Council for Quality Growth Again Opposes Proposed Changes in Dunwoody: City Council Moves Closer to Killing Mixed-Use and Commercial Development

For the third time this year, Council Policy & Government Affairs Director James Touchton testified before the Dunwoody City Council to express concerns over a proposed amendment to Code Section 8-1(e)(1), which would require buildings greater than three (3) stories in height to be framed with noncombustible materials. This would mean metal and/or concrete construction. The proposed code change and associated documents can be found HERE.

In the newest change to the proposal, the City removed the waiver process that was included previously, allowing the City Council to exempt certain projects from the proposed ordinance should it have passed. The item was up for discussion for submittal to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), who has 60 days to produce a recommendation, which is non-binding.

A Brief History of this Amendment

  • Previously, in February 2014, DCA responded with “No Comment” to the first submittal the proposed Amendment which did not include a waiver or a square footage recommendation which was heard at the March 10th City Council Meeting.
  • In April 2014, City Council again heard a new version of this proposed Amendment which included a square foot clause, “in aggregate with other principal buildings or structures on the same site exceeds 100,000 sq. ft. of Gross Floor Area (GFA)
  • In July 2014, City Council brought forth the proposed Amendment which increased the threshold to 200,000 sq. ft. of GFA and included a waiver process.

The City Council, with the exception of Mayor Mike Davis, who voiced opposition, directed Community Development Director Steve Foote to submit before DCA for a recommendation the newest version of the proposed Amendment, which removes the waiver process but includes the 200,000 sq. ft. GFA.

Touchton testified with new information on the proposed change, stating:  “There are a limited number of zoning classifications in the Dunwoody City Code that allow buildings over 3 stories in height.  Those are RM (Residential multi-family), O-I (Office-Institution), and the M (Industrial) zoning district.  Only 3 of the City’s 22 zoning districts (RM-HD, OI and M) allow buildings over 48 feet or 4 stories in height.  On the City’s official zoning map, those classifications are only found within the City’s major activity centers.  As further protections the city’s code does not allow building heights to exceed 35 feet (3 stories) adjacent to any single-family district, firmly protecting the city’s single-family neighborhoods.  The zoning code also already requires all proposed buildings over 35 feet to undergo an additional life safety review by local fire and rescue services.”

As we have noted before, the current code is in complete compliance with State building requirements and in conformance with the International Building Code in requiring that only buildings over five stories be constructed of noncombustible materials. The implementation of this new code would burden developers and builders with additional costs for buildings that are four to eight floors where the economics of steel and concrete are difficult. This would be detrimental towards the many new projects and plans that have low-rise buildings such as apartments, hotels, senior housing and offices, which typically use engineered wood-frame construction.

This code change would effectively eliminate many proposed projects and limit future construction of new and beneficial developments in the City. It seems unnecessary since the City already has complete control over new projects through its zoning authority and can use this authority in conjunction with its comprehensive land use plan.

Based upon Council research on building codes throughout the Metro Atlanta region, it appears that only the City of Chamblee has a building code that requires the use of non-combustible material for buildings above three (3) stories, and Chamblee is considering the removal of this requirement as recommended in the 10 year update of its Chamblee Town Center Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). To see the recommendation for the City Chamblee, click HERE and look on page 56. The main reason is pure economics which has precipitated a lack of interest in new mid-rise development with the standard in place.

Through our research, we have found that no projects in the City of Chamblee have been built to the current structural standards; two have been granted waivers, and are currently in the development and permitting phases. Chamblee is more concerned with the quality of architecture, aesthetics, and how a project fits into the City fabric rather than the structural and building requirements. They are unsure of how the current code fits in with the vision of the City. The City will be holding a public hearing today to further discuss their Unified Development Ordinance, which we expect this issue to be a part of.

The imbalance between the number of commuters entering Dunwoody each day (33,250) compared to the number that leave (18,432) or both live and work within the city (1,789) demonstrates the importance of attracting mixed-use, high density development in Dunwoody. This type of development would attract a population that would foster a live-work-play lifestyle. With the rise of the millennial population and the aging of the baby boomer generation, the demand for these developments is at an all-time high. The City should be actively supporting the construction of mixed-use, high density developments rather than targeting them with this code change. By requiring the use of noncombustible materials to construct higher density projects, Dunwoody would be hindering future economic growth and prosperity in the Perimeter area as the attraction of key demographics would be lost.

If this building code ordinance is allowed to proceed, this will not only be a Dunwoody issue, but also an issue for other cities throughout the metro area, as this will set a precedence for others to follow.

The Council again expressed its willingness to work with the City of Dunwoody to forge a policy solution that will foster responsible growth and development in Dunwoody and we are very appreciative to the City Council and Community Development Director Steve Foote for this opportunity.