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Alpharetta approves plans for dog park/restaurant

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials have approved plans for a hybrid luxury dog park and restaurant in downtown Alpharetta.

The owners behind Off Leash say the business will be a large, luxury indoor and outdoor dog park operating on a membership model in which patrons pay a monthly fee to bring their dogs to play and socialize, while they enjoy food and drinks at the business’s full-service restaurant.

Proposed for 2.3 acres at the southeast corner of Old Milton Parkway and South Main Street, project representatives say Off Leash will revitalize a long-vacant property, bringing more green space and foot traffic to one of the city’s busiest gateways.

Representing project applicant Lonnie Cooper Ventures at the Aug. 1 Alpharetta City Council meeting, attorney Julie Sellers said Alpharetta is bursting with dog owners, but not with opportunities for dogs to run free and play.

Sellers said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, pet and dog ownership has become even more important, and their business will provide a safe space for dogs and owners to gather and enjoy the outdoors.

“You see people with their dogs all over the place,” Sellers said. “Alpharetta is definitely a very dog-friendly city, and there are limited opportunities for dogs to be off leash. And so, this is a complement to the downtown area that has already been enhanced with a lot of restaurants, with a lot of retail, and certainly a lot of residents in the area.”

Sellers said the area of the proposed project has been historically underutilized, especially given its proximity to downtown and other parts of Alpharetta.

This project, she said, would bring the property in line with the aesthetic officials are trying to create throughout the city.

“We want this to have the appearance of a park, which is what it is and why we think that this is a great location for it,” Sellers said.

In addition to the restaurant, Sellers said Off Leash would include a 3,000-square-foot covered dog park area, separate large outdoors areas for small and large dogs, and a covered outdoor patio where owners could eat and relax with their pups.

Safety considerations

Sellers said the operation will have trained employees, tentatively called “Dog Tenders,” who will be stationed in the park area to help and maintain safety.

She said the park will also have a one strike rule for aggressive dogs and won’t allow any balls or toys at the establishment, to avoid objects being launched into traffic on Old Milton Parkway.

After hearing from project representatives, council members and the public raised questions about safety at the Old Milton Parkway/South Main Street intersection.

Nearly all council members noted that the only thing separating dogs from traffic at the busy intersection would be a metal fence. They said with Off Leash projecting 1,000 members by the end of its first year, the operation is liable to draw hundreds of dogs to the park on a regular basis.

“I’m really struggling with this application and mostly with the 5-foot fence,” Councilman John Hipes said. “My research shows that dogs can jump a 5-foot fence, and then it would need to be a 5-foot fence.”

Other council members said they could support the project if fencing surrounding the dog park areas was a minimum of 6 feet. Others said that in either case, it would be up to the applicant to ensure the safety of dogs at the business and the surrounding citizens.

But Councilman Brian Will pointed out that, while raising the fence height would help ensure safety, it could also disrupt the aesthetics of the area.

“I understand that business owners are responsible if something happens, but on City Council we're responsible to do our best to make sure that the potential for something to happen, doesn't happen,” Will said. “We do this in every decision we make approving zoning … So, I cannot support this because I don't think it's safe. I don't think it's aesthetically pleasing.”

Councilman Donald Mitchell echoed Will’s comments, saying the fencing was too high for him to support.

“I can't support a 6-foot fence right on Old Milton,” Mitchell said. “I could support the project, but I'm not there with a 6-foot fence around the whole thing. We don't even have a 6-foot fence in our own city’s dog park.”

Despite objections, the plans were approved 5-2, with Mitchell and Will casting the dissenting votes.

Reach Alexander Popp at 770-847-7404. Follow him on Twitter @Popp2Alex.