A developer who grew up on Buford Highway wants to build an assisted living center across the street from his former home. But residents living in one of the last neighborhoods remaining off the busy corridor are pushing back against the plans, saying they have a 33-year-old zoning covenant that protects them from developments encroaching on their neighborhood.

It’s a zoning case that highlights issues a young city like Brookhaven faces as it works through codes handed down from a prior government — in this case, DeKalb County.

Alex Yusopov, left, and Arkadiy Yakubov want to build an assisted living center on Buford Highway. (Dyana Bagby)

Arkadiy Yakubov said he and his family fled Russia in 1991, when he was a teen. They moved into an apartment where the Terraces at Brookhaven are now located and lived there for 13 years. Now a businessman and developer, Yakubov said he’s sunk more than $1 million into buying land and tearing down a building at 3523 Buford Highway, directly across the street from the apartment complex in which he once lived.

Yakubov, who lives in Lenox Park in Brookhaven, and his attorney, Alex Yusopov, claim they were told by Brookhaven and DeKalb officials there were no restrictions on the property zoned for commercial use, so they were moving ahead to build the assisted living facility, including demolishing an old building at the site last year.

As part of the development, however, the state fire marshal required Yakubov to build an access road south of the property, where a house now is located. To do so, he entered into a contract to buy the house on Afton Lane from the homeowner. He then went before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals in January seeking a variance to do away with a 50-foot buffer between the house he was buying and the planned facility so he could build the mandated access lane via Afton Lane.

But when residents living on the other side of Afton Lane and on nearby Folkstone Road caught wind of the variance request, they started organizing and meeting. They showed up at the January ZBA meeting with what they saw as a “silver bullet” — a DeKalb County zoning covenant dating back to 1984 that placed strict conditions on any kind of development planned at 3523 Buford Highway, including a prohibition on access to the development property from Afton Lane.

The variance request was withdrawn and all activity on the project was stopped in its tracks.

“It was kind of epic, actually,” resident Rich Clarke said of the ZBA meeting showdown. Clarke lives on Folkstone Road and is the spokesperson for the neighborhood.

A rendering of the proposed senior home.

“This is the story of Brookhaven now,” Clarke said. “People want to build here and people already live here, so there’s going to be conflict. Fortunately for us, we essentially had a silver bullet … we had the law on our side thanks to the foresight of the people who lived here more than 30 years ago.”

Yakubov said he was “shocked” when the covenants that included no curb cuts at all along Afton Lane and a mandatory tree line along the same road to buffer from any future development were presented at the ZBA hearing. He was given no choice but to seek rezoning of the property. He goes before the Planning Commission on May 3.

“If I had known about the conditions, I would never have bought this property,” Yakubov said. “I’ve spent eight months on the design of this project … I went back and forth with the city four or five times. Unfortunately the city is so new and I got caught in the middle.

“I’m frankly puzzled at how the city behaved,” he added.

He said he’s already threatening legal action against the city if he does not get approval for his rezoning request and has hired the powerful zoning firm of Prusley, Friese, Torgrimson to represent him at the May 3 Planning Commission meeting.

The city denies any wrongdoing. Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said a land disturbance permit was issued to the developer on July 26, 2016, for the demolition of the building on the site.

“We are not aware of any meetings related to this project ahead of the official LDP and variance submittals in 2016,” she said in an email. “However, as a matter of practice the department does not ‘OK’ projects verbally.”

City spokesperson Ann Marie Quill said in 2014 the city contracted with Pond & Associates to research DeKalb zoning decisions and later found nearly 1,000 errors and some that were missing records, including some records for this Buford Highway property.

A site plan of the proposed senior home, with Buford Highway at left and Afton Lane at bottom.

Clarke said he knew there was “finger pointing” going on and he did empathize with Yakubov to some extent. He said there were two other planned developments, one in 2000 and another in 2007, before Brookhaven was incorporated, where the 1984 restrictions came into play and DeKalb County prohibited development.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for the developer,” Clarke said. “It sounds like the city should’ve known because it paid a company to import [zoning] data from the county … And somebody at the county obviously knew about the restrictions.”

