Stage set to transform Dunwoody Village into downtown district

Dunwoody Village businesses, including Taqueria Los Hermonos in The Shops of Dunwoody strip mall, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes, patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Dunwoody Village businesses, including Taqueria Los Hermonos in The Shops of Dunwoody strip mall, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes, patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Dunwoody Village is one of the Perimeter area’s retail and restaurant hubs, but residents and city leaders said its design is outdated — and has been for decades.

Since Dunwoody became a city in 2008, elected officials and business owners have pondered how to bring the series of strip shopping malls into the 21st century. The area was designed to be drivable, but most modern downtown districts and mixed-use destinations in metro Atlanta look quite different, focusing on walkability and density.

Richard McLeod, Dunwoody’s community development director, grew up in Roswell and remembers what the village looked like in the 1970s when his mom would drive to work at the area’s other major retail center: Perimeter Mall. He said looking at the village gives him déjà vu.

“I drove there when I got the job here, which was 40 years later, and I said, ‘Wow, the village looks exactly the same,’” McLeod said. “I started talking about it, and more and more people said how they wished something could be done with the village.”

His informal conversations turned into a city-backed survey of residents, and their ideas helped fuel a re-write of the village’s zoning code. The city is close to completely rezoning the 160-acre village with hopes of attracting new development with modern architectural design and interconnected projects.

While the series of strip malls can’t feasibly be transformed into a historic downtown, business owners say meaningful changes can be made.

“People want to stay in their community, and when you look at Alpharetta or Roswell and what they did with their Main Streets, we have an incredible opportunity to do things here — make this a destination,” said Tracy Stalzer, owner of Village Threads.

Building up

At the end of 2020, the city adopted a new zoning code for the village as part of the Dunwoody Village Master Plan. Hundreds of residents gave feedback for the plan, and McLeod said they primarily wanted the village to feel like the true downtown district of the city.

“Bring some new element to this old village,” Julia Chen, an employee at Cafe on Pharr, said. “Hopefully this whole area can be combined together and customers can come here, have their coffee, get their groceries, grab lunch and meet with a friend.”

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Dunwoody Village businesses, including those in The Shops of Dunwoody strip mall, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes, patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Dunwoody Village businesses, including those in The Shops of Dunwoody strip mall, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes, patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

caption arrowCaption
Dunwoody Village businesses, including those in The Shops of Dunwoody strip mall, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes, patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The village is defined as several existing strip malls — The Shops at Dunwoody, Dunwoody Plaza, Dunwoody Hall and the titular Dunwoody Village. It’s now mainly filled with retail and restaurants, but the city hopes to draw a greater diversity of businesses and offices.

McLeod said the rezoning effort aims to bring new buildings closer to the street and requires new developments to upgrade streetscapes. It also allows for residential projects.

The code also requires new buildings near the center of the village to be two to five stories tall, which McLeod said is the only way to give the village the feel of a city center.

“We realized that it was going to take (that requirement) in order to get the people to even think about possibly rebuilding their sites or having enough gumption to take the risk on it,” he said.

Only two parcels haven’t been rezoned due to initial objections from the property owners. A compromise was recently struck, and the city expects the rezoning to be approved at an Aug. 10 Dunwoody Planning Commission meeting.

Building outdoors

The pandemic hasn’t delayed any projects, but Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling said the city has adjusted its focus in light of the past year.

Using federal relief funds, the city launched the Al Fresco Matching Grant Program, which helped restaurants expand their outdoor dining capabilities. Starling said it showed the village can be a gathering spot with proper outdoor infrastructure.

ExploreDunwoody offers grants to help restaurants expand outdoor dining during pandemic

“(The pandemic) showed us a way that we might, as a city or as the development authority, help move the area towards more of this walkable area,” he said. “And that’s really around this Al Fresco (program), to have this sort of vibrant outdoor dining and to have these pocket parks built around retail.”

Junayed Ahmed, the owner of Royal Spice, opened his business last summer in the village, and said any nighttime attractions would be welcome.

“After 8 o’clock, this area is pretty much dead,” he said. “If (the city) could encourage other businesses to stay open later before closing ... it would generate more business.”

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Dunwoody Village businesses, including Royal Spice, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Junayed Ahmed owns Royal Spice and just celebrated their first year June 1; part of his concern is visibility with shrubbery, recessed store fronts and the outdated signage, which makes it easy to pass by. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Dunwoody Village businesses, including Royal Spice, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021.  Junayed Ahmed owns Royal Spice and just celebrated their first year June 1; part of his concern is visibility with shrubbery, recessed store fronts and the outdated signage, which makes it easy to pass by. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

caption arrowCaption
Dunwoody Village businesses, including Royal Spice, may soon have a new city center, in the mean time the locals enjoy whatever green space and outdoor patios they can find in the multiple shopping complexes patched together in the area on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Junayed Ahmed owns Royal Spice and just celebrated their first year June 1; part of his concern is visibility with shrubbery, recessed store fronts and the outdated signage, which makes it easy to pass by. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Miguel Romero Jr., the general manager at Taqueria Los Hermanos, agreed. He said Dunwoody Tavern, a nearby pub, launched a summertime concert series, which has helped business.

“Dunwoody Tavern does live music, and we offer great margaritas, so it’s a win-win,” he said. “The more people who come here and the more people who want to hang out in the area, the better it is for everybody.”

The most recent development to get approved for the village aims to accomplish just that. DASH Hospitality Group pitched The Village in Dunwoody project, consisting of four restaurants, a bar and a courtyard for gatherings and live music events, and the city approved it in March.

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This is a concept sketch of DASH Hospitality Group's project.

Credit: City of Dunwoody

This is a concept sketch of DASH Hospitality Group's project.

Credit: City of Dunwoody

caption arrowCaption
This is a concept sketch of DASH Hospitality Group's project.

Credit: City of Dunwoody

Credit: City of Dunwoody

The first phase of the $3 million project is expected to launch in September, and Starling said it’s exactly the type of project to help modernize the village.

“That whole idea that DASH came up with is sort of what we’re looking to do all over the village in different places,” he said.

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