The developer of a proposed massive mixed-use development including hundreds of apartments on Perimeter Center East hurriedly withdrew its project from consideration by the Dunwoody City Council rather than face the possibility of it being rejected outright.
Grubb Properties withdrew its plans at the March 26 council meeting following a failed vote to defer action on the proposed project on Perimeter Center East. Voting against deferring were Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmembers Terry Nall, Jim Riticher and Lynn Deutsch. Voting in favor of deferring were Councilmembers John Heneghan, Pam Tallmadge and Tom Lambert.
After the deferral vote failed, Clay Grubb, president of Grubb Properties, conferred quickly with his attorney, David Kirk. Kirk then spoke to the council and asked to “reluctantly” withdraw the project.
The council then voted unanimously to accept the withdrawal. Grubb Properties can bring a new proposed project to the council in the near future. Had the council voted to deny the rezoning request, the developer would not be able to bring it back before the council for two years.
Grubb Properties was originally seeking to rezone 19.5 acres at 41, 47, 53 Perimeter Center East, where the former City Hall was located, from office institution to Perimeter Center 2 to construct six residential buildings with a total of 1,200 units and a 19-story office tower.
The project was planned to be built out in several phases over 10 to 15 years and included four parking decks, 12,000 square feet of new retail on the ground level of the buildings along with a central 2-acre park and trails and bike paths. Total residential and commercial space totaled more than 1 million square feet.
In two previous meetings with the council, members balked at the density and the likely increase in traffic such a project would bring to Perimeter Center, an area already suffering from heavy congestion. Questions were also raised about the number of school children such a project could put in already overcrowded Dunwoody schools as well as the timeline of the project being spread out for so long. Some council members also raised their concerns that Grubb Properties could gain the rezoning and then sell off pieces of the property.
To try to appease the council’s concerns, Grubb Properties at the March 26 meeting proposed to scale back their project considerably and build only one high rise building with 198 apartments. Plans were to then convert the apartments to condominiums five years after pulling permits to build. Grubb explained to the council the five years included a three-year construction timeline.
If the apartments were not converted to condominiums within that time frame, Grubb Properties proposed to pay $3,000 per unsold unit to the DeKalb County School District.
The intention would be then to come back over time to seek rezoning and approval for other areas of the projects, piece by piece, as the developer tried to seek trust with the City Council, Kirk and Grubb said.
“We are anxious to get started … and we feel like this is in keeping with the original plan,” Grubb said of the scaled back proposal. “But the idea is to do this is bite-size pieces. Our original plan has a 15-year vision and we still believe that is the best vision.” Grubb added he understood the council’s reluctance to give up control of 19.5 acres over a 10 to 15 year timeline.
“I think this is a massive change and might should go back to the Planning Commission,” Shortal said. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the original plans several months ago. City staff also recommended approval of the project with certain conditions.
“This is supposedly a mixed-use area, but I don’t see any mixed use for any of those  units. I don’t see how that is keeping cars off the road when they don’t have any place to shop,” Shortal added. “I think it’s … to the point where it’s almost better for you to fold this and start over. But that’s your call.”
Nall also said the project was “vastly different” than the original plans. “It’s pretty clear the scope is dramatically different than the original application. Would it be your desire to withdraw or is your preference to continue with a deferral?” Nall asked.
Kirk said if Grubb Properties withdrew its plans, rather than obtaining a preferred deferral, it would take another six to nine months to come up with a new plan. The developer has already spent nearly a year on the project, he noted. Grubb Properties purchased the 19.5 acres more than a year ago.
Nall said this was the third time Grubb Properties has appeared before council and was still proposing rental units as opposed to owner-occupied units. “Is it still your intent to build rental units as your starting point?” he asked.
Grubb said it would be “virtually impossible” at this time to finance a high rise filled with condominiums, but the intention would be to rent all the apartments within a year of completion of the building and then convert them to condos. And if the condos were not converted in that time, Grubb said his company would pay the hefty fines DeKalb Schools it imposed on itself in trying to gain council approval.
Shortal also asked several times if the developer wanted to defer the project or withdraw it. Kirk, the attorney, asked if they could hear from the rest of the council what their opinions of the project were before making a choice.
That’s when City Attorney Bill Riley interjected to say it would be inappropriate to poll the council. “No one said anything about a denial. There is no deferral motion on the table. The real question is do you want to proceed,” Riley told Kirk.
“I’m not telling you there would be a denial. I don’t know the vote,” Shortal added.
A motion made by Heneghan to defer until as late as July to consider the new plans was seconded by Tallmadge. A voice vote was held but was not clear, so the mayor asked for a show of hands. That’s when it was clear the motion to defer failed in a 3 to 4 vote.
After the vote, Deutsch told the developer she did not think their proposed project was not meeting the needs of the community.
“I’m not sure the niche you are seeking to fill I think needs to be filled,” she said. “You are proposing rows and rows of multi units housing. I do not believe your proposal meets an unmet need in our community.”