A proposed housing development on Roberts Drive that has gotten consistent backlash from neighbors needs more planning before it can be approved, Dunwoody City Council members said during their Oct. 12 meeting.

Peachland Housing Group requested rezoning 3.3 acres on Roberts Drive, which includes the historic Swancy Farmhouse, to allow more houses to accommodate a 15-home “empty-nester” community intended for senior residents. The parcel, which includes 5318, 5328 and 5308 Roberts Drive, currently has three single-family homes.

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

Some residents spoke in opposition of the project at the Oct 12 meeting, citing density and stormwater management concerns. Because the development is proposed across from the new Austin Elementary School, residents and council members also felt that the intended demographic is not fitting for its location.

In addition to the rezoning request, developers want a few variances, including increasing the impervious surface coverage from 40% to 85%; decreasing the rear setback for two interior houses from 30 feet to 20 feet; and decreasing the side setbacks from 7.5 feet to 5 feet.

The developers previously told the city Planning Commission that they would not want to build the project without those variances. But because variances go through a separate group for approval — the city Zoning Board of Appeals — the variances cannot be approved with the rezoning request.

“There’s inherent problems with zoning and variances being completely separate and heard by two different boards,” city Community Development Director Richard McLeod said in the council meeting. “Potentially, if the ZBA rules against them and you all approve it, we’ll go to court.”

The developers also plan to move a city stormwater drain from the border of the property to under a private street within the development in order to provide a landscaped buffer zone for neighboring residents. Developers want the city to continue the maintenance on the drain, but city Public Works Director Michael Smith advised against that, citing cost concerns.

Moving the stormwater drain shouldn’t cause any problems for residents downstream, Smith said.

But Dunwoody Knoll residents are still concerned about how a drastic increase in impervious surfaces would impact stormwater runoff, with which the neighborhood already faces problems, Councilmember Tom Lambert said.

Council members said they wanted to see studies that show there would not be a negative impact on stormwater management in that area.

Robert Miller, a partner on the project who is also a board member of the city Development Authority, said he has tried to solve any issues neighboring residents may have with the project and hasn’t heard much from the Dunwoody Knoll neighborhood.

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

“The difficulty that we’ve been having from this is that we don’t really get any good guidance or communication from the council,” Miller said. “I live here in Dunwoody, too, and I’m trying to make a great quality project. We’re not some evil outside person coming in.”

Mayor Lynn Deutsch recommended Councilmember Stacey Harris facilitate a conversation with the Dunwoody Knoll residents and the developers to solve any concerns they may have.

The Planning Commission recommended the project for approval with some conditions in a 6-1 vote on Sept. 15. Commissioner Erika Harris voted against it because she said it didn’t seem like the developers had worked out all of the neighbors’ concerns.

Both the Planning Commission and council told developers they did not want an age restriction on the project because of its proximity to the elementary school.

Robert Wittenstein, a former council member, opposed the project because of a stipulation in the rezoning application that says it will have an age restriction.

“They have not been completely consistent,” Wittenstein said in an interview. “Most of the places it refers to it being targeted for seniors.”

Miller told the Planning Commission the layout of the houses and the neighborhood would appeal more to an older crowd, but the development would 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.

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