A controversial townhome and single-family development will be built on the 6-acre site of the Boys & Girls Club on North Druid Hills Road following a Dec. 12 vote by the Brookhaven City Council to approve the project.
The council voted 3-1 to rezone the property from R-75 (single-family residential) to RM-100 (multi-family residential). The rezoning makes way for Ashton Woods to build a 59-unit development at 1330 North Druid Hills Road. The project will replace the beloved organization that has been located in the city for 40 years. The Boys & Girls will close its Brookhaven location Dec. 20 and open in a new, larger facility next month in Chamblee.
The vote follows the Dec. 5 vote by the Planning Commission to recommend approval. The Community Development Department also recommended approval.
The new multifamily residential development will be built in the midst of two established neighborhoods, Broohaven Fields and Brookhaven Heights. North Druid Hills Road runs between the neighborhoods, but some residents say they consider the two neighborhoods essentially one large neighborhood.
Numerous residents living in those neighborhoods spoke out against the Ashton Woods development at the Dec. 5 Planning Commission meeting and at the Dec. 12 council meeting.
Several people urged city officials to deny the development because, they said, it does not fit in with the character area study that calls for protecting, preserving and maintaining single-family neighborhoods.
“This is in the middle of one character area. You are going to build a wall between me and Brookhaven Heights,” said Kristin Rader, who lives on Sylvan Circle.
Tony Bonno of Logan Circle said he had hoped the city would “not be at the mercy of developers” after it incorporated five years ago.
“I feel I am sadly mistaken. The residents are overwhelmingly opposed, only to have [our concerns] fall on deaf ears,” he said.
Some residents also said they feared a precedent would be set that will pave the way for more higher-density and multifamily developments along this stretch of North Druid Hills Road.
But council members responded that North Druid Hills Road is a major corridor near the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station and the area invites higher density development near public transit as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.
“I think this area is prime for redevelopment,” Councilmember Joe Gebbia said before voting in favor. “It’s so close to MARTA.”
At the Dec. 5 Planning Commission meeting, where members voted 4-2 to recommend approval, Commissioner Michael Diaz noted during the character area studies conducted earlier this year considered Brookhaven Fields and Brookhaven Heights neighborhoods as one neighborhood.
Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said North Druid Hills Road is considered a corridor separate from the neighborhoods and not part of the interior of the neighborhoods. Zoning codes encourage higher density development along corridors, she said.
Commissioner John Funny added at the Dec. 5 meeting that North Druid Hills Road is different today than it was 30 to 40 years ago and will continue to change as the city and metro Atlanta continue to grow and more people move to the area.
“This application lives within the spirit of a comprehensive plan and character area. I don’t think this will be a situation where it destroys the character of our community,” Funny said.
Commissioner Bert Levy, however, said the overriding message of the character area study was to protect, preserve and maintain single-family neighborhoods. “While staff has labeled [North Druid Hills Road] a corridor, I don’t see how this rezoning serves that goal” of the character area study, he added.
At the Dec. 12 council meeting, Councilmember John Park said zoning is a delicate balance between private property rights and ensuring the community’s quality of life but that the “city is committed to protecting single-family homes.”
The new development will include underground stormwater detention ponds where there is currently no stormwater plan at all, resulting in flooding on Sylvan Circle, he said. The developer will also be adding a turn lane on Briarwood Road to North Druid Hills Road, which should alleviate traffic, he added. And the development includes a nearly half-acre pocket park on Sylvan Circle that will be accessible to the public, Park said.
The original site submitted to the city in July included 74 townhomes before being modified after community meetings to 64 townhomes. Within the 64 units were a five-unit “manor house,” or condo building. The condo units would range in size from 900-1,400 square feet and cost approximately $300,000, to accommodate Mayor John Ernst’s request for more affordable housing.
The main entrance for the development was also moved off Sylvan Road to Briarwood Road with the fire access road located on Sylvan Road.
In October, however, the Planning Commission recommended denying approval of the project because of the density and concerns it did not fit in with the character area of the Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields neighborhoods.
After receiving a deferral from the council, the developer went back to the drawing board and came up with the final plan that did get approval – a 54-unit development that includes eight detached single-family lots and 10 “manor home” units.
Some residents asked the property be zoned RA-8 (single-family residential) to limit the number of units to eight units per acre, or about 50 units. But to do so would eliminate the inclusion of affordable housing that the city is trying to address, Councilmember Linley Jones said at the Dec. 12 meeting.
“There is only about a nine unit difference, and that difference being the manor house,” she said. The RA-8 zoning also does not guarantee a pocket park accessible to the public, she said. The addition of single-family housing also addressed concerns about a mix of uses, she said.
Councilmember Bates Mattison, who represents the district where the development will go, cast the lone no vote Dec. 12 after failing to receive a second to his motion to deny the zoning needed.
Mattison said the plans do not meet the criteria reached by a consensus of those living in Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields to limit the rezoning of property to RA-8. He added he believes strongly in the mission of the Boys & Girls Club and will continue to support its work in Chamblee.
“I know you need to extract enough money [from the sale of the property] to make your move,” he said to several Boys & Girls Club representatives at the meeting. But both neighborhoods are adjacent to Peachtree Road and will be heavily affected by the future MARTA station redevelopment, he said, and they need to be protected from more high-density development.
Several people also spoke in favor of the development, many having ties to the Boys & Girls Club. Greg Parker said he recently moved to Brookhaven because he wanted to live near a MARTA station.
“This development would allow me to purchase a home and walk to MARTA,” he said. “I know a lot of people are talking about how long they have lived here, but I want my future to be here.”
Robert Dunn, who works for the Boys & Girls Club, said he has been part of the long process to sale the property and find a developer to buy it as well as working with community members to devise a plan that would appease most people.
“We took on a lot of concerns from the community,” he said, resulting in three different plans. “We’ve done everything we can to appease the masses.”
The development will be a gated community other than the public access pocket park.