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Dunwoody looks for shared vision to shape city’s future

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DUNWOODY, Ga. — With economic growth showing no signs of slowing down in Dunwoody, city officials have begun looking at ways to help its suburban and urban areas coexist.

In July, the city issued a request for proposals to hire a consultant who would create a vision, known as Dunwoody Edge City 2.0, for the portion of Perimeter Center within Dunwoody. The proposals were due early this month.

Michael Starling, director of Dunwoody Economic Development, said the city is looking for three basic outcomes from the consultant: a vision for what the next 20 years could look like; a 3-D model of the vision; and a financial analysis of how it could impact the city. The project will also be based on three different growth scenarios — low, medium and high.

“We sort of have two Dunwoody’s right now,” Starling said. “We have our single-family, suburban residential neighborhoods, and then we have Perimeter Center (largely made up of office and retail space), and they don’t always work with one another. Sometimes, they work against one another.”

Merriam-Webster defines an edge city as a suburb that has developed its own political, economic and commercial base independent of the central city. Other edge cities in the area are Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta.

However, Dunwoody became Atlanta’s first edge city in the early 2000s, after the development of Perimeter Mall sparked an early expansion. Starling said this has led to issues such as overcrowding in the school system.

“Residents have basically said that until we can fix our school system, they don’t want to see much new residential development, and so most of our single-family neighborhoods are built out,” Starling said. “I think our last large plot of property that could have been developed for single-family residential the city actually bought for a park a couple of weeks ago, so every time somebody comes up with a new plan to develop in Perimeter, there’s typically a lot of pushback from the community.”

Another issue, he said, is with the “missing middle,” meaning there are a lot of apartments and family residential housing in Dunwoody, but there are few options in between, such as condos for young professionals or retirees. Starling said that will be another big conversation the city will need to have with developers in the future.

And although the long-term economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to be seen, Starling said it is likely it will impact future office and retail development.

“I don’t think there’s a doubt the mall will be a big conversation piece as part of this,” Starling said. “It’s the biggest piece of property in Perimeter. It’s really one of the economic engines for the city, but obviously, malls are changing, and we’ve known that for quite some time so I think it will have an impact.”

Starling said he doesn’t know how the mall fits into the plan, but developers will take it into account for any visions they may have.

“We certainly hope once we get this vision into place, developers will look to that vision to either modify their projects or maybe even spur new concepts out of those,” he said.

One thing is for sure. Starling said the project will include an extensive public engagement process.

“One of the things we’ve asked the consultant to do is to lay out how they plan to get the public involved,” Starling said. “I think most of the project will be that. We’re not creating a new zoning code, a development plan per se. We’re really talking about a big picture vision, so we expect a significant amount of time and effort to be around getting as many voices as we can from the community involved.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission awarded the city a Community Development grant of $120,000 in May to help fund the project. The city will match the grant with $15,000 of its own money. The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the Dunwoody Development Authority are contributing $7,500 each for a total project cost of $150,000.

After the city selects a consultant, Starling said they expect to begin working on the project as soon as Nov. 1.

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.

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