The Dunwoody Planning Commission has deferred a decision on the rezoning of two properties in the Dunwoody Village, giving some members of the city’s homeowners association extra time to search for county records they say prove the rezoning would violate a zoning condition from the 1970s. 

“The records are there,” said Bob Fiscella, president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, at a July 13 Planning Commission meeting. “We just have to get to them.” 

On Nov. 30, 2020, the Dunwoody City Council approved a rezoning to remake the area known as Dunwoody Village – a collection of stores and shopping centers – into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly spot. 

However, due to a dispute about the size of the buffer area between the Village and neighboring residences, the owner of one of those shopping centers – The Shops at Dunwoody at 5500 Chamblee Dunwoody Road – sued the city. The owner, Peachtree Shops of Dunwoody LLC, maintained that the buffer zone limited the available redevelopment area. 

An image from Google maps of The Shops at Dunwoody, which contain restaurants like Taqueria Los Hermanos and Dunwoody Tavern, and Sunshine Car Wash at 1244 Dunwoody Village Parkway.

Because of the lawsuit, the council removed The Shops of Dunwoody, along with an adjacent car wash – owned by Sodop II LLC and also part of the lawsuit – at 1244 Dunwoody Village Parkway from the rezoning. According to a memo at the July 13 meeting, the main point of contention between the city and the property owners was a buffer of about 150 feet between the western property line of the Village and a subdivision called Dunwoody West. 

In order to resolve the lawsuit and get the rezoning in place to make headway on plans to revamp Dunwoody Village, the city is now recommending the space between the Village and the residences stay at about 150 feet, but have come to a compromise with the property owners that would allow more room for development. 

“We’re proposing a 35-foot minimum buffer, and … an additional 115 feet of mandatory open space,” said Planning and Zoning Manager Paul Leonhardt at the July 13 meeting. 

Leonhardt added that under Dunwoody Village regulations, the open space could be something like a plaza or a green space area, but could not have any buildings. He said there are no immediate plans for development at the moment, but the city wants to go ahead and get the zoning in place. 

While the city and the property owners have reached a compromise, members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association say anything less than a 150-foot buffer would violate a zoning condition of the property – a zoning condition the city says does not exist. 

In the 1970s, neighbors around the Dunwoody Village negotiated a 150-foot buffer with the developer at that time. At the meeting, Fiscella said the zoning condition would have to be met by any subsequent rezonings of the property. 

Fiscella asked the Planning Commission to defer their recommendation on the rezoning so the DHA could request records from DeKalb County that he said would prove the existence of the zoning condition. He said the DHA has enlisted the help of DeKalb County Commissioner Robert Patrick to try and expedite the records.

“I think the homeowners should get a chance, and we should get the opportunity to speak with the county commissioner who will dig into these records,” Fiscella said. 

In an emailed statement, Patrick said he encourages residents to get involved with the governmental process.

“Whether the issues are zoning, code enforcement or just neighborliness,  government works best when the public, private, and corporate stakeholders speak with each other,” he said. “As it relates to this zoning issue, I encourage all parties to this matter to continue engaging with the City of Dunwoody elected officials and city staff to work toward a path forward.”

While the DHA believes the records exist, the city and representatives for the property owners said the 150-foot buffer was the product of a private agreement that has since expired. The city’s memo states that at the time of incorporation, the files from DeKalb County that would have contained the zoning condition appeared “incomplete.” The city requested additional records from the county, but said no additional documents were found.

“There is a buffer, but the private agreement has expired,” Leonhardt said. “There’s no zoning condition in place right now, which is why we now negotiated with the property owner and their representatives on finding a sort of middle ground to this.” 

Leonhardt added that any new buildings would likely be about 200 feet away from any residences, because the 115-foot open space wouldn’t allow for any buildings. 

“We think it’s a good compromise proposal that maintains the 150 feet, even if it’s not as an undisturbed buffer,” Leonhardt said. “It maintains 150 feet of open space immediately adjacent to the residential district that currently does not exist on paper.” 

Fiscella said since the property owners don’t yet have any plans for development, he didn’t see the problem with deferring the Planning Commission’s recommendations by 30 days.

“Seeing as the current owners of the property don’t have a site plan [and] really don’t have any changes for the property planned, there just doesn’t seem to be an urgency not to delay this,” he said. 

Den Webb, a representative for Peachtree Shops of Dunwoody LLC, said he found the delay “unnecessary.” 

“We have gotten all of the information we’re going to get out of DeKalb County,” he said. 

In general, the commission seemed to approve of the rezoning and the compromise between the city and the property owner, but ultimately decided to grant the extra 30 days to the DHA to see what they could dig up. 

“I would approve … right now,” said Commissioner Jared Abram. “But I’m open to waiting 30 days as well to give these guys some time to see if they can find these documents.” 

The rezoning is expected to go back before the Planning Commission on Aug. 10. 

Update: This article has been updated to include comments from DeKalb County Commissioner Robert Patrick.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.