As many Brookhaven residents publicly push back against the proposed “transit-oriented development” on 15 acres of underused parking lots at the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station, other such MARTA developments are moving ahead with seemingly little backlash.
Construction has started on a TOD encompassing 6 acres of mostly empty parking lots at the Edgewood/Candler Park station in Atlanta and also at the Avondale station in Decatur on nearly 8 acres of underutilized parking lots. In Chamblee, a MARTA TOD on approximately 3 acres of closed parking lot space has been given the go-ahead by Chamblee City Council with no serious resistance from residents. Two other TODs are in the works while a sixth – at the King Memorial Station – has stalled.
In Buckhead, the Lindbergh Center Station is where MARTA first tried transit-oriented development nearly 20 years ago, with mixed and incomplete results. Now, in the midst of a TOD project boom, the transit agency is selling two parcels to kick-start the unfinished mixed-use redevelopment around the station in an effort to upgrade what’s there today.
The Brookhaven City Council is slated to vote Jan. 24 on the rezoning request MARTA needs to move ahead with its large-scale development, a plan that has been slowed by community input and deferrals by the Brookhaven Planning Commission and council.
In neighboring Chamblee, City Councilmember Tom Hogan said the MARTA TOD proposed for Brookhaven would be a “no brainer” for his city.
Having development over MARTA creates office space, an “incredible” job market, and with condominiums and townhomes, provides an easy way for residents to move all over the metro area, he said.
The residents and leadership in Chamblee would welcome a project equal in scope to Brookhaven at its MARTA station “without question,” he said. It would bring in more residents and business and development, he said.
Comparing the Chamblee TOD – which includes 70,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 4,300-square foot pocket park – to Brookhaven’s planned development that includes more than 500 residential units, a hotel, nearly 56,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of office is hardly fair, he added.
Chamblee’s TOD covers a very small area that will cost around $40 million while Brookhaven’s proposed TOD covers approximately 15 acres and is likely a $700 million project, he said.
“The difference between development at Chamblee and Brookhaven is like the difference between a child’s birthday party and a New Year’s Eve celebration,” said Hogan. “They’re not even close.”
At the Lindbergh station, MARTA rolled out a TOD master plan in the late 1990s for roughly six blocks around the station on Lindbergh Drive. Developers were selected and work continued into the middle of the past decade, but the vision ran into “obstacles,” according to Amanda Rhein, MARTA’s director of TOD projects. Those included development partners dropping out, changes in the economy that affect financing, and lawsuits from residents concerned about traffic.
Several projects were built along Main Street, including mixed-use buildings and two apartment complexes, one of which was originally planned as condos. But it wasn’t quite what MARTA envisioned, and later phases stalled.
With the current TOD momentum, MARTA took another look at Lindbergh and came up with a strategic approach. While the agency owns several parcels around the station, it recently issued a request for proposals for two of them — a vacant lot at 2562 Piedmont Road and a small site at 572 Morosgo currently housing MARTA’s fleet management offices.
The strategy, Rhein said, is to get a developer interested in buying up adjacent private properties, too, and create a development along the “front door” of Piedmont. The hope is that would raise the value of other MARTA-owned parcels deeper in the site before they, too, are sold for future TOD redevelopment.
Many Brookhaven residents have been outspoken about their concerns of the proposed MARTA TOD adding traffic to an already congested area, especially along the two-lane Dresden Drive that feeds into residential neighborhoods surrounding the area.
Many have said what MARTA is planning for their city mirrors the failed plans at the Lindbergh station.
“MARTA is already known as the subway to nowhere,” said Brookhaven resident Kate Jones at the City Council’s Oct. 25 meeting, when the council decided to delay a vote on the MARTA project until January. “This project will have a devastating effect on traffic. If history repeats itself, we’ll be sitting in a Brookhaven version of the Lindbergh station disaster.”
Concerns about infrastructure, especially on the city’s sewer system, and also MARTA’s request for tax breaks from the city are also high on the list of red flags residents say the development raises.
MARTA development officials have attempted to respond to Brookhaven citizens’ concerns by making several changes, including adding 80 condos to the project. And they have said while they understand traffic concerns that already exist around the station, they believe the TOD can help alleviate some of the traffic by making it easy for residents and employees at the TOD to use MARTA.
In Chamblee, congestion is not an issue.
“We want development at our MARTA station, but not at all costs. We are not concerned with congestion. The congestion issues in Brookhaven … already exist,” Hogan said, noting the “incredible pressure points” at North Druid Hills Road and Dresden Drive off Peachtree Road heading to and from Buckhead during commute times.
“That crossroads has been very attractive [for development] for a very long time,” he said.
But everyone keeps “bumping into each other” at the crossroads, he said, because of all the traffic. And there are also concerns for trees and green space that he understands.
“It is not a no-brainer for Brookhaven. This kind of development takes a lot of thought,” Hogan said. “I think the residents’ concerns are very legitimate.”
But residents also have to bear in mind that Brookhaven is on track to see more density and that it is important for Chamblee and Brookhaven to both remain competitive in the region with access to mass transportation, he said.
“I hope a beautiful development gets done … and not something that hurts the quality of life that is currently there,” he said.