A proposed housing development across from the new Austin Elementary School now has a recommendation for approval from the Dunwoody Planning Commission, though residents continue to have concerns about its density and location.

Developer Peachland Housing Group requested rezoning 3.3 acres on Roberts Drive, which includes the historic Swancy Farmhouse, to allow more houses to accommodate the project.

The developer intends it to be an “empty nester” community to help the city have better living options for senior residents, but there are no actual age restrictions for the homeowners and the Planning Commission recommends it should stay that way.

A sketch of the 15-house neighborhood proposed on Roberts Drive. (Special)

“We obviously want more aging in place,” said Robert Wittenstein, a past Dunwoody Homeowners Association president, to the commission. “But across the street from an elementary school is the wrong place for this housing.”

The development would transform the three parcels with three single-family homes, 5318, 5328 and 5308 Roberts Drive, into a 15-home community intended for — but not restricted to — senior residents. Some residents said the development will cause problems with stormwater management and take away a forested buffer zone that separates it from the surrounding neighborhoods.

In a 6-1 vote during its Sept. 15 meeting, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the development with conditions. They include: the developer run a stormwater drain under a street in the development and dedicate it to the city; the developer provide landscaping along the north border of the property; all landscaping should be done before construction starts; and the project cannot be age-restricted.

Robert Miller, a partner on the project who is also a board member of the city Development Authority, said the development will only move forward if the City Council approves the rezoning request and requests for three variances, which are not able to be done at the same time, per city code.

According to the rezoning application, the developers request an increase in the maximum building lot coverage from 40% to 85%; a decrease in the rear setback for two interior houses from 30 feet to 20 feet; and a decrease in a side setback from 7.5 feet to 5 feet.

Residents were worried the increase in impervious surfaces on that property will cause stormwater runoff problems. Miller said the development is less dense than a previous proposal two years ago, which was also a pitch for a senior resident community.

Miller said developers came to an agreement with the Fairfield Homeowners Association to relocate a stormwater drain inside the development under a street instead of on the property line to save trees. The Fairfield HOA stormwater drain will connect with the new development’s line and both go into an underground retention pond, Miller said.

A map from Peachland Housing Group’s application showing the zoning of properties around the Roberts Drive site.

Miller said an 8-foot-tall fence along with evergreen trees will be planted as a screening area between the proposed neighborhood and the existing ones. He said developers are trying to preserve trees on the property line but won’t know how many can be saved until they can do a tree study. That fence and landscaping is intended to go up before construction on the development to mitigate noise and disturbance to neighbors, Miller said.

“What we’re hoping to do is go over and above what the code requires because it’s good for all of us,” said Miller about the stormwater and landscaping plans. “It’s good for me and good for the neighbors.”

Planning Commission members were also confused about the “empty nester” aim of the development, echoing some residents’ thoughts that the property is prime real estate for families with young children since it’s across from Austin Elementary School.

Miller said the layout of the houses and the neighborhood would appeal more to an older crowd but do not actually restrict the age of the homeowners. The houses will be one-and-a-half stories and aim for “one-floor living,” meaning master bedrooms would be on the first floor. There will also be a homeowners association with no big yards, playgrounds or other kid-friendly neighborhood amenities.

“Dunwoody has great housing,” Miller said. “We don’t need any more big, single-family homes. We need more diversity in our homes.”

Commissioner Erika Harris, the sole vote against the development, said she had concerns about the variances and didn’t think the developers had worked out all the neighbors’ concerns.

Judy Wicks, representing the Dunwoody Walk Homeowners Association to the east of the property, said she opposed the development because the association “wants it in writing that he will save the trees on his side of the line.”

Other residents at the meeting said the density of the development will cause an eyesore for them and lower property values.

The Planning Commission previously deferred its vote on the development during an Aug. 11 meeting, saying the developers needed to have more conversations with neighbors about their concerns.

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