An illustration of the proposed Children's Healthcare of Atlanta building.
An illustration of the proposed Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta building.

By Dyana Bagby

Brookhaven City Council on Nov. 17 unanimously approved a plan by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to construct an eight-story outpatient building at the busy interchange of North Druid Hills and I-85.

Several residents, concerned about traffic, opposed approval without a Development of Regional Impact study, but city officials said the project doesn’t require one. However, CHOA attorney Woody Galloway said that CHOA is planning even bigger development of the site, to be laid out next year in a master plan, that will require a DRI.

Galloway did not reveal what is being planned for the area, but said, “CHOA is not going to build something small. They are going to build something big.”

CHOA needed a Special Land Use Permit to construct an eight-story outpatient facility because it exceeds the maximum district height of five stories.

The new structure, a 340,000 square-foot ambulatory care center including a lower-level parking deck, will take up about 10 acres of CHOA’s approximate 30-acre property. Plans are for it to be completed by 2017. The project is expected to add nearly 14,000 vehicles daily to the North Druid Hills/I-85 intersection.

Ben Song, director of community development, explained to the council that the development does not require a DRI—a type of study done by the Atlanta Regional Commission— because the building is less than the DRI threshold of 700,000 square feet.

CHOA did conduct an extensive traffic study requested by the city. As a condition of the city’s approval, CHOA will construct an additional left turn lane going southbound on North Druid Hills, an additional eastbound receiving lane on Tullie Road, and improvements to signage and sidewalks.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this request is only about height. There is no increase in density, no zoning request,” Galloway said. “There is the erroneous assumption that we have a master plan and have not revealed it. We are still working on it.”

When that plan is completed, it will trip the triggers that mandate a DRI, Song explained.

“The staff did talk with the ARC [Atlanta Regional Commission] and a DRI is not warranted at this time. A master plan is looming within the next few months,” he said.

But residents accused CHOA and the council of “piecemeal” zoning. By doing so, CHOA could avoid conducting a DRI in the future, said Martha Gross. She recommended the council require CHOA to specify a date it would conduct a DRI.

Dan Wright, a traffic engineer who does not live in Brookhaven, told council said the lack of transparency surrounding CHOA’s plans for its property is reminiscent of DeKalb County government woes.

“I don’t want to say it sounds like DeKalb County, but it kind of does,” he said. “I’m not a resident of Brookhaven, but this affects everyone in the region. You’re really not serving the public’s interest by going ahead with this.”

Galloway assured the council that DeKalb County would be included in discussions concerning future development.

“Nobody is more worried about getting in and out of that area than CHOA,” he said.

Councilman John Park said he had serious reservations about approving the permit without seeing a master plan.

“But we have to follow the law,” Park said. “I’m still a little worried, but I can see no basis for denying the application.”

Councilman Joe Gebbia said he thought the eight-story building will have minimal impact on the area.

“My bigger issue is what’s coming down the road,” he said. “We have ample opportunity to make sure we do what we need to do as phases unfold.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.