The proposed Sembler Co. commercial development near the intersection of Piedmont Road and Lindbergh Drive—which raised hopes for a major grocery store in the area—was a major discussion item for the third month in a row at Neighborhood Planning Unit B Tuesday night. And Sembler again was strongly rebuked.
That grocery store was anticipated as part of a 300,000-square-foot Sembler Co. commercial retail development on 10 acres bordered by Lindbergh, Morosgo and Adina drives. However, the plan ran into a heap of denials last month for land use changes, first at NPU-B, then at the city’s Zoning Review Board, at a Sept. 13 public hearing and before the Design Review Committee.
It again received a cold reception at the NPU-B board meeting Tuesday night (Oct. 4) when Sembler requested another hearing before the NPU.
At its September meeting NPU-B had voted to deny Sembler’s request for land-use amendments to Special Public Interest area 15 (SPI-15) of the city’s recently adopted Comprehensive Development Plan largely because the developer had no site plan for the development and said it would not have one until all of the approvals had been received.
In its history, NPU-B has not approved land-use or zoning changes for developments without having a site plan to consider.
The message for the NPU-B board at Tuesday night’s meeting was that the developer was now ready to provide a “conceptual site plan” for consideration, but it would not guarantee that it would be the actual development plan.
|NPU-B Chair Sally Silver|
NPU-B chair Sally Silver had planned to have the executive committee of the board remain after the regular board meeting Tuesday night to discuss whether or not to allow Sembler to come back through the NPU’s process based on this new offering of a “conceptual site plan.”
That is when the discussion all began to unravel again for Sembler.
Garden Hills Neighborhood representative Bill Bozarth asked to have a discussion of what was going on with the SPI-15 request and Silver opened the discussion up for the entire board, rather than taking it into executive session or before the executive committee.
Some board members apparently were hearing for the first time details of the planned development, which included a 161,405-square-foot Lowe’s home improvement store and garden center, 25,000-square feet of street-front retail, 300 residential units totaling 300,000 square feet, and a maximum of 75,000 square feet for a grocery store.
The NPU board had anticipated that the grocery story would be a Publix or Kroger, but there was an indication from the developer it might end up being a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market concept. The NPU board had stated in September a Wal-Mart was unacceptable.
Silver also told the board that Sembler has no commitment for the grocery store. The only commitment the developer has is from Lowe’s. “Lowe’s is the only deal they have,” Silver said.
The Lowe’s store on the site would be directly across Morosgo Drive from the back of the Home Depot store at Lindbergh Plaza, which was also developed by Sembler.
Silver also said Sembler has indicated that the grocery store would not immediately be built, because the parking will be going below the grocery store space and the store would have to wait until that was all completed. Silver has been in ongoing discussions with Sembler and its attorneys.
At the Design Review Committee meeting on Sept. 13, Silver said Jeff Fuqua, president of Sembler, commented about the grocery store, “There really is no guarantee. We are trying real hard to get this grocery store. Right now it looks like we can only get Kroger,” Silver reported he told the committee.
“God forbid if the grocery store doesn’t work out,” Silver told the board. “We could end up with half a development, which just happens to be the big box.”
There also was a question raised as to whether Sembler intends to develop the property or simply get the required zoning changes and flip it. The current zoning and land-use for the property is 100 percent residential. The changes being sought by Sembler would change that to 80 percent commercial and 20 percent residential.
Silver explained that the aim of SPI-15 is to create a vibrant urban area, with dense high-rise residential units and small, local shops, restaurants and retail to foster a walking-type environment tied to MARTA transit.
“This is a transit-oriented development,” Silver explained. “This is not where a big box is located. These are all local streets. They are not arterials or connectors.” She added. “Lowe’s is a suburban-type development, which will create traffic, not eliminate it,” Silver stated.
One of the final surprises of the evening was the announcement by Silver that Sembler has never filed an application for these changes.
Using a little known process, the developer had At-Large City Councilman Aaron Watson put in the request for Sembler’s desired changes to the zoning and land use designation of the SPI-15 part of the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan.
That, along with all of the other aspects of the discussion pretty much sealed the decision of the NPU board for Tuesday night. The vote, although not unanimous, was very heavily in favor of not allowing Sembler to come back before the NPU unless it formally files an application for the changes and produces a real site plan.
And there was another very strong message from the NPU-B board: No big-box store on the site.
Timeline of Actions on Sembler zoning, land use requests
· At its Aug. 2 board meeting, Neighborhood Planning Unit B approved unanimously two zoning ordinances, which amended the Piedmont commercial corridor regulations to remove a minimum residential requirement for the property.
· At the Sept. 6 meeting, support seemed to dramatically erode. The board ended up denying approval of an amendment to the land use element of the 2011 Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the September after seeing no site plan and a Wal-Mart store was mentioned as a possible grocery store element. The board vote for denial was 25-9.
· The request for the amendment then went before the city’s Zoning Review Board in early September. Sembler asked for a deferment and received it.
· The issue of the CDP amendment was up for a public hearing on Sept. 12 and NPU-B chair person Sally Silver presented that the NPU board had voted 25-9 for denial of the amendment. The city’s staff also recommended denial.
· On Sept. 13, the issue again went before the Design Review Committee, which decided it could take no action, because there was no site plan and no support of the proposal by the NPU or city staff.
· First couple of days of October, Sembler requests to NPU-B that it be allowed to present the issue again. NPU board votes overwhelmingly to deny that request without a formal application and site plan.