City planners foresee a future for the portion of Buford Highway in Brookhaven that includes fancy shops, fine restaurants and a mix of high-priced and affordable housing.
“Buford Highway is our diamond in the rough,” said Brookhaven City Councilman Joe Gebbia, who represents the corridor.
He said the city’s new plan for the area, presented to the council on Aug. 12 and scheduled to be adopted formally in September, will take the city in the direction it wants to go.
But some residents aren’t so sure.
Dale Boone, who lives in the district, said the plan “is a little bit hard to swallow right now.”
He said it’s hard to support investing in an area with so many home invasions and armed robberies. He lamented the corridor’s loss of businesses, including Captain D’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Boone said he was concerned that none of his neighbors were involved in the planning process. “We should all take a step back and listen to property owners,” he said.
The Buford Highway Development Plan and Economic Strategy is part of a larger process that follows under the umbrella Comprehensive Plan. The comprehensive plan, scheduled to be adopted in November, also includes transportation and parks initiatives.
“We are looking forward to this being our recruitment and marketing tool for Buford Highway,” City Manager Marie Garrett said.
The city hired The Jaeger Company and Urban Partners to develop the plan with the help of citizens, elected officials and city staff. Key parts of plan included looking at potential uses of specific parcels of land in the corridor.
Urban Partners’ Jim Hartley pointed out that a suggested greenway along the North Fork Peachtree Creek that runs parallel to Buford Highway is a major component of the plan that calls for more walkability, producing “an amenity that will change the character of the site.”
He also pointed out underdeveloped parcels along the corridor, with suggestions for how they might be utilized.
One parcel near the intersection of Buford Highway and North Druid Hills Road currently contains vacant property, a gas station and an auto title business. Hartley said he envisions that location as “a significant hotel site” with conference facilities that could take advantage of the corridor’s international theme.
Another parcel at the Northeast Plaza on the corner of Buford Highway and Briarwood Road could be converted to mixed-use development, incorporating first-floor retail underneath apartments, with 25 to 30 percent of those units meeting affordable housing requirements.
Dale Jaeger with The Jaeger Company, a landscape architecture and planning group, said that while Urban Partners focused on economic development, her company looked at physical improvements such as landscape buffers, storm water design, public open spaces and bus stop waiting zones.
“One of the first things we want to do is change peoples’ impression” of the area, she said, suggesting a name change to “Buford Boulevard.”
She said that park space and redevelopment along Peachtree Creek was also crucial. It’s the “glue that binds the concept together,” she said.
Gebbia asked the planners whether the initiative would be practical. It “requires the engagement of the [property] owners,” Hartley said, explaining they would have to be convinced of the financial
Mayor J. Max Davis requested the planners present to council a list of property owners that have been contacted.
The mayor also asked Police Chief Gary Yandura about crime trends and citizen outreach in the area.
Yandura said his department has seen some success in gaining the public’s trust. “When we first started up there was lots of distrust and non-reporting of crime,” he said, explaining that DeKalb didn’t have the manpower to properly address issues in the area, causing distrust of the police. As a result, he said, crimes were underreported.
Yandura said that as residents began to trust the police, they have learned the identities of some gang members, and have been able to solve crimes more quickly. He said suspects in a recent homicide in the area were quickly arrested due to residents’ cooperation.
Yandura added that his department is also looking into declaring that area and others in the city “Drug Free Zones,” meaning that those previously arrested for drug use can now be arrested just by being in those areas.
Residents offered a mix of opinions on the plan.
Resident Tom Spencer thanked the council for “trying to see a future” for the area.
He said right now it’s understandable why “anyone with any income level would not want to live there.”
Spencer said he thought that higher-quality rental properties would draw more people with higher incomes who could support redevelopment.
To see the plan, visit the city’s website at www.brookhavenga.gov.