Residents packed City Hall meeting chambers Monday to resist the conversion of Dolce Peachtree-Atlanta into a Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park. Their concerns were backed up by the planning commission members, who voted 5-0 against the proposed rezoning.
The meeting included hours of comments and questions, most of them from residents near enough to be affected by the proposed park who insisted that the Dolce property on Aberdeen Parkway was not appropriate for a tourist attraction of this type, especially given its proximity to residential areas.
Great Wolf Lodge of Georgia, LLC was seeking a rezoning of the 38.4 acre tract from General Commercial (GC) to Limited Use Commercial (LUC) in order to convert the current Dolce campus into an indoor water park complete with a three-story hotel and multiple other attractions open to the public. Representatives from Great Wolf said their parks typically draw from a 180 mile radius around their location and mostly cater to families with young children.
Senior Planner David Rast recommended the rezoning be approved with multiple conditions, and that the commission should grant variances to allow encroachment into a transition buffer yard behind the water park building. This encroachment was among the largest concerns for residents in nearby Preston Chase and Coventry who said they did not want to look out their window and see a water park with colorful, external slide tubes.
As part of the proposed conditions, Rast recommended the external slide towers be “earth tone or neutral” in color rather than bright, and that the tallest water slide tower should be no higher than 75-feet tall, rather than the roughly 90-feet that had been discussed.
Rast wrote in his report that he and staff had evaluated the rezoning request along a number of criteria, ultimately finding that the proposed use fit the Land Use Plan and would not adversely effect the “usability” of adjacent properties. Nearby residents who spoke disagreed that establishing a water park near their homes would not adversely affect them, particularly citing concerns of stormwater run off, noise disturbance, and depressed property values.
Rast also indicated a traffic study suggested a change in use from hotel /conference center to resort would have some increased effect on traffic but not to an “excessive or burdensome” extent.
As submitted, the proposed redevelopment of the property would have similar space in square footage to the existing Dolce property in terms of common areas, but called for an addition of 165 hotel rooms (for a total of 398) and 248 parking spaces (for a total of 599).
A couple of meeting attendees spoke in support of Great Wolf though most were against.
One woman said she’d visited Great Wolf Lodges in Williamsburgh, Virginia and Concord, North Carolina around twenty times in ten years and found the resorts to be “beautiful” and “definitely not an eye sore, I’d call it the opposite of that.”
Another resident echoed similar thoughts about Great Wolf, saying “I think it would be great for this town.”
The overwhelming number of speakers were against the idea, however. As is the case in many controversial rezonings, most residents said they would be happy to see a Great Lodge come to Fayette County, but did not want it in their back yard.
John Dufresne, who had helped organize a meeting last week of about 30 residents from his neighborhood of Preston Chase and Coventry with an engineer from Great Wolf, made multiple criticisms of the plan. In particular he said the city should not allow a variance for encroachment into the rear buffer on the building, and should not allow external water slide tubes. He also said the plan as designed did not have enough parking spaces according to the city’s ordinance, which he said would require a minimum of 648 as opposed to the proposed 600.
Another resident reinforced a point made by several others, that homeowners who had come to Peachtree City did not do so expecting or hoping it to become a tourist attraction.
“For 20 years we’ve had a nice, small quiet subdivision. Don’t we care about small town growing? I care,” said a Preston Chase resident. “Preston Chase is not fancy, but it’s nice and it’s quiet and it’s home the way Peachtree City is supposed to be.”
Other commenters mentioned concerns of flooding due to stormwater runoff from the property, particularly in the Tinsley Mill area.
City Engineer David Borkowski agreed the Tinsley Mill area had a flooding issue, but said it’s not just due to runoff from the Dolce area.
“In Tinsley Mill that’s pretty much a whole other bag of apples. They receive runoff from probably over 50-percent of the city, not just Dolce. They’ve flooded since 1977,” Borkowski said.
A couple of relatively new Peachtree City residents also urged the commission to deny the rezoning.
“I’ve been to Great Wolf Lodge. I know it’s fun, but if I knew it was part of your community I wouldn’t have come here,” one woman said. “I wasn’t looking for a tourist town. I was looking for a place to raise my child. Residents of Peachtree City, please protect what you have, it doesn’t exist anywhere else. Communities are not planned by businesses, they are planned by people.”
Representatives of Great Wolf Lodge at the meeting said feedback in other communities has been “fantastic. We think the family theme you have here is consistent with what we do.” They noted that two locations of the twelve nationwide are near residential areas, one in California and one in Boston. They said there had been no issues at either location.
Planning Commission Member Aaron Daily said some of the concerns of the plan could be mitigated, but he could not support variances that would allow encroachment so near to residential areas. He said the fact that the building cannot be designed to fit differently on the property and allow the water slides to be internally contained suggested “this is not the right property for that use.”
David Conner agreed, saying he’d visited the facility in Concorde and noticed a strong chlorine odor and also found the facility to be “pretty loud” when standing about 20 feet away from it.
“It had a lot of sound coming off. I would definitely not want it in my backyard if I was in Preston Chase,” Conner said. “The people speaking for it, I didn’t disagree with their logic that they like the park, but I echo everybody’s sentiment here that it’s just not right for us.”
Commission Chairman Frank Destadio also disagreed with the proposed variances and the viability of a water park so close to residential.
“I think we need to make sure the variances we grant are for the benefit of the city as a whole,” Destadio said.
The commission voted 5-0 against the zoning request.
That recommendation to deny rezoning will be sent along to city council for a public hearing at its Feb. 19 meeting.