I used to think that living in Dunwoody was a smart thing. We’re a smart city, right? However, due to a recent zoning issue, I’m not so sure anymore.

After purchasing a modest, 1960s ranch-style home in Dunwoody, a developer filed an application with the city to rezone that lot and an adjacent lot from the typical R-100 zoning classification to R-50. The developer bought the property at 5318 Roberts Drive and negotiated with owner of the lot next door at 5328 Roberts Drive, getting him to sign on to his rezoning application. The applicant filed RZ19-01, with a plan to redevelop the two homes on Roberts drive into nine homes. His plan was clever, if not flawed, and if successful could make him a lot of money.

In order to succeed, the developer would have to submit a plan to the city. He would have to convince the community development department and the City Council that he could build his nine new homes on the small, 2.65-acre site in such a way that it remained in character with the surrounding neighborhoods and did not harm adjoining property owners or their property values. To do this, he would have to get a site plan approved by the community development department and also convince the surrounding homeowners to go along with his project. It would not be an easy thing to do, but when profit is the motive there’s not much that can get in the way of a developer.

The developer, working with his attorney, was able negotiate a deal with one group of property owners and their homeowners association. At first, this group of homeowners was opposed to the redevelopment. But after the developer offered a financial arrangement, freeing them from their expensive financial obligations to their stormwater easement responsibilities, these homeowners gleefully came out in favor of the project. There was still, however, one small problem. So, the developer set his sights on the one remaining parcel owner that stood in his way.

Over 20 years ago, a man and his wife moved to Dunwoody and purchased the old historic Swancy home at 5308 Roberts Drive as their homestead property. They became good neighbors in the community, taking pride in maintaining their historic home. The old Swancy home is listed with the Dunwoody Preservation Trust and is a proud symbol of the tranquil residential communities of Dunwoody. The property owners in the old Swancy home came out in opposition to the developer’s plan. They cited a myriad of problems, from hydrology concerns and street design to the negative effects the plan would pose to their life living next door to the project and the devaluation of their property. They’d just like to stay in their home and live in peace.

A proper solution to this impasse might be for the developer to make an offer of fair market value to purchase the old Swancy home, but that would be too expensive for his project’s profitability. He could even withdraw his application and, without going through a rezoning process, build four or five new homes on a much more characteristic, Dunwoody-style, cul-de-sac street design that would not be injurious to the Swancy home property owners.

Instead, the developer chose to rezone and simply surround the Swancy home with two streets and nine new homes. If approved by the City Council, the rezoning request would certainly devalue the Swancy home property, making it less it less desirable for the owners of the property to stay and more likely that they would sell for a much lower “devalued” price. By the way, if a developer could do that to this R-100 property owner in Dunwoody, then he could do it to any R-100 property owner in Dunwoody!

The Dunwoody City Council will decide to approve or not approve RZ19-01. The fate of the Swancy home, and perhaps all R-100 homestead properties in Dunwoody, will rest with their decision.

I used to think that owning a home in Dunwoody was a smart thing, but now I’m not so sure.

Robert Wolford


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