At the ZBA hearing, board members scolded Yakubov for not speaking to representatives of the neighborhood about the planned development, saying it is common courtesy to do so. Since that time, Yakubov said he and his attorney, Yusopov, have met a couple times with residents. He said, though, he has told them his name is Michael Snow because it easier to pronounce.

“They’ve always been secretive,” Clarke said.

Yakubov said he sees himself as a “pioneer” for the redevelopment along Buford Highway and believes his assisted living facility fits in perfect with Brookhaven’s plans for the stretch of the road corridor where many apartment complexes are located.

Currently, PulteGroup is seeking to buy the land where the Terraces at Brookhaven and Northeast Plaza apartments are located in order to raze the complexes and build townhouses and residential homes.

“Buford Highway is due for redevelopment and I’m willing to put up $20 million for this project,” Yakubov said. “I’m a pioneer of that change.”

“This has been interesting and unusual case,” Clarke said. “My hope is it works out well for everybody.”

7 replies on “Senior home plan triggers clash between Brookhaven residents, builder”

  1. I am a Brookhaven resident. I have known Michael for many years. He has had the vision for revolutionizing Assisted Living and Memory Care for about a decade now. His ideas help seniors with dementia in particular thrive. What many don’t understand is that dementia strikes people as early as 40s, 50s, and 60s. Actually significant memory loss by the time someone is in the 60s is very common. Michael explained to me over the years how out dated the current communities are and there is no where to go for these younger folks in particular.I don’t know how old the dissenting neighbors are as they may be young and not concerned about dementia, but I do know that twenty percent of all of us will develop Dementia of some sort. If they or their families will be some of the effected, I am sure they would then welcome this much needed community. I hope the neighbors show some compassion and join Michael in bringing this wonderful community to our neighborhood.

    1. This is not about treatment of dementia, this is about having an entrance to the facility directly across the street from someone’s home and other access points along our small residential dead end street so they can have maintenance and trash pick up. How would you like that traffic on your usually very quiet, family friendly neighborhood streets? We are not against his development at all, in fact I’m sure it would be a nice addition to the area, but not at the expense of our residential neighborhood which is part of what makes up the heart of Brookhaven. They need to figure it out without access on Afton Lane, that’s the hope the neighbors have and will continue to fight for.

  2. I understand your concerns and they are valid. I will say, I have never heard of an Assisted Living creating traffic. I will say this; my neighbor’s mom here in Brookhaven was just diagnosed with Early on set Alzheimer’s last Thursday. Her mom is only 63. She knows her mom will only get worse and she is so excited at the idea of a brand new family owned Memory Care Community. She has visited several communities including Michael’s other community in Tucker and she absolutely fell in love with the Orchard. Even though her mom’s memory is fading, my friend is trying to keep things as familiar as possible and having mom in a community that she loves, in the neighborhood she has lived in is so important. I understand there will be a couple of extra cars as family and friends will visit the residents, but what I want to know is what kind of person would dedicate this type of time and energy to shutting down a family owned Assisted Living and Memory Care Community?

  3. I’m not sure I even know how to respond to this other than to say that we are not horrible people denying your friend’s mom the care she needs. This facility has not even opened yet, so how can we be held responsible for the lack of needed services in our area? There are other solutions that the developer has not explored yet, or has chosen not to pursue, all we ask is that he do that so that commercial development does not happen at the expense of already existing residential development and current zoning requirements on that land. There is a common ground on this I’m sure, we just haven’t gotten there yet, and it is our right as citizens of Brookhaven to fight to maintain the neighborhood that we love. The issue is not as black and white as this article and the developer would have you believe, there is a lot of gray area that needs to be clarified and the citizens of Brookhaven deserve to have the input that the rezoning process allows. We are not evil people, just normal families that love our neighborhood and want to maintain its character.

  4. Maintain character? Didn’t all us neighbors tried to sell our homes to a town home developer twice already and deal fell through? Seems a bit hypocritical…. what other options does the developer have? Buy the apartments next door or share a driveway with apartments? How would you like to share your driveway with your next door neighbor? Do you realize that this development will increase the value of your homes?

