Saving a stretch of commercial buildings as a possible “restaurant row” is among the ideas the city is considering for its redesign of the Mount Vernon Highway/Johnson Ferry intersection in advance of a public meeting within about a month.
Earlier this year, the city proposed rebuilding the X-shaped intersection as a “grid” of parallel streets. One side effect would be taking some or all of a half-dozen commercial properties along Mount Vernon between Roswell Road and Boylston Drive.
Gerard Gunthert, a Sandy Springs developer, owns one of those buildings, at 285 Mount Vernon, where his current tenant is a chiropractor. He’s sketched out a plan for turning it into a restaurant with a roof deck, and would like to see the whole strip become a “restaurant row” with on-street parking, an idea he said he has floated with city officials.
Gunthert — who currently has a high-profile plan to bring an Antico Pizza Napoletana restaurant to another Boylston Drive address — suggests the “old and cool” buildings could echo downtown Roswell and perhaps be branded as “The Row.”
Andy Porter, a local developer and a member of the Sandy Springs Planning Commission, is among the owners of another building on that stretch, 255 Mount Vernon, which is currently vacant. Porter says Gunthert’s idea has “merit” and fits with the city’s recent “Next Ten” land-use plan.
“I think everyone envies what Roswell has [on] Canton Street and what Alpharetta is building in their downtown area,” Porter said. “In all of the Next Ten meetings I was involved in, the consultants stressed the idea of creating a ‘sense of place.’ If a ‘restaurant row’ would further that goal, I believe that my partners and I would be willing to be involved.”
“The city is currently reviewing public feedback received over the past several months and evaluating design options, including one that Mr. Gunthert has suggested,” said city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. “We anticipate scheduling a public meeting in late August or early September to update the public on the latest design recommendations based on that feedback.”
Located just a block east of busy Roswell Road, the intersection is known as dangerous and gridlocked during rush hour, though traffic can be light at most other times. City officials say there were more than 150 accidents reported there in 2014 through 2016.
For years, the city has worked on various designs complicated largely by disputes about property-takings in the tight area. This year, city engineers introduced two new grid options, saying they would improve safety and traffic flow. They make Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry parallel roads.
However, the plan created new controversy with an apparently optional “cut-through” road somewhere in the vicinity of the Sandy Springs Branch Library, with its adjacent Reading Park as one route. The cut-through idea has sparked neighborhood opposition.
Green space is an issue with Gunthert’s concept as well. It would require narrowing the grid design, reducing green space between the parallel streets.
Gunthert said the Sandy Springs Conservancy, a parks advocacy group, has pushed back on that idea.
Conservancy board chairman Steve Levetan said that “the Conservancy is always pushing for as much green/park space as possible — our core mission.
“That said,” he added, “the Sandy Springs Conservancy does not have a formal position regarding that specific intersection plan. However, we would view the loss of any park or green space, including the Reading Park, to be a step backwards for the city.”
Gunthert is especially concerned with the “full grid” option, which is the wider of the two designs presented earlier this year.
“The expanded grid more or less wipes out the buildings” on that commercial section of Mount Vernon, he said, and mostly for construction easements. “I don’t want to see TSPLOST funds wasted on tearing down buildings we don’t need to,” he said, referring to project funding via a transportation special local option sales tax.
He has sketched out a design with head-on, on-street parking added to the street, and at least his own building being transformed into a restaurant.
Porter said the “restaurant row” idea hinges on the city’s design ideas.
“All of this, of course, is just talk until the city decides on a final plan for the roads,” said Porter. “Is the design plan going to be an east-west connector to [Ga.] 400/MARTA/Perimeter [Center], or a more neighborhood-centric [and] walkable plan that would lend itself to a restaurant row?”
Gunthert said he has spoken with some other property owners on that section of Mount Vernon, including the Fido Fido dog-boarding business, whose owners did not respond to questions.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which operates a branch at the Mount Vernon/Roswell corner, intends to remain — but is also about to open a new branch roughly a half-mile north at 6509 Roswell Road, according to spokesperson Chardais Bastien.