Brookhaven celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2017, a year that saw much talk about Buford Highway’s future and culture, the start of a massive Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta expansion project in the city, and the go-ahead for a developer to raze the Boys & Girls Club to make way for a residential project.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta grows again
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta got the green light in December from the city to begin work on a massive medical complex on more than 70 acres at I-85 and North Druid Hills Road. The plan for the project includes a $45 million community investment agreement with the city to help cover road and sewer infrastructure improvements. CHOA plans to break ground in January on a new medical office building and parking deck that will replace the office complex on Tullie Road and Tullie Circle. A new $1.3 billion hospital is planned, as well as other hospital structures and 20 acres of green space. The goal is to complete the campus by 2026. The agreement came with pushback from some residents concerned about the already notorious traffic at the interchange.
Residential development replaces Boys & Girls Club
A controversial Ashton Woods residential development is replacing the Boys & Girls Club on North Druid Hills Road. The club has been located on the site for more than 40 years and is moving to Chamblee in 2018. The redevelopment was first proposed as a 74-townhome project but the developer eventually agreed to a 54-unit project that includes eight detached single-family lots and 10 “manor home” units. Some residents living in the Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields neighborhoods argued the redevelopment does not fit with the character of the area, but city officials said at December meetings that North Druid Hills Road, a major corridor that bisects the two neighborhoods, is zoned for this kind of development.
BIA moving to Chamblee
Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a state charter school started by the city before becoming a separate entity, announced in September that its permanent home will be in Chamblee. After no luck finding property in Brookhaven, school officials said they had no choice but to go to the neighboring city, where they found 2.5 acres on Shallowford Road. Plans are to open the K-8 school by August 2019. As part of the move, BIA is expected to drop “Brookhaven” from its name. BIA opened in 2016 in Norcross.
Greenway funding source secured
State legislators and city leaders agreed to a hotel-motel tax hike to create a new revenue stream to fund the Peachtree Creek Greenway. Greenway backers plan to break ground in early 2018 on the “model mile,” the first leg of the approximate 12-mile linear park that is expected to connect Brookhaven with Chamblee, Doraville and eventually the Atlanta BeltLine. The “model mile” will run from the Salvation Army property near Corporate Boulevard to Briarwood Road. Most of the Greenway will be a 14-foot wide concrete path, although some “pinch points” are to be 12 feet wide and some sections of the trail won’t be paved. The estimated cost is approximately $9 million.
‘Comfort Women’ memorial finds a home
The city agreed to be the permanent home for a controversial “Comfort Women” memorial to commemorate women from Korea and other countries who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during WW II. The statue was unveiled in June in a small park called Blackburn Park II, but threats of lawsuits from residents living nearby eventually led the city to relocate the statue in September to larger Blackburn Park. The statue, depicting a girl seated next to an empty chair, is similar to several statues installed around the world as part of a cultural and political dispute between South Korea and Japan over “comfort women” history and responsibility. The city accepted the memorial from the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force after it was rejected by the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
MARTA development denied
The year started off with a bang in January when Mayor John Ernst called for a “total reset” on a proposed transit-oriented development at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station and directed city staff to halt any work on tax abatements for the development. Trouble between the city and Integral and Transwestern Development Company, which made up Brookhaven City Center Partners, the developers hired by MARTA for the project, had been brewing for some time. Residents packed City Hall to protest the proposed density of the development, the traffic they thought it would create and its design. City and MARTA officials say they fully expect development to occur in the future on the station’s acres of underutilized parking lot.
Buford Highway and immigrants
Buford Highway came under the national spotlight as federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents cracked down on the international corridor following President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize arrests and deportations of undocumented residents with criminal convictions. In February, volunteers visited apartment complexes to inform immigrant residents of their rights while hundreds of immigrants gathered at Plaza Fiesta as part of a “Day Without Immigrants” protest. Trump’s promise to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) led one Cross Keys High School teacher and former student, Yehimi Cambron, to share her story as a DACA participant through a mural on an outside wall of the Havana Sandwich Shop. The mural was one of many murals that were painted for the BuHi Walk, a collaboration between We Love BuHi and Living Walls, to bring public art to Buford Highway and raise awareness about the stories of immigrants who live and work there.
Buford Highway and development
The redevelopment and gentrification of Buford Highway marches on as groups such as We Love BuHi work to ensure the people who live and work there are not forgotten and displaced. While city officials have said they want to preserve Buford Highway’s multicultural diversity, they worked on a plan to pitch the 41.5-acre Northeast Plaza strip mall as the site for Amazon’s second headquarters. That didn’t pan out, as the mall’s owners declined the city’s offer. In July, the Affordable Housing Task Force recommended ways to preserve affordable housing, such as incentives for developers to build affordable units, as apartment complexes continue to be eyed by developers for purchase and redevelopment. Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine, turned his focus to Buford Highway with his new Generator “idea studio” nonprofit partnering with We Love BuHi. He had Georgia Tech students pitch ideas on how to preserve affordability and diversity as the famous immigrant corridor redevelops. Another group of Georgia Tech students, under the tutelage of Professor Gary Cornell, explored more traditional land-use and urban-planning methodology that included a formal presentation to Brookhaven City Council.
6th District election
Republican Karen Handel won the 6th Congressional District seat in a narrow victory over Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election that burned through record-setting campaign funds and drew national attention. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Board of Commissioners chair, is a well-known figure in the majority-Republican district, which includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. Ossoff was a political newcomer who lived outside the district, an unusual situation allowed by the U.S. Constitution. The race was viewed nationally as a sort of referendum on President Trump and locally as another sign of the area shifting from Republican red to mixed GOP-Democrat purple. Ossoff ran on a slogan of “Flip the 6th.”
Top-end Perimeter transportation talks
Mayor John Ernst got the ball rolling on transportation talks with a group of leaders from cities along I-285 “from Smyrna to Tucker.” The group gathered privately and informally on Nov. 8 to discuss possible transit on the top-end Perimeter and its region. While transit has long been a big topic around the Perimeter, these leaders had never been in the same room before, Ernst said. Various forms of mass transit and alternative transportation — including multiuse trails, trains and even monorails — have been proposed along and around I-285 over the years. The opening this year of SunTrust Park in Cobb County, the new home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, has raised the issue again, and there is a growing sense of urgency as state transportation officials work to rebuild the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange.