Smyrna City Council approves $13 million mixed-use development where Ken’s Corner Grill used to be

The exterior of Smyrna City Hall, a red brick building with four large columns

by Arielle Robinson

With Councilmember Susan Wilkinson recusing herself, Smyrna City Council voted 6-0 at Monday’s council meeting to bring a mixed-use development to the corner of Atlanta Road and Church Street where the longtime, popular restaurant Ken’s Corner Grill used to be.

Ken’s Corner Grill closed in early May this year after nearly 50 years in operation.

The new development will combine the Ken’s Corner Grill property, the vacant lot next to it, and the Cochran and Edwards Law Firm to create the development. The aforementioned law firm is City Attorney Scott Cochran’s.

Tanalta LLC and Jamac Corp. will demolish the existing buildings and build a four-story, 37,800-square-foot mixed-use building that will include 24 residential lofts at a density of 22 units per acre and 9,450 square feet of commercial/office space.

There will be commercial retail space on the bottom floor and the 24 residential units will be on the second through fourth floors.

Restaurants or potentially office space will be on the bottom floor while the residential units will contain eight units per floor, with four being two-bedroom units and four being one-bedroom units.

Tanalta founder Joe Knight told the council Monday night that based on price per square foot, this new building will likely be the most expensive one in Smyrna.

He said it is an approximately $13 million development.

Knight also said that rents for the lofts will be “very expensive,” at well above $2 per square foot for the lofts.

The properties being rezoned are 1.09 acres. They are being rezoned from general commercial to mixed-use conditional.

At the rear of the property will be a two-level parking deck. The bottom level will be accessed through an Atlanta Road entrance and the top level will be accessed through Church Street.

There is no ramping system within the deck, so each level is accessed from different entry points. The deck will have 68 total spaces, with an additional five spaces outside.

The development falls in Councilmember Travis Lindley’s Ward 3.

Lindley said the process of this development has taken about a year and has gone through a number of versions.

Lindley said this will be the first Class A office space in Smyrna. He said he supposes the $13 million price will be the bare minimum.

“Something tells me y’all would love to cap it at that, but my guess is it goes north of that,” Lindley said. “…These are sizeable investments that I’m excited about, I’m excited we’ll actually have lofts in our city, this is something new. I know change is tough—I’m usually the one that likes change the least—but I believe that it checks a lot of boxes and it’s a wise investment in our future on every front.”

The city’s Planning and Zoning Board approved this development 4-3 at its Nov. 14 meeting and the Urban Design Commission passed it 7-0 at its Dec. 12 meeting.

City council passed this development with 38 conditions added. Those conditions can be read here.

An MDJ story reported that Cochran said that through a company he owns the lot where his office is, the vacant lot, and half of the Ken’s Corner Grill lot, while Tanalta owns the other half. The newspaper also reported that lawyer Tom Cauthorn has been working on this item after Cochran recused himself.

Real estate lawyer Kevin Moore presented on behalf of the applicant and said that the development adds to the city’s vision of the downtown area with regard to redevelopment and revitalization.

Moore said he thought it was very important that the project’s goal meet 16 of the city’s documented goals and policies.

“Those range in terms of categories from everything from housing, to economic development, land use, and quality of life policies and goals that are met by this proposal and by this application for a mixed-use building and mixed-use project,” Moore said.

The lawyer said the new development will increase walkability.

“From this project, you can walk to the Market Village, you can walk across the street to Jonquil, you can walk to Brawner and enjoy the city services and park and what’s offered there as well,” Moore said. “You can walk throughout the downtown area…it provides benefits to the city, it provides benefits, importantly, to the local businesses of the city that are here in downtown, at Market Village across the street.”

Moore said local businesses will benefit from the extra foot traffic. He said local support from residents will “continue to provide the economic engine that keeps those local businesses thriving.”

Councilmember Charles Welch said he would like to see improvement to the roofline and the appearance.

“I do feel like it’s very boxy,” Welch said. “…I believe that the purpose of the building will fit in the downtown area down there, and I had a councilperson years ago that made a quote that said, ‘you can’t govern style.’ And well, I guess that’s what we’re trying to do here tonight—at least that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Moore said things like Welch’s proposal will be taken into consideration.

Moore also answered questions from Councilmember Tim Gould on the minimum of a zero-foot front setback of the building.

Moore said that the storefront is facing the way it is so as to engage and face other businesses and restaurants along Atlanta Road, enhance walkability, and create a pedestrian-friendly environment.

