Hudson Hooks of JLB meets with homeowners to discuss the company's plans for a new development on Peachtree Road.
Hudson Hooks of JLB meets with homeowners to discuss the company’s plans for a new development on Peachtree Road.

The developers who want to build a mixed-use project on Peachtree Road say they’ve labored to accommodate the wishes of their residential neighbors.

“We’ve worked hard. We’ve had several meetings with concerned neighbors. We’ve tried hard to listen, to react,” Hudson Hooks of JLB Partners told members of the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association during a community meeting March. 26. “We’ve attempted to do everything we were asked.”

But a number of the residents who attended the March 26 meeting seemed unhappy with the proposal despite the developer’s modifications to its plans.

“It doesn’t fit the neighborhood at all,” resident Teresa Gipson said after the meeting.

JBL wants to build 272 high-end apartments on 4.6 acres at 3920 and 3930 Peachtree Road, a site generally known as the “Hastings Property” because the nursery and garden center company operated a facility there. The project would back up to the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood.

Brookhaven City Council on March 24 delayed until May a vote on whether to rezone the property from commercial use to allow a mix of apartments and shops. The delay, council members said, would allow time for the developer to continue talks with surrounding neighbors to try to win their support for the project.

Council members praised JLB’s willingness to negotiate with neighbors and efforts to modify its plans to win community support. “You have done an amazing job,” Councilman Bates Mattison told lawyer Carl Westmoreland, who represents JLB on the project. “I commend you and your developer on your willingness to meet with [residents after] what at the beginning seemed complete opposition.”

More than 60 residents filled a meeting room at St. James United Methodist Church on March 26 to hear from the developers and from residents who opposed elements of the plan. Residents said they worried the project contained too many apartments, would increase traffic cutting through their neighborhood and would be unsightly.

“[The neighbors] want the best thing for the property,” resident Tim Morrison said a few days after the meeting. “It’s the gateway [to Brookhaven]. What do we want that image to be?” A multi-story apartment building with dozens of balconies would not create an inviting entrance to the city, he said. “A lot of people don’t want 36 gas grills hanging over Peachtree to be that image,” he said. “What can you do to make something really special?”

At the meeting, some residents questioned the overall number of apartments being developed in the city, claiming two projects on Dresden Drive, another at Oglethorpe University and future projects planned for the MARTA property on Peachtree were adding hundreds of apartments already.

“Brookhaven is becoming a city of apartments,” said Paul Sherlag, whose home backs up to the proposed JLB development. “What’s happening is people would be living there and not working in the community, but driving to Atlanta.”

Others voiced similar thoughts, and argued the number in the proposed project should be reduced. “I think the issue here is 272 apartments,” one resident said. “If you take the whole neighborhood …, there’re probably not 200 houses or 200 cars in the whole Historic Brookhaven neighborhood.”

John Gipson, who is developing a commercial project on Peachtree, presented a rendering of an office building and shops he said could be developed at the site as an alternative to the apartments. “It can be done without rezoning,” he said.

Both projects meet requirements of the zoning overlay, developed by DeKalb County and continued by the city, that requires “urban” development for properties along Peachtree, their proponents say.

Hooks told the residents the apartments JLB plans for the project would be “probably as nice an apartment complex as you’ll see in Atlanta.” He said the company plans to include “all the bells and whistles,” such as granite countertops and “upscale” cabinets.

He said the developers had already agreed to reduce the height of the rear portion of the building, to leave undisturbed a portion of the property that would serve as a buffer to neighboring homes and to place all the parking for the units beneath the building.

“A lot of this stuff is expensive,” he said. “We’ve probably tripled the cost of our parking. These are big changes we’re making to bring down the height and accommodate the neighborhood.”

But some residents argue the developer hasn’t yet gone far enough.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do with JLB to fine tune it,” Morrison told his neighbors attending the meeting. “We’re not there yet.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.