Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal is pushing for the City Council to tweak the zoning code by adding one word that he says will give the city legal protection from developers wanting to build high-density residential projects in Perimeter Center.

Click to enlarge. The Perimeter Center zoning districts are divided into four major areas as highlighted with the different colors. (City of Dunwoody)

According to the Comprehensive Plan, the PC-2 District is intended for “employment uses, limited shop front retail, residential and services.” The city’s zoning ordinance calls for “employment uses, residential buildings, and limited shopfront retail and services.”

The proposed tweak is to add one word — “limited” — in front of the word “residential” in the PC-2 zoning ordinance. First read of the proposed ordinance amendment was held at the July 9 City Council meeting; second and final read is in two weeks.

The Planning Commission said adding the word “limited” in front of “residential” in the zoning ordinance was too vague and unanimously recommended denial. The Community Development department staff is also recommending denial because the word creates ambiguity and provides no definition of how residential units would be limited, according to a staff memo to council.

“If the staff doesn’t recommend this and the Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial, what’s driving this change?” Councilmember Terry Nall asked.

City Planning Manager John Olson said the mayor made the request.

Nall said he did not believe adding “limited” was a “decent and orderly” change to the zoning code and noted the council spent some more than two years working on coming up with specific zoning for Perimeter Center before approving it in May 2017.

Olson also noted that a comprehensive plan’s purpose is to give an overview of what is wanted in an area, while it is best the zoning code be as specific as possible.

Councilmember Lynn Deutsch, the only council member to vote against the Perimeter Center zoning approved last year, asked Shortal what was the reason for him asking for the amendment.

Shortal explained the word “limited” was included in the city’s comprehensive plan for the PC-2 district, but not in the actual zoning code for the PC-2 district. He said a developer pointed that out to him. By being clearer about “limited residential” Shortal said he believed it would provide the city some “legal status” to thwart developer lawsuits.

“When we became a city, the number one reason was to control zoning,” Shortal said. He said leaving out the word “limited” could allow developers to build as many residential units as they want by right.

Deutsch noted there are already 8,000 residential units in Perimeter Center and suggested there needs to be a way to quantify what the mayor means by “limited” other than just using that word in the zoning code.

She also said she doubted one word would provide the city any legal protection.

“No matter what we put … the developer can ask for [what they want] and can still sue us,” she said.

In an interview after the meeting, Shortal said he learned about the word “limited” in front of “residential” not being in the PC-2 zoning code from Grubb Properties.

Grubb Properties wanted to build a massive mixed-use development over 10 years that included more than 1,000 apartments and condominiums and a 19-story office tower on Perimeter Center East where the former City Hall building is located. The developer in March withdrew its request after facing the likelihood of the council rejecting the project due to concerns over density.

The restrictions on number of residential units in Perimeter Center is primarily based on heights of buildings with 16 stories being the highest allowed in the area. Developers can seek up to 36 stories through the special land use permit process. There is no specific restriction on number of units per acre in Perimeter Center, for example.

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