Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta got the nod from the Brookhaven Planning Commission to build an 8-story office building and 7-story parking deck on the Northeast Expressway as part of its plans for a massive medical center complex at the I-85 and North Druid Hills Road interchange.
The pediatric hospital’s attorney also revealed at the Planning Commission’s Dec. 6 meeting that a development of regional impact (DRI) is expected to be triggered in late December or early January as it moves forward in building out an approximate 80-acre campus that includes a $1.3 billion hospital and the Center for Advanced Pediatrics now under construction as well as parking decks and other medical office buildings.
CHOA needs a special land use permit to build the parking deck with 1,795 spaces and to build the new 8-story office building at 348,000 square feet on property that currently only allows a 5-story building. The new construction will occur on some 18 acres of property along the Northeast Expressway that CHOA hopes to have annexed into the city and rezoned by the City Council at its Dec. 12 meeting. Only the City Council can approve annexation requests.
CHOA representatives have said they need to build the new office building and parking deck as soon as possible so it can relocate staff currently working in the office complex on Tullie Circle and Tullie Road to the new building. Plans are then to tear down the office complex buildings to make room for the new $1.3 billion hospital. CHOA officials say its Egleston Hospital on Clifton Road near Emory University is filled to capacity and it needs to build a new hospital to provide specialized care to children from across the state. Hospital officials want to complete the new construction by 2026.
Commissioners unanimously approved the SLUP request. The Dec. 6 vote follows a request by the Planning Commission in September to delay moving ahead with any rezoning requests until after CHOA provided a clearer vision and master plan for its plans at I-85 and North Druid Hills Road.
At a work session before the regular Planning Commission meeting, CHOA officials laid out what it plans for the site, including an agreement made with the Brookhaven Development Authority the morning of Dec. 6 that includes a more than $45 million investment by CHOA that includes:
- $4.2 million for I-85 underpass improvements and bike/pedestrian connection from underpass to Peachtree Creek Greenway.
- $300,000 for I-85/North Druid Hills Interchange modification report and area beautification.
- $10 million for I-85/North Druid Hills Interchange, reconstruction.
- $6 million for sewer line upgrades supporting redevelopment in the Buford Highway corridor. –
- $10 million to purchase from the city 6.27 acres of right of ways within the hospital campus for Tullie Road Northeast and Tullie Circle Northeast. During the Planning Commission work session before the regular meeting, CHOA attorney Woody Galloway said the city would use this money as it wants but the current thought is to put it toward the Peachtree Creek Greenway.
- $14.6 million cap on the anticipated city permits and fees.
The City Council will consider an intergovernmental agreement with CHOA that includes the agreement made with the BDA at its Dec. 12 meeting.
At the Planning Commission meeting, members were introduced to Brookhaven residents, Matthew and Jamie Brewer, and their daughter, Caroline. In February Caroline had brain surgery at CHOA to remove a softball-sized tumor. Her prognosis was dire, Matthew Brewer said, and he and his wife were told if she survived there was a good chance she would be paralyzed and possibly blind. After an 8-hour surgery, however, a nurse brought them to see Caroline, who was waking up and able to say hello to her parents.
Caroline still has cancer, however, and had her second brain surgery just three weeks ago, Jamie Brewer said.
“She is only here because of CHOA,” Jamie Brewer said.
Caroline then said “hi” and “bye” to the commissioners after her parents spoke.
Rick Bennett, HOA president for Executive Parkview Townhomes on Woodcliff Way adjacent to the CHOA property, said overwhelmingly the people living in these townhomes support CHOA expansion efforts. The townhomes were annexed into a year ago.
He acknowledged there would be inconvenience to residents due to construction noise and when the hospital complex is built out, people will have to deal with helicopter noise from children being airflighted to the hospital and sirens from those coming in by ambulance.
“But we believe the mission of CHOA outweighs our inconvenience,” Bennett said.
Several people spoke out in opposition to CHOA long-term plans.
James Provoost, who lives on Executive Park Lane also adjacent to the property, said he was not opposed to CHOA itself, but asked if this was the right location for such a massive development. The traffic in the area is already bad and a completed traffic study for CHOA’s long-term plans has also not been completed, he said.
“The whole approach seems backward,” Provoost said.
CHOA attorney Woody Galloway said later in the meeting that the DRI that is expected to be triggered later this month or in January. DRI’s, conducted through the Atlanta Regional Commission for projects that affect a region and not just a local municipality, are triggered with developments of 700,000 square feet or more.
Betsy Eggers, chair of the nonprofit Peachtree Creek Greenway, also asked the commission to deny CHOA’s request because, in part, the Georgia Department of Transportation has not signed off on allowing CHOA to build an access to the Greenway via the I-85 underpass, so right now the sidewalk path is only an idea. A Plan B needs to be in place to ensure connectivity from CHOA’s campus to the Greenway, she said.
She also brought up the “cautionary tale” of the new Quick Trip now going up on Buford Highway om which developers promised city officials to build a path from its site to the Greenway. QT broke its promise, she said, and now that sidewalk dead-ends into a dumpster.
“We were assured but did not have enough in writing and instead trusted what they said,” Eggers said. “The devil is in the details.”
Her husband, Jack Honderd, an avid cyclist, also spoke against the project, raising concerns about CHOA intent to essentially close off its campus to the public when it is built out. He said the city’s bike-pedestrian plan, approved last year, includes planned bike trails that connect to CHOA’s property. Those plans are “wiped out” with CHOA’s long-term development, he said. He also said CHOA’s plans to close off its campus to the public and disallow cyclists and pedestrians to cut through the site to avoid the heavy road traffic on North Druid Hills Road and near I-85 does not promote alternative modes of transportation.
“Don’t rush through this process,” Honderd said.
Galloway later explained that a 14-food wide multi-use path for public use is planned to be built around the perimeter of the campus, on North Druid Hills Road and the Northeast Expressway. He added that bike and pedestrian paths are included within the campus for use by physicians and staff who want to ride or walk to work. But because there will be oftentimes very sick children walking on the trails as well, sometimes with an IV pole, it is unsafe to allow commuter or other cyclists to zip through and putting the kids at risk, Galloway said.
Also speaking against CHOA’s plans was Atlanta resident Craig Pendergrast. He also said he believed that CHOA’s plans for the campus were conducted “backwards” – that a DRI should be conducted first and traffic studies completed in conjunction with other neighboring jurisdictions, including the city of Atlanta.
“You all had the good sense [in September] to require they present the master plan,” Pendergrast said. “But the master plan is extremely vague and highly conceptual. CHOA is doing this in a piecemeal fashion and should be considered all together instead of rushing ahead and approving the unknown.”
In an email to the commission, Pendergrast also noted that while CHOA is a nonprofit and exempt from property taxes to local governments and school districts, its net asset value was over $4.2 billion in 2016. He suggested CHOA’s tax exempt status not be considered for office buildings or parking decks.