations, which city officials say have been in the works for about a year. “I’m not convinced this is a fully formed idea,” Mayor Mike Davis said.

City officials are debating new rules to require buildings more than three stories tall be built using concrete-and-steel construction, rather than the cheaper wood-frame construction used on smaller buildings. Concrete-and-steel construction now is required of buildings more than five stories tall.

The change has been opposed by developers, who say it will make certain kinds of buildings too expensive to construct in Dunwoody, and will limit redevelopment of some older areas of the community. Some residents also claim the proposal is actually an effort to prevent the construction of new apartment buildings in the city by making them too expensive.

Michael Paris, CEO of the Council for Quality Growth, told city council members they should delay consideration of the proposal until a committee of “stakeholders” can meet and discuss the problem. Paris said that if Dunwoody adopts the new regulations, it would impose some of the toughest restrictions among metro Atlanta communities on such projects.

“Our position has been all along, ‘What is the problem? What are we trying to solve, and is this the best way to solve it?’” he told Dunwoody Homeowners Association board members on July 13 before the DHA board voted to back the proposal.

“We’ve have been since the beginning, honestly perplexed by what we’re trying to solve, so we don’t know how to solve it,” he said.

John Lundeen, president of Coro Real Estate Advisors, also criticized the proposal, saying it would “discourage a lot of mixed-use projects.” “I know some of you were disappointed with some of the things that were done when DeKalb County was in charge,” he said. “That had nothing to do with wood construction.”

City Councilman Terry Nall has promoted lowering the point at which the change to concrete-and-steel construction is required, saying it would improve the quality of construction of mid-rise buildings. “Having control over development is a key reason for our question to incorporate,” he said during the council meeting.

Nall argues that requiring the more expensive form of construction will result in buildings that last longer and hold their value longer.

“This will add a higher quality building,” Nall told DHA members July 13. “It will help slow down the spiral [of decline] in buildings we have. Many of those, if we started with non-combustible building materials, it will be a slower spiral.”

The latest proposal under consideration by the council allows projects taking in less than 200,000 square feet to be exempt from the requirement for the more expensive construction. It also would allow developers to ask the council to waive the requirement and allow the cheaper construction on certain projects.

“That certainly is moving in the right direction,” Paris told the council. “We still consider this problematic, and question what it solves… I honestly believe this is not the right way to solve this problem.”

But Councilman Denny Shortal questioned the concept of providing exemption from the new rules, if they are adopted.

“I think this is a safety and quality issue,” he said. “The waiver issue … is a problem for me. I don’t see how you can waive safety.”

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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