“I think when you see something that says zero or five-foot setback, it makes you think it’s right off the street but…the building actually is going to be approximately 17 feet off of the actual curb, so you won’t feel it being up on the street,” Moore said. “It’s about 17 feet off the curb to provide for that wide area for the multi-use trail which is a 10-foot sidewalk, and then, of course, incorporating the street trees and street lighting with that will set it back. It won’t be an appearance or a feel that’s right on you, it’ll have an appearance or a feel that it’s engaged off the street as a downtown building.”

Several Smyrna residents either spoke for or questioned this development.

Chris Anulewicz, State House District 42 Rep. Teri Anulewicz’s husband and a lawyer, spoke in favor of the development.

He has lived in Smyrna for about 18 years and said that developments at Jonquil and Belmont over the years have added to the city’s appeal and increased property values, and that this development will do the same.

“My very first meal in Smyrna was at Ken’s Corner Grill,” Chris Anulewicz said. “When I signed my mortgage, my wife and I ate there, I used to take my kids there on Saturdays, so I certainly have a fond memory of it. But all things pass, and I’m very excited about the new restaurants and new businesses that are coming to Smyrna and I think that in another 18 years…I’m going to enjoy having that development here. So again, I strongly encourage the city to approve this.”

Smyrna resident Andrew Howard told the council that he and his neighbors were concerned that the development would turn into something other than the lofts, such as a motel or hotel.

Gould asked Smyrna Community Development Director Russell Martin about Howard’s concern.

“Hotel use is a permitted use within mixed-use,” Russell Martin said. “But…the second and third to last zoning stipulations say that it’s [the current development] got to be what it is. So if the building changes in a significant way, or the site changes in a significant way they need to come back to Council for approval for that.”

Resident Mike Mitchell said that the development will enhance and improve the city.

“Just like Chris, my very first meal in Smyrna, Georgia, was in Ken’s Corner Grill and I was one of the last five customers there when Mr. Ken closed, and I loved those French fries,” Mitchell said. “But I also love the idea of bringing something else, and something new, and something fresh into that space…Am I worried about getting a nail in my car during construction? Sure. If that were the driving force in my life, I would be here every week telling you that we can’t build any more houses on Church Street.

“…I think what’s scaring people is the 24 luxury loft apartments, which probably aren’t going to be shabby. Have you seen the apartments at Jonquil? They’re pretty nice. So I am a big fan, I am a huge proponent of this…I can’t wait to meet my 24 new neighbors.”

City resident Shaun Martin said the design and architecture, the parking deck, and precedents leave room for improvement.

“Smyrna is more than a numbers game, and I dare to say that this development is great in theory, but from what I can see, it has no vision,” Shaun Martin said. “It feels like a mere numbers game intended to make money for the developers. I do want to say also that what goes there does matter, and some of the greatest cities that are well-planned with great architecture, they partner with developers.

“Partner—that’s a word that really does mean something. It’s not a matter of a developer coming on board and imposing [and] the city imposes these requirements…there’s a give and take. And so I encourage you all to consider that. Because our city is beautiful, and it’s why you’re here.”

Chris Zweifel gave several reasons why he supports the development.

He believes it will help create a downtown full of life and energy and that the project is sustainable.

“Mixed-use projects use land efficiently,” Zweifel said. “As the building is occupied at all times of the day, there are fewer infrastructure resources necessary for its compact design…mixed-use allows for people to live, work, play, and shop in the same area, resulting in fewer car trips and pollution. These parcels are already developed, so there’s minimal impact to the tree canopy. Mixed-use, compact design, and redevelopment are three of the[Environmental Protection Agency]’s Smart Growth principles.”

Zweifel also said the development can contribute to lower crime.

“Mixed-use has been shown to lower crime as there are eyes on the street during the day and the night,” Zweifel said. “People feel safer when there are more people around, and when the downtown feels empty, visitors don’t come and walk around.”

Zweifel also said the development will bolster the city’s transit plans and provide density in the downtown neighborhood and allow lower density in other areas.

“Transit without density does not work,” he said. “The Smyrna BOLD plan and the transit study envision more transit coming to downtown. This project helps anchor that vision…Our comprehensive plan designates areas for higher density and areas for lower density. These parcels are in the higher-density zone. Following the plan helps our neighborhoods remain lower-density.”

Zweifel also echoed an earlier point about increased property values.

“With an exciting, lively downtown, the property values of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown will increase. I want to walk and bike to restaurants, shops, and entertainment. This is the direction I want our downtown to go,” Zweifel said.

The recording of the presentation and discussion on this development can be viewed through the city’s website between the timestamps 11:45 and 1:15:12.