The Dunwoody City Council appears ready to limit height of buildings in the busy, commercial Perimeter Center to 16 stories while allowing developers to seek a special land use permit to build up to 36 stories as part of new zoning guidelines that have been in the works for two years.

At the March 27 council meeting, members reached a 4-3 consensus that buildings in Perimeter Center be 16 stories tall and not a proposed 20-story maximum. The consensus gives staff a number to continue to tweak for the proposed zoning ordinance that will be considered on second and final read in two weeks.

Since 2014, city staff and the council have been working with Chicago-based consultants Kirk Bishop and Leslie Oberholtzer to come up with a Perimeter Center Overlay District and also Perimeter Center Zoning Districts.

The effort grew from Dunwoody’s rewrite of its city zoning and building codes in 2013. The Perimeter Center area intentionally was left out of that zoning rewrite because the area is so different from other parts of Dunwoody, city officials said.

The Perimeter Center is an area of high rise offices and residences, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels and needs its own building and zoning rules.

But in recent months, how tall is too tall for a building in the Perimeter Center has been a sticking point for council members in coming up with the Perimeter Center Overlay District.

Those saying at Monday’s meeting that they were fine with 20-story buildings the densest area of the city were Doug Thompson, Pam Tallmadge and John Heneghan; those who said they preferred 16 stories were Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmembers Jim Riticher, Lynn Deutsch and Terry Nall.

The mayor and council also came to a consensus that developers could apply for a SLUP if they wanted to build up to 36 stories.

“The [Perimeter Center] is where you want big buildings,” Thompson said in arguing in favor of allowing developers build 20 stories “by right” and without seeking a SLUP. “This is where we need to concentrate the growth. The money that comes out of here pays for our parking, for our parks, for our police.”

Shortal said he didn’t believe limiting height of buildings to 16 stories would stymie growth in Perimeter Center because developers can still come and ask for for stories.

“And if they come for a SLUP, we can put conditions on them to our liking,” he said.

A map of the four proposed Perimeter Center zoning districts. Click to enlarge. (City of Dunwoody)

The proposed Perimeter Center Zoning Districts are divided into four areas:

PC-1 District — This is the central core of Perimeter Center, including the area directly surrounding the Dunwoody MARTA station, and allows for the highest intensity of buildings, a high level of employment uses and active ground story uses and design that support pedestrian mobility.

PC-2 District — This district is made up primarily of employment uses, residential buildings and limited shopfront retail and services.

PC-3 District — This area is a smaller scale and less intensive commercial district that permits shopfront buildings and office buildings.

PC-4 District — This area is made up primarily of residential uses at a scale that provides a transition between the intensity of the Perimeter Center and the surrounding single-family residential neighborhoods.

Each district requires some kind of green space or open space.

At Monday’s meeting, the buffering between the PC-2 and PC-3 Districts came under some scrutiny.

Mayor Shortal made the following proposals for the required buffer distance between residential and commercial buildings:

• Between 0 to 500 feet, a building can only be three stories;
• Between 500 and 1,000 feet, a building can only be five stories;
• Over 1,000 feet away, a building can be 14 stories tall.

Thompson, who acknowledge he is pro-development, warned against putting too many restrictions on developers.

“I get concerned when we put restrictions on development that stops development,” he said. “With the price of land in [the Perimeter Center], we have to give some density. … From a good, sound tax policy, you want big buildings next to the MARTA tracks.”

Bill Baker, the general manager of Perimeter Mall, spoke during public comment, and told the council that developers need to know what they can build.

“You’ve got to know going in what’s possible,” Baker said.

Shortal said people living in residential neighborhoods also need assurances that they will have some kind of protections and buffering from commercial properties.

Deutsh agreed and said she was concerned about single-family homes abutting higher density areas. “I would not want a 14 story building within 500 feet from my home,” she said.

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