The owner of the historic Swancy Farmhouse on Roberts Drive is urging the Dunwoody City Council to deny rezoning property behind his house to allow for the construction of nine single-family detached houses, saying the infill project would surround his home with pavement and eliminate any privacy.
Dave Haverty argued against the proposed development at the April 8 City Council meeting where the council was hearing the first read of the rezoning ordinance. The second and final read is slated for April 22.
The developer, Rock River Realty, wants to build nine single-family homes on nearly 3 acres next to and behind the Swancy Farmhouse. To do so, the property at 5318 and 5328 Roberts Drive must be rezoned from R-100, which requires a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet, to R-50, which requires a minimum 6,000 square foot lot. The lots currently have 1960s ranch-style houses on them.
Plans include building two private roads in a “T-shape” for the proposed infill development. The new roads would essentially block in the Swancy Farmhouse, designated a historic property by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust.
The Swancy Farmhouse is across the street from the Dunwoody Nature Center and the new Austin Elementary School now under construction. On one side of the farmhouse is the Fairfield Townhomes community and on the other side is the Dunwoody Knoll neighborhood.
“We don’t want to be shut off from the community,” Haverty said in an interview. “The development would turn us into an island of blacktop.”
The Swancy Farmhouse was built in 1889, according to the Dunwoody Preservation Trust. The Swancy family moved into the home in 1930 and upgraded it over the years, including adding indoor plumbing and adding two bedrooms a half-floor for two bedrooms, Haverty said.
When Haverty purchased the house in 1996, a Swancy family member told him a mule once got stuck in the mud in the backyard and died. The mule’s bones are buried where he got stuck.
Haverty has made major renovations and additions to the home. But he said all the projects were done in keeping with the historic significance of the home, including restoring the original wood ceilings and preserving the stone fireplaces.
“When you look at our additions, you can see the additions are at the back of the house, in order to preserve the old part that was in the front,” he said.
The city’s Community Development Department, which is recommending the rezoning approval, said in a memo to the City Council that because of the many renovations and additions to the Swancy Farmhouse over the years, it is not considered a historic site by state or federal authorities.
“The house was originally built in 1889 as a three-bedroom farmhouse house, however modifications and additions have greatly changed the property’s physical features and its relationship to its significance,” according to a memo to the council by City Planner John Olson.
“We like living in a historical place,” he said. “We had a nice big piece of property, with green space in the back and a park across the street. The proposed development and new school take away both of these characters.”
One of the Rock River Realty developers said at the April 8 meeting there were early talks of buying the Swancy Farmhouse as part of the proposed development, but the decision to possibly buy the land would be taken up again after the council votes on the rezoning.
Councilmembers did express concern about the Swancy Farmhouse at the April 8 meeting. The developer negotiated buffers of 35 feet with Fairfield Townhomes and a 25-foot buffer between Dunwoody Knoll residents. Several Fairfield residents spoke in favor of the development and only one Dunwoody Knoll residents spoke against it.
Haverty’s request for a 35-foot buffer was not accepted by the developer or required by the city.
Councilmember Tom Lambert said it seemed to him that Haverty was “getting the short end of the stick” due to the buffer restrictions granted the other properties.
City officials said major landscaping along the shared borders of the Swancy Farmhouse and the new development would protect the home from adverse affects. Conditions for the rezoning include the developer planting 8-foot-tall trees along the shared borders of the Swancy Farmhouse and the new development. A 6-foot-tall aluminum fence is also required. The Havertys will also have access to the internal roads leading to the new houses, should the rezoning be approved.