Roberts Properties Peachtree Retail, LLC (Roberts Properties) has submitted Rezoning, Special Use Permit, and Change in Conditions applications for its 4.4-acre property at 5246 Peachtree Parkway. The land in question is located across from The Forum shopping center and adjacent to the Town Center, within the Simpson Elementary School district.
Roberts Properties wants to develop a seven-story apartment tower with 169 units, and a seven-story hotel tower (Hotel Indigo’s logo is what appears in the application and on renderings) with 110 rooms, plus 529 structured parking spaces.
According to a statement from the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association (UPCCA), “The application requests a stream buffer variance along with a rezoning from ‘Commercial’ to ‘Mixed-Use Development’ in order to include apartments in the project. Rental apartments are not currently a permitted use on this property and the Mixed-Use Development zoning regulations allow building heights of up to 25 stories. If approved, this project would be among the tallest, most dense developments in Peachtree Corners.”
In response to our questions with concerns about the developer deviating from the proposed plan, Planning and Zoning Administrator, Jeff Conkle noted that density can be capped in the approval request, conditions can require an “order of building” (i.e. hotel first, apartments second), and conditions can be tied to concept and elevation plans that would need additional approvals and possibly a public hearing to change any facet of the approved plan.
While it is not uncommon for developers to request zoning changes, it’s the history between Peachtree Corners, later the incorporated city, and Roberts Properties and its owner, Charlie Roberts, that makes this request particularly interesting.
According to a report by the “Atlanta Business Chronicle,” in 1998, Roberts Properties filed a rezoning request for a 27-acre tract at the intersection of Peachtree Corners Circle and GA 141 (Peachtree Parkway). The 500,000-square-foot tract, which was also located in the Simpson Elementary School district, was zoned for office space. Roberts Properties wanted it rezoned for a 348-unit apartment community.
Some residents opposed the rezoning because they thought it would add more congestion to the area and bring more transient students.
However, the report states that research conducted at the time by Street Smarts traffic consultants showed the Roberts project would produce 68 percent less traffic than a 500,000-square-foot office building.
At the same time, there was public debate regarding how Gwinnett County was configuring its school districts, including the one where Simpson Elementary School was located. The applicant alleged that Gwinnett County was purposely trying to keep “apartment/transient” students out of specific districts.
Berney Kirkland, a spokesperson for Gwinnett County Public Schools at the time, explained to the “Atlanta Business Chronicle” that the county stood behind its district decisions saying, “In the school system’s establishment of new boundaries, we did not take into account the kinds of children or types of housing they come from coming into schools. We have guidelines to follow in our redistricting. We have to base it on the number of students that need to be served in those areas; growth forecasted for enrollment for coming years; capacity of buildings; the current geography in place to form logical boundaries; and student transportation issues.”
In an attempt to compromise with Gwinnett County, Roberts Properties proposed a mixed-use development for the site that would feature 220 apartment units and 100,000 square feet of office space.
They appear to be making a similar move again in their recent 2017 rezoning request with Peachtree Corners. In the application, the company states that it would like the property to be used 100 percent for high-end apartments, but that it knows the city would prefer a boutique hotel.
It claims that a hotel alone is not profitable, especially without the same development incentives (parking deck, rights-of-way, internal roads, etc.) given to Fuqua Development, LP for Town Center. Among other reasons it cites for lack of viability as a commercial property alone, mainly the heavy restrictions on the types of businesses allowed on the property, it also mentions high construction costs and low nightly hotel rates, which it says are partially due to high office vacancy rates, as issues. “Without the apartments, the hotel simply cannot be developed,” it says.
In 1998 rezoning request was denied by the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners based on the recommendation of the Gwinnett Planning Commission, which said the Roberts project did not fit into the county’s land-use plan.
In an attempt to have the request reconsidered, Roberts Properties filed state and federal lawsuits against Gwinnett County. It piggybacked off the outcry over school district configuration and used the Fair Housing Act to claim that the county was unfairly trying to keep apartment/transient students out of specific school districts by denying its rezoning request.
Many considered it to be the first time a luxury apartment developer cited the Fair Housing Act, which was established to prevent housing discrimination, to challenge a rezoning denial.
Roberts Properties also claimed that the property was not economically viable as office space alone. The company appears to be making a similar claim in its 2017 application, which states, “There is simply an insufficient demand for office space in Peachtree Corners and at the Subject Property’s location, specifically for a new office development on the Subject Property to be economically viable.”
Around 2000, Roberts Properties won the suit against Gwinnett County.
In a recent statement from council member Alex Wright, he recalls subsequent encounters the county and city had with the developer. “Mr. Roberts is the individual that sued (and won) Gwinnett County back around 2000 to have the land where the Town Center is going, zoned for apartments. He sat on that land until 2012 when he sold it to Lennar, who was going to build apartments until the City bought it from Lennar at a higher price a year to prevent those apartments from being built. This led to the creation of the Town Center. Mr. Roberts is now proposing to build apartments on land next to the Town Center,” Wright says.
On Nov. 6 from 7-8:30 p.m. the UPCCA will hold a Land Use Meeting at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church (4480 Peachtree Corners Circle, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092). Wright urges residents to attend, “I would strongly encourage you to attend this meeting on Nov. 6 and to share this information [about Roberts] with your neighbors.”
According to Conkle, the planning department will have a recommendation on this application for the Planning Commission posted online by Friday, Nov. 10 for the public.
On Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the Roberts Properties rezoning proposal at its. Developers usually attend to present their proposal and answer questions. Charlie Roberts or a representative from Roberts Properties could not be reached for a comment in time for this article, or to confirm their attendance.
We also reached out to Hotel Indigo for comment on being included on renderings and the application. There was no response in time for this article. We also asked Jeff Conkle about Hotel Indigos inclusion in this application. He responded that no letter of agreement was included with the application, and that staff is not aware of any such agreement.
Click here to read the full application uploaded to peachtreecornerslife.
Alex McCray is a freelance writer/reporter for Peachtree Corners Life. Contributing to the award-winning, student-run newspaper and magazine publications at Georgia Southern University sparked her passion for storytelling. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she joined Atlanta Best Media, where she continues to work today. When she isn’t glued to a keyboard, her pastimes include pursuing her only bucket list item of seeing all seven continents, working out, and trying new restaurants. She can be reached at: Alex@PeachtreeCornersLife.com