The Atlanta Hawks came to town. MARTA continues to make its case for redeveloping its property. Residents rally to fight back against overdevelopment along Dresden Drive. Plans for the Peachtree Creek Greenway are approved and the purchase of 30 acres of green space next to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport appears to be closer to a reality. And Buford Highway booms with news as more people continue to learn about the renowned corridor and developers eye opportunities. Here’s a look back at some of Brookhaven’s top stories for 2016.
City manager ousted, new one hired
Mayor John Ernst started his administration off with a bang as the City Council voted Jan. 12 to suspend Marie Garrett as city manager. Plans were to fire Garrett, but the council agreed to enter into mediation with her before finally approving a $225,000 settlement agreement in exchange for her resignation. Garrett was appointed in 2013 as the city’s first city manager and had a $214,000 annual salary, which was considered the highest of any city manager in the state.
Police Chief Gary Yandura served as interim city manager while the city conducted a national search. In May, Ernst selected Christian Sigman, the former administrator for Hamilton County, Ohio, for the job and City Council voted May 24 to approve the appointment. His salary is $180,000.
‘Lynwood Integrators’ honored
The city honored the ‘Lynwood Integrators’ at the Lynwood Park Community Center in January as part of the city’s first Martin Luther King Jr. event. The Lynwood Park Community Center was once the elementary and high school in Brookhaven’s historic African-American community. In 1968, more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision paving the way for integration of public schools, the Lynwood school was shut down and students were sent to Cross Keys High School and Chamblee High School.
MARTA, MARTA, MARTA
In February, MARTA officials held the first of many community meetings with residents to discuss the agency’s proposed transit-oriented development at the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe station, where a mostly empty parking lot now is located. Throughout the year, crowds of skeptical residents questioned the density of the mixed-use project on about 15 acres that borders Apple Valley Road, Dresden Drive and North Druid Hills Road. MARTA’s proposed development included a 125-room hotel, 547 residential units, nearly 56,000 square feet in retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space and a small town center park. MARTA’s developers scaled down the project in response to community input, but not enough to meet the demands of many. City Council in October deferred voting on MARTA’s rezoning request until Jan. 24, 2017.
Tapping brakes on development
Residents rose up in force throughout the year, at community and city meetings, to fight against increasing traffic and rapid development. Proposed projects included hundreds of apartments, many of them to rise along two-lane Dresden Drive in the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District. While close to the MARTA station, Dresden Drive is also surrounded by residential neighborhoods. In August, Mayor Ernst called for, and the council approved, a six-month moratorium on rezoning requests. The city conducted character area studies on neighborhoods with input from residents and “We Are Brookhaven,” a group of passionate homeowners, was formed. The council voted to put out bids for a citywide zoning review and also a review and rewrite of the overlay district.
Atlanta Hawks come to town
The Atlanta Hawks announced in April they teamed up with Emory Healthcare to build a 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art practice facility in Executive Park. The facility will combine the Hawks’ training facility and operations department with 30,000 square feet dedicated to Emory sports medicine facilities. As part of the deal to come to Brookhaven, the city’s development authority granted a $36 million tax abatement to the Hawks. In return, the Hawks will pay $302,900 a year to the authority for 15 years.
New elementary, high schools planned
In May, City Council voted to sell Skyland Park to the DeKalb County School Board for $4.7 million so the school district could build a new 900-seat elementary school. DeKalb schools also purchased the adjacent property, where the state vital records office sits, and will give that property to the city to build a new Skyland Park. The new school will be named for U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta), a civil rights icon.
DeKalb school officials announced in December that the district would build a new Cross Keys High School. The new schools are expected to help alleviate school overcrowding that has plagued the area for years.
Buford Highway starts buzzing
A “bus crawl” organized by We Love BuHi and the MARTA Army in April brought more than 100 people to Buford Highway’s multicultural restaurants. Experts including Atlanta BeltLine founder Ryan Gravel discussed the corridor’s safety and gentrification.
In September, the Business BuHi Coalition formed to “promote the area’s international character and business community” while, also in September, Pulte Homes announced it was seeking to purchase The Terraces at Brookhaven and Northeast Plaza Apartments in order to raze them to make way for $700,000 townhouses and condominiums. To date, no plans for the project have been filed with the city.
The city in September formed an Affordable Housing Task Force in part to address concerns about redevelopment projects along Buford Highway that may displace hundreds of apartment dwellers. This summer, La Comunidad de Buford Highway (Buford Highway Apartment Association) started meeting to ensure those living in in apartments in the area have a voice in their future.
Brookhaven Innovation Academy opens … in Norcross
In April, Brookhaven Innovation Academy announced it would temporarily open for business in Norcross after organizers could not find a suitable location in Brookhaven in time for the school’s planned August opening. The new state public charter school opened Aug. 2 with 420 students in grades K-6, Head of School Dr. Laurie Kimbrel said. City Councilmember Bates Mattison stepped down as the executive director of BIA at the end of May after serving six months.
Parks, plans and PDK
The City Council approved a $28 million, multi-year site-specific plan for nine city parks in February. New pedestrian bridges were installed at Murphey Candler Park and Briarwood Park in November and lake-bank restoration at Murphey Candler is underway. Work on Clack’s Corner is set to be completed by Jan. 31.
The “back portion” of Brookhaven Park was transferred to the city by DeKalb County in October, but the city now awaits federal approval of the deal because a Veterans Administration Hospital was once located at the site.
On Aug. 23, the City Council approved a $35 million Peachtree Creek Greenway plan, and also a $19.4 million Nancy Creek Watershed Improvement master plan that will address the repair of a watershed that has been neglected for decades. On Dec. 13, the council approved a contract with DeKalb County to purchase a 30-acre DeKalb-Peachtree Airport wooded site to preserve as green space. The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on the contract in early 2017.
Brookhaven becomes a little bit bigger
About 200 residents bordering the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta office park in October petitioned for annexation. The 19-acre area covered the Executive Park Townhomes on Woodcliff Drive and residents living in Executive Park Apartments on Briarcliff Road, the Executive Park Condominiums on Executive Park Lane and two single-family homes at 1705 and 1721 Woodcliff Drive N.E. The single-family homes have been purchased by Minerva Homes who plans to redevelop the property into nine townhomes valued at $450,000 to $500,000. City Council approved the annexation Dec. 13 and the city is expected to bring in about $30,000 a year in taxes from the residents. The annexation goes into effect Jan. 1.