Lack of a master plan promised a year ago by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for its planned redevelopment at North Druid Hills Road and I-85 played a key role in the Brookhaven Planning Commission voting July 5 to delay a vote on its request to rezone property to make way for a a new 8-story office building and 7-story parking deck.
The vote was unanimous to defer the rezoning request as well as a special land use permit request to build 8 stories where only five stories are allowed to its Sept. 6 meeting. CHOA is also requesting annexation of slightly more than 11 acres along the Northeast Expressway as part of a massive redevelopment of its 45-acre campus at North Druid Hills Road and I-85. The mayor and City Council is expected to defer the annexation at its July 25 because the land must first be rezoned.
CHOA officials have stated at public meetings with residents living near its North Druid Hills Road campus that it needs the some 11 acres of property so it can build the office tower and parking deck. After the new “support building” is completed, the approximate 1,100 employees working in the CHOA office complex on Tullie Road and Tullie Circle would move to that building.
Residents living in the area have complained about the expansion only adding to an already notorious traffic problem in the area. CHOA officials argue that because they are only relocating employees to a new building, the density of the area is not seriously affected because the project is dealing with people already in the area.
Plans would then be to raze the Tullie Road and Tullie Circle office park buildings and then build a $1.3 billion hospital on that land to replace CHOA’s Egleston Hospital on Clifton Road near Emory University.
CHOA attorney Woody Galloway said at the July 5 meeting that the healthcare giant is asking the city right now to only consider the annexation and rezoning along the Northeast Expressway and that a master plan for the overall development of the campus will be ready sometime in the fall. CHOA’s Board of Trustees meets in September and will be reviewing the master plan, Galloway said.
When CHOA submits its master plan to the city, a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) is triggered. A DRI involves a traffic impact and mitigation study through the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Planning Commission Chair Stan Segal noted that in November 2015, when the city approved the construction of what is now known as the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, Galloway and CHOA at that time promised a master plan would be ready in early 2016, but none has been submitted. The Center for Advanced Pediatrics broke ground in January and is slated to be completed next year.
“We granted approval in November  because we respect CHOA … but we have a responsibility to the 50,000 residents of Brookhaven,” he said. “I would have difficulty saying no to CHOA, but I also have difficulty on this.”
Commissioner Michael Diaz said he did not understand how CHOA is requesting rezoning and annexation of the property without a master plan already in place.
“I’m a little bit concerned … that we don’t have an idea of what the whole thing is going to look like,” he said.
Commissioner John Funny added that the commission was “looking at a piece of the pie” when it comes to CHOA’s overall plans for its property across the street from Executive Park. Emory University recently purchased a majority of Executive Park but has not revealed publicly any plans for the site.
“It’s a little challenging to bite into this after the November  meeting,” Funny said.
CHOA Chief Public Policy Officer David Tatum told the commission that the reasons a master plan was delayed was due “significant budget changes by the feds,” forcing a reevaluation of what would actually go into the Center for Advanced Pediatrics.
He also said CHOA is committing between $7 million and $9 million toward traffic improvements in the area for the immediate project of building the new support building.
“We can’t do anything until we get the employees [in the office park] moved,” Tatum said. “We’re out of beds. I wish we could have done the master plan as we originally told you … but for this [project] we’d like to move forward.”
Betsy Eggers, chair of the Peachtree Creek Greenway organization, said it would be unfair for the city to approve CHOA’s current “skeleton plan” and no master plan because the city would not do the same for any other applicant.
“I thank CHOA for coming into the community … but it is important for the Planning Commission to think of this applicant as any other applicant,” she said. “Would you accept that from another business?”
Martha Gross of the North Druid Hills Resident Association said her organization loves CHOA and Brookhaven.
But CHOA promised in December 2015, she said, that it would not seek any more zoning entitlements before it filed a master plan. The master plan was promised in early 2016, but nobody has “seen the whites of its eyes yet,” she said.
The mission of CHOA to serve sick children is crucial and appreciated, she said, but there needs to be a balancing act.
“Get them nailed, nailed on the master plan,” Gross told commissioners.
Galloway explained that this project for the new support building is a “slice” of the master plan. Because CHOA’s Scottish Rite and Egleston hospitals are at full capacity, there is an urgent need to move as quickly as possible to make room for the new hospital in Brookhaven as CHOA works to get the numerous plans in place for a new hospital, he said.
“We don’t have time to wait on this or that,” Galloway said. “We’re just not ready to reveal the master plan.
“We have got to get this done … because Scottish Rite and Egleston don’t have room,” he said.