The resistance of Peachtree City residents, who staged a rally prior to Thursday night’s meeting, seemed to have swayed city council to vote against a rezoning and variance request that would have cleared the way for Great Wolf Lodge to set up shop where the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree conference center currently sits.
Some residents speaking at the meeting said they believed the “deal was already done” to bring Great Wolf to town, but in the end all four council members, along with Mayor Vanessa Fleisch, voted no.
The Peachtree City Planning Commission had voted unanimously to recommend council deny the request, but Senior Planner David Rast recommended the opposite, saying Great Wolf’s intended use for the property was appropriate within the current General Commercial zoning and that the indoor resort/water park was seeking Limited Use Commercial zoning to allow for a taller building. The design for the property called for the water park facility to be around 64-feet in height.
Thursday’s public hearing featured an hour of comments from each side. Representing Great Wolf were Alex Lombardo and CEO Kimberly Schaefer. They offered a presentation in which they touted the potential economic impact, including a projected $90 million to be invested in improving the property, and promised that Great Wolf Lodge would be a “great neighbor.”
Residents in opposition to Great Wolf poked holes in as many of the supposed positives offered, casting doubt on the possible economic impact, and bringing up concerns about increased stormwater runoff problems, traffic congestion, and noise/light pollution. More than one speaker also doubted that Great Wolf met the hardship criteria necessary to request a variance, as the need for a variance was a product of their own building design rather than a unique characteristic of the property itself.
After hours of comments, council actually made its decision very quickly. In what was supposed to be a question and answer portion of the meeting, Mayor Vanessa Fleisch made it clear that she would be voting no, saying she was disappointed with the presentation from Great Wolf because it had not addressed the various concerns that were brought up by residents in a lengthy planning commission meeting.
Councilmember Eric Imker then suggested an informal poll of his fellow council members, saying he had prepared a number of questions for Great Wolf representatives, but would not need to ask them if council sentiment was clear. As it turned out, each council member indicated they would be voting no.
“I don’t think there’s anything subversive or intentionally lacking from this presentation,” said council member Kim Learnard. “These are decent people with an honest business and they’re looking for a suitable city to partner with. I think the presentations were reasonable and I like Great Wolf Lodge. That being said, I do not believe a grand scale installation with a regional draw is compatible with Peachtree City.”
Councilmember Mike King cautioned the audience to be aware that something will likely eventually replace Dolce on the property.
“I am really appreciative of the folks that have taken the time and effort to show how much they care. But I’m not a person that’s moved too much by emotion. I like to deal in facts. One of the things I’d like to caution this audience with is that property has been for sale since 2013. It’s going to sell,” King said. “The current Dolce is losing somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 a month. It’s going to go dark. I don’t know what’s going to go there. We have an institution here [in Great Wolf] that’s family-oriented. Whether they’re appropriate or not, I’m not going to say. But its a good outfit, and we can only hope the next owner that comes in there is as good.”
Councilmember Terry Ernst echoed the sentiment of King.
“I pondered this thing for weeks and months and I’m telling you it’s been a really tough decision. What I heard tonight kind of led me to go along with you guys. I think it’s a great organization, but this location may not be the best,” Ernst said. “I want you to really, really think about what might go in there. When we come back in this room when another organization wants to move in there and we start this thing over again, remember where we were tonight.”