  5. No, all of the neighbors did not try to sell our homes to a town home developer, many of us held out because we wanted to stay in this neighborhood, if you’ll recall, that is why those deals fell through. So, not sure why you think hypocritical. If you believe everything the developer says is true re: having no other options, then I’m sorry but there are always other options, they may not be the most profitable and will most likely take more time and effort, but that is the risk you take as a land developer.
    I hope this deal works out for you as you hope, we are working toward a positive solution for everyone, including you, but I understand your position and frustration.

  6. Neighbor #1 (first to respond to Vanessa) is clearly involved and someone who lives in Peachtree Village; I’m fairly certain that I know who you are.
    Neighbor #2: I have no idea who you are but based on your post, I suspect that you don’t live in the neighborhood at all and are simply trolling. If I’m mistaken, I apologize.

    Neighbor #1: Reading between the lines, I believe that you think I am Neighbor #2. I assure you that neither Val or I wrote that response. I always use my real name on the internet; I never have had and never will have anything to hide or run from. As you know very well, I’ve been burned badly in this process by sharing too much information and being too trusting.
    To that end: from the very beginning, Val and I have tried to maintain an open, honest and equitable dialogue with every neighbor. Prior to the Variance Hearing, I reached out personally and was essentially told “thanks, but no thanks”. Immediately after the hearing, I asked for and was granted (2) 3-hour meetings with you all. During which, I laid out my thoughts and frustrations, welcomed questions and empowered each of you to share any part of either meeting with all parties.

    I agree that there is a fair resolution out there. Admittedly, prior to the Variance Hearing the communication was lacking at best…but moving forward, to find the resolution we’re all looking for, we all need to communicate with one another openly and honestly. “Thanks, but no thanks” and the neighborhood spokesperson ignoring the Developer’s text messages and phone calls requesting follow-up meetings is the opposite of “open”. Giving the Developer feedback that the neighbors would like the curb cut directly across from Folkstone or as close to Buford Hwy as possible, and later implying that any curb cut at all is no-go…well that’s the opposite of “honest”. It creates a “moving target”, erodes trust, stirs frustration and hostility and wastes time and money.

    At some point in this process, I think we’ve all erred in serving our own interests: the Developer prior to the Variance Hearing and the neighbors now. That’s human nature I suppose; it’s easier and more instinctual to protect ourselves than to look at the challenge holistically and try to strike a compromise that benefits the entire community. From my perspective (admittedly biased), the Developer has conceded on every neighborhood request that was raised during the last two meetings on Afton. To continue to move the “target” and to ignore communications rooted in transparency and progress toward a resolution is simply self-serving. What additional concerns do the neighbors have? What additional changes are the neighbors requesting? Those cannot be addressed until they’re on the table. Everything that was communicated in the two previous meetings has been incorporated.

    Finally, I think we all can agree that it would be preferred if we could communicate and find the resolution as quickly as possible.
    -I’m sure the neighborhood would prefer to stop spending time and money researching and strategizing.
    -I’m sure the Developer would prefer to know what his “target” is and the legal path forward so that he can start investing the remainder of the $20M he’s pledged.
    -I’m sure the City (ZBA, PC, CC, etc) would prefer if we all minimized the number of applications, hearings, interpretations, meetings, appeals, litigation, etc. I know the taxpayers (that’s all of us by the way) would prefer for their resources to be used as efficiently as possible.
    -I would prefer to know where my family will be living in the next few months and where we should be submitting applications so that our daughter has a school she can attend. Probably seen as self-serving by some, but that’s the human nature piece again I suppose.

    It’s unfortunate that this has devolved into an anonymous online bickering match…and I would normally refrain from getting involved in a public forum…but I feel sure that I’ve been mistaken for Neighbor #2 and I wanted to clear the air. Anyone who’s read this far knows who I am and where to find me, probably already has my phone number. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like.
    Otherwise, for the sake of transparency, I’d ask that any future public commentary be accompanied by our true identities.

    Take care,
    Chris

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