Ronda Smith is among the Sandy Springs residents who support the potential rezoning of the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Atlanta Perimeter Center from a hotel to an apartment community.

Plans call for converting the Barfield Road hotel's 96 smaller rooms/suites and 32 larger ones into studio and two-bedroom apartments, respectively.

“No additional units will be added. ... No buildings to be razed. No additional density to be built,” said Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, who added residents and the owner went through four months of negotiations to reach an agreement.

But at its June 15 meeting at City Springs, the Sandy Springs City Council voted 4-3 to deny Hawthorn Suites’ request to rezone it from OX-3 (office mixed use, three stories maximum height) to PR-3 (Perimeter residential, three stories maximum height).

In a rare vote in which Mayor Rusty Paul had to break a tie, Paul and Districts 4-6 council members Jody Reichel, Tibby DeJulio and Andy Bauman voted no, with Districts 1-3 council members John Paulson, Steve Soteres and Chris Burnett voting yes.

Smith was one of five individuals who spoke in support of the rezoning before the vote, with none saying they opposed it.

“While apartments aren’t always the best solution, consideration must be given to the property’s current state. What we do know is the current property is in a state of disrepair and the owner may be in poor financial state, which is possible due to the pandemic,” said Melissa Mular, a representative of the Autumn Chace Homeowners Association, an organization advocating for a townhouse development near Hawthorn Suites.

She added the association had already reached an agreement with the hotel about the rezoning plans, which included the city’s recommendation that Hawthorn Suites would provide 20% of the units as workforce housing in the transition to apartments. But some council members opposed the proposal.

“While I would like to have additional affordable housing in Sandy Springs, my hope is with the current owner, even if this doesn’t pass, (it) will provide for more fee-simple affordable housing in the area,” Reichel said. “… I’m also concerned with the number of parking spaces. Right now there’s 128 units and 139 spaces. … I went by the community to see where they could add parking, and I don’t see where they could.”

Bauman added, “This is a tricky one. This violates everything we’ve been talking about with zoning is supposed to be not for a specific project. Zoning is supposed to be about land use, and I think we can agree that there’s a problem out here with this project. … I think this is the wrong solution to a problem, and this property will take a natural course. … This is not the best we can do. … I feel for the situation but I can’t support this. I think this is the dead-wrong use of zoning.”

Bauman also said he believes the rezoning won’t provide enough affordable housing under the current plan.

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