Dunwoody residents continue opposition to Tilly Mill Road path plan | Dunwoody News

DUNWOODY, Ga. — Paths and trails throughout Dunwoody remain a hot-button issue with residents.

Last May, the Dunwoody City Council approved a Trail Master Plan based on months of public input sessions and collaboration with the PATH Foundation, a Metro Atlanta nonprofit committed to increasing greenway space.

A Street View image from Google Earth shows 5383 Tilly Mill Road from the entrance to the Renfroe Lake subdivision. The Zoning Board of Appeals approved the developer’s plan for the 3-lot subdivision Jan. 4, which includes a portion of the 12-foot multi-use path on the east side of Tilly Mill Road.

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The Trail Master Plan includes 68.7 miles of multi-use walking and biking trails connecting countless Dunwoody neighborhoods, nine city parks, 11 schools, seven shopping centers and two MARTA stations.

The plan calls for dividing Dunwoody into four sections; North, West, Central and East. It breaks down how the construction of side paths, raised one-way cycle tracks and traffic calming measures on existing streets might impact each area.

Public Works Director Michael Smith said his department had been developing a sidepath on Tilly Mill Road before the Trail Master Plan was adopted. 

“The Trail Master Plan is kind of a guiding document at this point,” Smith said. “It has the path on the east side of Tilly Mill, so that’s the plan.”

Before approval of the Trail Master Plan, the City Council was presented with two options for the 12-foot-wide multi-use path along Tilly Mill Road, one on the east side of the roadway, the other on the west. Estimated costs for the west side option came in at $3.5 million. The east side option was estimated at $4.2 million.

The Dunwoody Trail Master Plan contains 68.7 miles of multi-use walking and biking trails connecting residents to amenities across the city. The plan, which has received backlash from residents, was approved by the City Council May 22.

CITY OF DUNWOODY/PROVIDED

Smith said the City Council supported the east side proposal and that city staff endorsed the idea because more residents could access the path without crossing a major roadway and there is less traffic from driveways and side streets.

Smith also said there are more utilities on the west side, which would complicate planting trees as a street buffer.

Still, the east side option requires temporary easements or rights-of-way from up to 20 properties.

Full-scale construction wouldn’t begin for some time, though. 

“The Tilly Mill project is not in the first two phases of implementation [of the Trail Master Plan], which means it’s probably 5-10 years down the road,” Smith said.

From left, Dunwoody Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Joe Tuttle, Vice-Chair Ellen Etheridge, member Ardy Bastienand member Tara Targovnik hear from residents about a proposed subdivision on Tilly Mill Road Jan. 4. The Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to approve the developer’s request for a 3-home subdivision. 

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Path spurs remarks at meeting

Despite its back-burner status, the city is laying the groundwork for the Tilly Mill Road path.

About 50 residents turned out Jan. 4 for a Dunwoody Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to oppose a condition requiring that a residential developer build a section of the trail as part of his plans for a three-home neighborhood at 5383 Tilly Mill Road near Renfroe Lake Drive. 

The lot, zoned single-dwelling residential-100, is 2.38 acres with a one-story home constructed in 1900.

The applicant, Michael Phelps of Southern Heritage Home Builders, proposes to demolish the existing home and subdivide the existing property into three lots with three new homes.

When the Zoning Board of Appeals eventually approved the developer’s request for a setback variance, many residents spoke out against leaving intact the requirement for the multi-use path.

Seven of the nine public comments at the meeting related to the multi-use path. 

Because the city’s website still lists two alternatives for the path, residents who spoke at the meeting argued to prevent construction on the road’s east side.

They pointed to loss of tree canopy, the aesthetics of a partially completed path and failure of a proposed $60 million local parks and greenspace bond last November. 

An image shows the approved 3-home subdivision at 5383 Tilly Mill Road. Because the subdivision increases the number of single-family lots, Dunwoody’s Code of Ordinances requires right-of-way improvements from the developer, Southern Heritage Home Builders.

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While the Tilly Mill Road path was not included in the list of bond projects, the multi-use trail, which would run from Womack Road to Mount Vernon Road, is in the Dunwoody Trail Master Plan.

Opponents of the Trail Master Plan, No Bond Committee members Bob Hickey and Tom Simon, spoke against building sections of the path on the east side of Tilly Mill Road.

“The city is trying to make the developer pay and start this path on the east side…,” Simon said during his public comment. 

Hickey and Simon, along with other residents, said they would like to see the path built on the west side of Tilly Mill Road, if it is built at all.

Simon, who lives on the east side of Tilly Mill Road, opposed the PATH Foundation’s development of the Dunwoody Trail Master Plan before its adoption.

“The biggest problem in this case is looking at the recommendation that was made from staff…”, Renfroe Lake HOA President Robert Hein said. “To me, as an attorney, that says the Tilly Mill path is going to be built on this location on the east side.”

The residents of the 40-home subdivision surrounding Renfroe Lake Drive took no issue with the three-home subdivision after the developer agreed to reduce the number of homes from four on Dec. 17.

“Our feeling is that you have the power, if you want, to approve the variance but without the condition of the path,” Hein said. 

Senior Planner Madalyn Smith presents the staff recommendations Jan. 4 for the requested variance to allow a 3-lot subdivision at 5383 Tilly Mill Road. Staff recommended approval of the request with two conditions: requiring compliance with the proposed site plans and preserving a 44-foot oak tree. 

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Subdivision variance conditions

The approval criteria for a special exemption requires staff to ensure it follows the municipal code and does not negatively affect the character of existing neighborhoods.

Staff recommended approval of the developer’s request with two conditions: requiring compliance with the proposed site plans and preserving a 44-foot oak tree abutting Tilly Mill Road.

Because the subdivision increases the number of single-family lots, Dunwoody’s Code of Ordinances requires public right-of-way improvements. 

City staff gave examples of similar right-of-way projects, including the cycle track and sidewalk in front of the new Publix on Ashwood Parkway, paths on Hammond Drive in front of State Farm, streetscaping at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar on Ashford Dunwoody Road, and a 6-foot sidewalk on Roberts Drive. 

In each case, the developer of the property was required to construct streetscape improvements in the right-of-way.

While similar projects have not called for a 12-foot multi-use path, it is required on the right-of-way in front of the approved 3-home subdivision on Tilly Mill Road.

“This is the third city I’ve worked for,” Community Development Director Richard McLeod said. “It’s standard practice for all projects that are on designated routes, which have right-of-way needs or infrastructure needs.” 

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