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Tempers flare over proposed buffers for Dunwoody Village

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DUNWOODY, Ga. — A public hearing that would incorporate two land parcels into the Dunwoody Village Overlay District turned ugly, with insults and allegations against city officials and the attorney for the commercial owners.

The controversy came to a boil at the Aug. 23 Dunwoody City Council meeting and centers around a proposed land buffer between homes in the Branches subdivision and an adjacent commercial property within the Shoppes of Dunwoody and another property that contains Sunshine Car Wash.

Hours before the massive overlay district was to come up for a council vote in late 2020, attorneys representing the business owners filed suit, contesting the proposed 150-foot land buffer between the commercial and residential properties.

The City Council decided at that time to exclude the two properties in the ordinance, vowing to incorporate them back into the zoning when the disputes were resolved. Over the past eight months, the city reached a compromise with the commercial property owners for a 35-foot buffer with 115 feet of open space.

Residents in the Branches protested, saying they felt left out of the process and questioned what could be erected within the open space.

At the public hearing, a dozen residents spoke in favor of keeping the buffer at an average of 150 feet, citing agreements made in the 1970s between DeKalb County and the original owners of the Shoppes of Dunwoody. No formal document citing that agreement can be located, however, only drafts, or unsigned documents.

The neighbors also claimed that an agreement was hammered out, prior to the filing of the lawsuit, that contained the 150-foot buffer provision. However, they said, after legal action was threatened, that option was dropped from consideration.

“We need to be smart, fair and transparent,” Branches resident Joan Weiss said. “There is nothing smart, fair and transparent about the city scrapping the acceptable agreement we had worked out.”

Resident Joe Hirsch, a regular speaker at council meetings, questioned the character of attorney Dan Webb, who is representing the commercial owners.

“I don’t like the man,” Hirsch said. “He’s not a man of his word.”

Webb responded to Hirsch, saying that he “had never had my integrity questioned before and I don’t appreciate those comments, but I understand the source of those comments.”

“I know that you are well aware of the integrity of the person who made those comments,” Webb said. “I will stand on my reputation in all my dealings with the City of Dunwoody and the DHA.”

Webb said the agreement hammered out between the city and his client “is the hallmark of a true compromise – one that nobody wants – it certainly isn’t what my client wants, but it’s something he can live with.”

Webb also said the Dunwoody Planning Commission, city staff and the city’s attorney have all recommended the revised proposal.

“I’ve heard a lot of chatter calling the property owner greedy and selfish, and I want to say that we didn’t start this,” he said. “This (rezoning) process was started by the city, not us.”

At the conclusion of the public hearing, City Councilman John Heneghan said he thinks the neighbors’ concerns are not being heard, and he proposed that a less dense zoning classification be investigated and discussed.

“I would not be voting on this zoning based on what I am hearing right now,” Heneghan said.

As the measure was a public hearing item, the council took no action on the proposal.

In other action at the meeting, the council unanimously approved the nomination of Villard “Ardy” Bastien to fill the unexpired term of Pam Tallmadge in City Council Post 1, who resigned July 15. He was nominated to the position by Mayor Lynn Deutsch and was seated immediately after being sworn in by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey Hydrick.

“This appointment is an honor and privilege,” Bastien said in a prepared statement. “I enjoy public service and look forward to taking on the additional role of representing the people.”

Bastien, an attorney, was appointed to Dunwoody’s first Zoning Board of Appeals in 2009 and has served continuously, including as chairman, since then. He will not seek to retain the District 1 seat and will cede the position to the winner of the Nov. 2 election.

Cathy covers local government and community news for the Dunwoody area.

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