The Dekalb County Board of Commissioners voted to delay the decision of whether they will pass new zoning regulations for the Emory Village area on March 30, according to Emory Village Alliance board member Cynthia Tauxe. The Alliance spearheaded the ordinance, which would modify the Village’s regulations in an effort to “ensure a compatible and diverse mix” of businesses in the shopping center. The Board will vote on the overlay during their April 11 meeting.
Tauxe said that the hold-up was likely due to legal concerns surrounding Savi Provisions, a New York deli-like gourmet grocery store that is “set to open as early as next month” in the Village, according to Tauxe. Savi Provisions’ request for a liquor license is tied to the proposal.
Businesses in Emory Village, like many other businesses in Atlanta, have continued to be affected by the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Village staples such as Rise-n-Dine, Lucky’s Burger and Brew and Doc Chey’s Dragon Bowl have shut their doors since the outbreak of the virus three years ago.
The revisions to the zoning overlay represent a “desperate” attempt from a group of volunteer community members, Emory University faculty and students who make up the Alliance to revitalize the Village. Their proposal would allow a number of amenities to be built on the shopping strip, including four-level buildings, townhouses, a hotel with up to 125 rooms and a small liquor store, among many others.
New changes to overlay
In addition to diversifying the businesses in the Village, the new overlay aims to “enhance environmental resources,” “promote pedestrian safety and convenience” and cultivate an “architectural identity for the district.”
“Emory is a 1st rate university but its ‘front door,’ the Village, is 3rd rate,” Emory Village Alliance board member Mark Goldman, who designed the proposal with Tauxe, wrote in an email to the Wheel. “The revised overlay can be a catalyst for the Village becoming 1st rate too.”
Goldman and Tauxe said they believe the current zoning overlay, which was completed in 2007, scares away potential developers because it is restrictive. For example, it requires that all new buildings in the Village must be at least two stories tall.
“Most places like McDonald’s want a one-story building with their name all over it, or the bank doesn’t want to share with some tenant upstairs — that was a security risk,” Tauxe said.
However, the Alliance wanted to keep the two-story minimum — it’s what makes the Village “urban,” Tauxe said. Rather than removing the requirement, the new revisions have a modified definition of a “story” which could include porches or open-air patios.
The revisions also eliminate minimum square-foot requirements for housing and maximum square-foot requirements for offices. Retail and restaurants, under the new plan, could be as large as 9,000 square-feet for one level or 12,000 square-feet for two levels.
Removing these size limits will also allow for affordable housing in the Village, Tauxe said. Whereas in 2007, when retail was important to development, she said restaurants and services now dominate urban areas, and these businesses need easily-accessible customers year-round. Thus, the Village can’t rely on Emory students, who generally leave campus for seasonal breaks, to supply enough business.
“[Our housing] would normally be luxury housing … and so we got rid of a lot of those limits which we hope will encourage young people, underserved people, worker housing, graduate students, people who can’t afford Druid Hills housing,” Tauxe said.
Businesses struggling in the Village
The impetus for the overlay revisions, Tauxe said, was “desperation.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see your favorite businesses go under,” Tauxe said. “There are wonderful, wonderful restaurants — really popular businesses — but they couldn’t pay their bills, and COVID was the last straw after a decade of the Great Recession.”
Rich Chey, the owner of Dragon Bowl, which closed its doors on Feb. 3, said that operating a restaurant has become extraordinarily difficult.
“Over the last few years, labor is incredibly difficult to find and food costs have just gone up dramatically,” Chey said. “Financial businesses have changed pretty dramatically in the last three or four years, whereas before we were kind of medium-to-slim margins, we got to a point where we’re at a slim-to-no margin.”
Alliance Chair Todd Hill noted that when the pandemic struck, it was sink or swim for Village businesses. Emory community members vacated, and the businesses that provided catering or grab-and-go options for nearby residents were the ones that survived, he said.
Chey added that Dragon Bowl also never had as much traffic from Emory students as he expected.
“I think some of that has to do with the fact that a lot of Emory students have cars,” Chey said. “When they go out, they’re typically going to go to other areas of the city, like Decatur or Virginia Highlands. They’re going to skip over Emory Village, so geographically it looks like a great location, but it’s not necessarily.”
However, SGA President-elect Khegan Meyers (24B), who is a newly-elected member of the Alliance, said he believes that there is a place for students in the Village. He said he thinks students should support the new revisions to the zoning overlay.
The zoning overlay would allow for more development of the area, Meyers said, as well as building up some of the resources that have been the alliance’s areas for improvement. He also said that “taller developments,” such as the four-level buildings, will attract more investment into the Village.
In addition to Savi Provisions, several new businesses are opening in the coming weeks in the Village.
Washington, D.C.-based salad chain Sweetgreen will replace Dragon Bowl, according to DeKalb County proposals approved in June 2022. Sweetgreen representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what date the new location will open. However, job applications for service team members at the new Village location have opened on the Sweetgreen site.
Sweetgreen currently operates five locations in the Metro-Atlanta area. The Village location seeks to “enhance and refresh” the exterior of 1556 North Decatur Road, including reviving the outside patio, according to plan filings.
Malhaar Nair (25C) expressed excitement about Sweetgreen opening, saying that Emory needs to provide healthier dining options. While Sweetgreen is “a little expensive,” Nair added that it will be good to have more diverse cuisines in the shopping center.
“I’m from D.C., and Sweetgreen is a pretty classy joint from where I’m from,” Nair said. “I go there all the time when I’m home.”
Because he has “a lot of” late night classes and clubs, Nair said he frequently eats at Emory Village and is excited that there will be another option.
William Eaglesham (26C) also said he is “thrilled” about the new location, adding that Sweetgreen offers a healthy alternative to typical fast food at “not-so-excessive” prices.
“While I liked Dragon Bowl, I think it’s great that Sweetgreen is opening a new location,” Eaglesham said. “Sweetgreen is very popular these days, and I think the new location will be a big hit amongst Emory students.”
Sankranti Indian Kitchen will also open their second location of the fast-casual Indian restaurant in the Village sometime in the first quarter of 2023.
Additionally, Cava — a Mediterranean, fast-casual restaurant — will replace Zoë’s Kitchen in Emory Village, according to Tauxe. Cava purchased the Zoë’s franchise in 2018, and has completed the process of converting each of its Georgia storefronts with the March 1 shutdown of Zoë’s in the Village.
Beyond news of business openings, Tauxe, Hill and Meyers shared that the Alliance will host a Coca-Cola sponsored “Cleanup the Creek” concert on April 22, which is Earth Day. Michelle Malone, an Atlanta-based country rock singer-songwriter, will play at the event. Before the concert, high school students from the Druid Hills area will help clean Peavine Creek, which runs through the Village.