By John Schaffner
Some 60 residents of Underwood Hills and other neighborhoods along Collier and Howell Mill roads in southwest Buckhead sent the development team for a proposed $90 million mixed-use development a clear and resounding message at a May 7 community meeting: They don’t want that much density and traffic in their residential neighborhoods.
Earlier this year, Pollack Partners and landowner MK Management Company announced plans to build 55,000 square feet of commercial and office space along with 643 residential units on a 12.6-acre tract along Collier Road and in the shadow of I-75. The new development would replace an existing office and industrial complex.
“We’re going to create a community where people can live in a vibrant, urban setting, where it’s a convenient and pleasant walk to the new restaurants, stores and offices we’ll build here,” said Pollack Partners Chairman & CEO Marc Pollack at the time of the project announcement. The plans call for building luxury multi-family residential units featuring swimming pools, a fitness center, business center, a clubhouse and other amenities.
The objections to the proposed development, being voiced by Underwood Hill neighborhood Zoning Committee Chair Eva Nason and some of the local neighbors, have centered on two major issues: the proposed density of the project itself and the impact the project would have on an already congested road system in the area of Collier Road and Howell Mill Road.
Nason distributed flyers to homes in surrounding neighborhoods urging residents to attend the May 7 meeting and have their concerns aired, stating, “There has been no discussion with the developer indicating that he would consider refashioning his plans toward a development more in keeping with its neighboring properties to the west of I-75.”
Nason moderated the meeting, which drew about 60 residents and featured Pollack and members of his development team who explained the project and attempted to minimize the potential adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
But in the end, those attending the meeting voted overwhelmingly to oppose the development as proposed, with a density of 50 residential units per acre. The actual vote was 57 opposed to the project, 0 for it and 2 abstentions. Some residents had already left the meeting before the vote was taken.
Pollack told the group his team would go back and re-evaluate the project based on the input from the meeting.
“The low to medium-low density residential development of the Defoor/Bohler/west Collier corridor immediately to the west of I-75 is a distinct buffer area between the industrial zoning of the Ellsworth Industrial/Chattahoochee corridor to the west and the largely single-family neighborhoods in the Howell Mill Road/Northside Drive/Collier Road corridor east of I-75,” Nason said in opening the meeting.
The Defoor/Bohler/west Collier corridor to the west of I-75 is an extensive area of quite low-density multi-family and single-family housing. RG-2 zoning with two-story height limitations is the rule for virtually all of the 3,000-plus multi-family residential units in the corridor.
The density of development around the proposed project is either 0-8 or 0-16 residential units per acre at present.
“The concern of many residents is the likelihood that the high-density development proposed for 1011 Collier will put great pressure on the surrounding RG-2 multi-family complexes to redevelop at the much higher densities of 1011 Collier,” Nason and others stated during the meeting with the development team.
Land use attorney Jessica Hill, of Seyfarth Shaw, explained that the developers were requesting a rezoning of the property to the MRC-3 (mixed use residential/commercial) zoning classification—one of the city’s new quality of life designations—from the current zoning of mostly industrial, with some of it being zoned RG-2 and a very small portion zoned for single-family residential. She pointed out a million square feet of office or industrial space could be developed there with the current zoning.
The 643 residential units proposed for the property equals just slightly under 700,000 square feet of residential space. And the plans call for 55,000 square feet of ground level retail be added to that. There would be five buildings, four to five stories up front and eight stories in the back and the buildings will wrap around their parking decks.
Hill mentioned that the development team had met a few times with representatives of Neighborhood Planning Units B and C (the property is on the border of the two NPUs). She said there has been concern about the traffic that will be generated by this project and traffic engineering firm Kimley-Horn has been conducting studies and trying to find solutions to some of the traffic congestion in the area.
In response to a question from NPU-B Chairman Jim Martin as to why the developers were seeking MRC-3 zoning instead of MR-4A (multi-use residential with an allowable 5 percent commercial component), David Green, of the Lord, Aeck & Sargent land planning and architectural firm, explained that the city is presently redrafting its zoning ordinance and that he is working with the city on that project. He said the developers needed the flexibility now afforded with the MRC-3 zoning.
Green said the development team is anticipating the rewriting of the ordinance and “producing a project that fits the criteria of a residential project with a limited amount of commercial space. Right now we are slightly over the amount we can get with MR-5A and might fit with MR-4 if they could get some of the live/work space actually permitted as commercial space.”
Glen Marple, a developer of single-family residences in the area, pointed out that the property once was single-family residences and then became industrial. “Now you want to turn it back into residential. But that residential is too dense. It will destroy the single-family residential neighborhoods around it.” He pointed out that the property was the minority section of Buckhead when it was previously single-family residences.
In response to a question, Pollack told the group that the condominiums in the project would sell for $300,000 plus and the monthly rental for apartments would average $1,500 plus, but he cautioned that they do not really know the exact levels.
Pollack said that anything he told the audience that night about the ratios of condos to rental units was purely speculative.
“This is the first time I have been before this group,” Pollack said. “We certainly are going to evaluate it (the planned project) and meet with the owners and David (Green) and our traffic person and brainstorm about something that we can do where it becomes more of a cooperative effort,” before the project goes before the NPUs. He said he is not into doing projects that “are not worked on in conjunction with communities.”