A crossroads in Dunwoody’s history may very well be at the intersection of Mount Vernon and Chamblee-Dunwoody roads.

City planning officials plan to present to the Planning Commission on July 10 a revised Dunwoody Village Overlay rewrite that essentially erases the renowned architectural standards commonly known as the Williamsburg style that has been in place since the early 1970s.

The Dunwoody Village Overlay is outlined in red. (Dunwoody Homeowners Association)

The change is coming at the same time developers Crim and Associates is seeking a special land use permit to construct a contemporary/industrial building at 5419 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, the visible corner in the overlay where an old car wash was located in recent years. They take their SLUP request to the Planning Commission July 10 as well.

Because many of the DHA members and city’s founders were involved in creating the Dunwoody Village Overlay as a way to give a distinct look to the city, a struggle between the past and the future is taking place at the center of the city’s identity.

“We’re at a crossroads between those who have been here 30 years and those who have been here 30 minutes,” Dunwoody Homeowners Association President Adrienne Duncan said at its July 1 meeting.

Community Development Director Richard McLeod presented the proposed changes to the overlay at the July 1 meeting, leading to some lively debate among members.

The proposed changes include allowing flat roofs and permitting floor to ceiling windows.

Crim and Associates is seeking these same kinds of designs after last year getting approval for a traditional overlay district building. They say they cannot attract a restaurant to the overlay under the current overlay guidelines.

The original design approved by the city for Crim and Associate’s retail/restaurant redevelopment at the corner of Chamblee-Dunwoody Road and Mount Vernon Road in Dunwoody Village. (City of Dunwoody)
The updated Crim and Associates design they are seeking to have approved through the SLUP process. (City of Dunwoody)

State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), a DHA board member, said the proposed changes discount current tenants of Dunwoody Village who moved to the area for its specific architecture. He criticized the city for proposing drastic changes for “one restaurant that wants to move across the street from Dunkin’ Donuts.”

“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” Millar said. “You should have discussion going on in the community … this process is not very transparent.”

Others asked why there was no sounding board or more public discussion about the proposed changes. McLeod said there will be public comment at the July 10 Planning Commission meeting and then at two City Council meetings in August.

Economic Development Director Michael Starling was also at the DHA meeting and said he and other staff members are constantly receiving emails from residents wanting to know why Dunwoody cannot get the kinds of retail and restaurant development going in to cities like Brookhaven, Chamblee and Alpharetta.

And the answer, he said, is developers do not want to deal with the zoning restrictions currently in the overlay that not only deal with architectural style and window treatments but also parking and development thresholds.

Removing these restrictions would mean development would be guided by the underlying zoning. McLeod said he has plans to also propose the city conduct a master plan for the area next year.

Archie Wanamaker of Crim and Associates said they plan to have one restaurant at the Mount Vernon and Chamblee-Dunwoody road corner plot if they can get the SLUP approved.

In Dunwoody Village, the stores are notable for distinct exterior brick design. (Dyana Bagby)

If not, he said, they would construct the building they received approval for last year and the type of tenants would be “not what you want” in the city. He declined to say what kind of tenants.

Crim and Associates planned to have a Rize Pizza in the original building, but the company fell on financial hard times and backed out of its lease last year.

The broken lease left Crim and Associates seeking another tenant. One they found, a “Chipotle-style” fast casual restaurant from Florida, will locate to Dunwoody, but only in the more contemporary building with large windows and a flat roof, he said.

Other DHA members argued the city is attempting to change the zoning ordinance through a SLUP process when it probably should be done as part of a larger zoning rewrite. Councilmember Terry Nall at the meeting said the city is following the proper process because SLUPS in the overlay address architecture and design as well as signs, parking and landscaping.

Sheila Levy, a Dunwoody resident for 10 years, spoke for a younger segment of Dunwoody residents who want trendier places like they see in neighboring cities. She said she and her friends and family often end up going to eat in Brookhaven or Chamblee because they offer the smaller, contemporary restaurant experiences they want.

Longtime Dunwoody resident Geri Penn, who worked on the overlay when it was created, said the proposed changes are eliminating the character of Dunwoody.  The village would become a “hodge-podge” of businesses and become like any other shopping area in any other city, she said.

But Erika Harris said she believes there is a way to keep the character of the Dunwoody Village Overlay while also becoming contemporary. “I see the value in preserving what we have … and I think we can look at ways to seamlessly blend,” she said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.