Spa approved on Old Alabama, in Johns Creek – barely

Body-N-Balance will move to nearby location



JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – A Johns Creek spa and physical therapy business was approved, but the conditions on the property almost killed it.

Sandi Ecclestone, owner of Body-N-Balance, wanted to expand her business on Old Alabama Road and is prepared to build a free-standing business of 4,600 square feet on a .64 acre tract just down the street at the west intersection of Brumbelow Road and Old Alabama between the Montessori School of Alpharetta and the Georgia Clinic.

The hang up were the conditions for landscape setbacks on the four sides of the property. The site is undeveloped, zoned AG-1 with two commercial buildings on either side.

The O-I zoning district requires 10-foot landscape strips adjacent to O-I zoned properties, and buffers with 10-foot improvement setbacks adjacent to AG-1 zoned property (which is in the rear). The applicant requested concurrent variances to remove the 25-foot buffer adjacent to the east property line and to remove the 50-foot buffer adjacent to the south property line and replace with 10-foot landscape strips.

Additionally, the applicant has requested encroachments into the front, side and rear building setbacks; and an encroachment into the 40-foot landscape strip required to allow parking adjacent to Old Alabama Road.

The request for some relief on the landscape strips on the sides of the building was not a problem because commercial properties abut both sides. Staff and the Planning Commission recommended granting variances for these, and council agreed.

However, the front and rear setbacks, which are deeper, would turn the square property into a rectangle that could not provide enough parking spaces and room for the building’s footprint.

Council also did not like the new building Ecclestone had designed – although it was approved by the Planning Commission. It had a flat roof and not a pitched roof.

Ecclestone’s attorney argued that the flat roof was part of the contemporary design and to change it would defeat the architectural vision.

Councilman Brad Raffensperger said he thought this was a good project with a “beautiful building.”

The submitted architectural elevations depict a flat-roofed building with multiple rooflines constructed primarily of brick, stone and glass with accents of stucco.

After much wrangling, the building was approved and with language that some accommodation would be made for the roof with final approval left to the community development director.

That left the front and back setbacks, which were taking more than 100 feet of depth from the parcel that is little more than a half-acre in size.

Ecclestone said without relief on the front and back setbacks, there simply would not be room for the building.

“If we don’t get that, I can’t go ahead with the project,” she said.

But Councilwoman Karen Richardson and Mayor Mike Bodker argued for maintaining the setbacks.

“There is simply too much project for the size of the property. It needs to be built on a bigger site,” Richardson said.

Bodker did not like a compromise proposed that would keep the front setback but give on the rear. He said that could impinge on what the property owner in the rear – between the spa and Newtown Park – could build, that is residential. Even though he agreed it would likely be developed commercial. The property has never been developed.

Raffensperger pointed out the city is member of and major contributor to Advantage Johns Creek, the city’s major economic development arm. He reminded the council that one of its major goals is to work to retain existing businesses.

The council agreed to the compromise of leaving the front setback as is and granting the variance on the rear setback. The vote was 4-2 with Richardson and Bodker opposed.

Developer Jim Cowart, who owns the property, said Ecclestone “did not get all she wanted” but would be able to go ahead with the project.

“She is just moving from her location down the street. It is going to be an asset to the community,” he said.

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