The University Baptist Church parking lot at Dresden Drive and Fernwood Circle. ( Photo by John Ruch)
The University Baptist Church parking lot at Dresden Drive and Fernwood Circle. ( Photo by John Ruch)

A parking crunch is the downside of the booming business district on narrow Dresden Drive near Peachtree Road. Brookhaven city officials are trying to provide relief by gathering business owners to cooperate on identifying and leasing new lots.

But one of those business owners, Joey Riley of the Kaleidoscope restaurant, says the city is more problem than problem-solver with its approval of projects with insufficient on-site parking.

And University Baptist Church, owner of a prime lot being eyed by the city, says it’s not interested in leasing its spaces.
“Yes, looking for additional parking is a great idea,” said Riley. “What isn’t a good idea is allowing new businesses to pop up when there’s not adequate parking.”

One particular new business in the Dresden corridor has triggered the parking-solution push from City Council. The forthcoming Dixie Moon restaurant, in the building at 2536 Caldwell Road known as the “Little White House,” received rezoning approval from the council in August with strong community support.

But there was also concern that it plans only 15 parking spaces—the minimum under the current zoning code. Ben Song, the city’s community development director, told council that the code bases the parking count solely on the square-footage of the dining area and does not account for employee parking.

Dixie Moon founder Scott Serpas pledged to use expert car-parking valets to cram up to 28 cars into the 15 spaces. But, despite City Councilman Joe Gebbia pressing for that promise, the city can’t enforce it as a requirement.

Song said a long-term solution is amending the zoning code to require more parking spaces. The city is launching a rewrite of the zoning code soon that offers the opportunity. But that doesn’t affect current projects.

Riley said he’s concerned about customers of the new restaurant and other businesses using his Village Place lot, even though it’s marked as private. And Green Meadows Lane and other nearby streets are about to get resident-only permit parking to cut down on spillover business parking.

With its business district close to residential neighborhoods and the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station, walking should be a good alternative for Dresden Drive visitors. But several local streets and older segments of Dresden lack sidewalks.

At a recent council meeting, Councilman John Park said he tried leaving his car on Parkside Drive for a stroll to local restaurants. But the lack of sidewalks, he said, made that a “dicey” adventure where he risked “twisting an ankle or getting run over.”

At a work session prior to its approval of Dixie Moon’s rezoning, City Council members discussed Dresden’s parking problem. Among the solutions they considered was the city leasing area property for valet parking. City attorney Christopher Balch warned that the city should “be careful of getting into the parking business” due to the many liability issues.

During the Sept. 22 work session, Song presented a rough inventory of parking spaces in the area and potential solutions. Song said there are about 665 parking spaces in the area, about half of them in the Village Place mixed-use development. That figure includes resident-only parking.

Most of Dresden is too narrow to add on-street parking, Song said. He provided a map of several lots in the area that potentially could be leased by the city or businesses for parking, though he said some property owners have similar liability concerns as the city attorney.

The prime spot Song identified is the 69-space University Baptist Church lot at Dresden and Fernwood Circle. The council directed city staff to arrange a “symposium”-style meeting of local business owners to brainstorm leasing options or other solutions.

The eyeing of the University Baptist lot was news to Senior Pastor Gary Ledford, who said in an email that no one contacted the church in advance of that meeting. Ledford noted that the Brookhaven Farmers Market uses the church parking lot on Saturday mornings. And during weekdays, the church donates parking to the nearby DeKalb County tag office and the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine.

“With all that said, we feel that we are already doing more than enough with regard to parking at our location,” Ledford said. The church doesn’t want more wear and tear on its lot, and doesn’t want to risk its tax-exempt status through lease deals, he said.

“We knew that with all the construction and new businesses coming to our area there was definitely not going to be enough parking available,” Ledford said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 and should always be remembered the next time added expansion and growth to our area is considered. So to answer your question about the businesses leasing our parking lot, the answer is ‘no thank you.’”

Riley said he and the owners of such businesses as the Haven restaurant and the Verde Taqueria already have met to look into potential lot-leasing deals, particularly for employee parking, so far without success. Owners of Haven and Verde did not respond to emailed questions.

“We’re all willing to sit down and talk,” Riley said. But, he added, the city is “thinking of solutions after the fact…That is not real good city planning, in my opinion.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.