Some Brookhaven residents argue that city officials appear to be out of touch with the wishes of their community.
“I feel there’s a disconnect,” resident Kerri Moerschel told members of Brookhaven City Council during a three-hour “town hall” meeting at Marist School on May 28.
Several of the 80-plus residents attending the May 28 meeting questioned recent city decisions in high-profile zoning cases and revisions to the city’s tree ordinance.
At its May 26 meeting, the council had approved a rezoning at Ashford Green in the Perimeter Center area that allows 777,000 square feet of office space and 300 apartments. Neighbors objected to the plan, saying it would bring traffic to the area and it could mean more children for their already-full neighborhood school.
“We understand Perimeter Center is a vibrant area, but that doesn’t mean developers and lawyers can run roughshod over homeowners,” resident Todd Simon told the council before the vote May 26.
“The real concern is the new proposal is not about our community,” resident Joy Taylor said.
But city officials argued the high-rise development, including residences, fit the “urban” character of the Perimeter Center area and fit the city’s plans for future development.
“One of the things we have to recognize is there is going to be growth in the city of Brookhaven within our commercial corridors,” City Councilman Bates Mattison said. “You want to put it in commercial nodes such as the PCIDs [Perimeter Community Improvement Districts]. If there is anywhere that is going to have a population that can get out of their cars … that’s where we’re going to see that population of people.”
At the town hall meeting two days later, while several residents questioned the Ashford Green vote, others criticized modifications to the city’s regulations governing how developers treat trees. They argued the city’s tree ordinance should be more restrictive than it is.
“The tree ordinance we [inherited] from DeKalb County was stronger than the one we have now,” resident Sally Eppstein said. “I want real grit for this tree ordinance so trees will be protected. We need tree protection because our neighborhoods are being changed.”
Not everyone agreed. “I support the tree ordinance as it’s written,” said one resident, who identified herself as a principal with a development firm. “Efforts are being made by the development community to save those trees.”
During the town hall meeting, city officials discussed a number of projects the city has undertaken, including plans for sidewalks and paving, a proposal to develop bike and walking trails and a proposal to develop a greenway park along the North Fork of Peachtree Creek.
“There’s a lot going on in Brookhaven,” Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams said. “It’s hard to keep up. … We do try to connect with our people and hear the full range of voices. Keep talking to us. It’s all about communication.”
But Moerschel and others argued the city should listen better to its residents.
“The theme of all these comments is we’re not connecting,” Moerschel told council members during the town hall.