A proposed townhome development off Buford Highway was dealt a blow June 12 when the Brookhaven City Council delayed a rezoning request because members say they want to see more of a mixed-use development including retail and mix of housing and price points.

Crew Heimer, at left, Bramblewood Drive resident, and others talk to Neville Allison of Ardent Companies, far right, at the June 12 Brookhaven City Council meeting. (Dyana Bagby)

The delay, though, has angered residents who live on Bramblewood Drive, where the townhomes would be built, because their 29 homes have been under contract to sell for nearly a year and they say ongoing delays puts undue hardships on them.

The council voted unanimously June 12 to defer for 90 days voting on a rezoning request by Ardent Companies for approximately 15 acres on Bramblewood Drive and two parcels on Buford Highway for a 197-unit townhome development.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia, who represents those living on and near Buford Highway, made the motion to defer the vote. He said there are many questions about the project that remain unanswered and a deferral ensures “the project does not die.”

In an interview, Gebbia said he was unsure the council would vote to approve the proposed townhome development as it exists today.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions about resubmissions of potential projects that could be built there,” he said. When asked what other project, he clarified to say that Ardent Companies is being asked to submit new plans to the city but would not say anything further.

“That’s a conversation that is going on between Economic Development and Ardent right now,” he said.  “It’s in their court and I’m going to let it stay there.”

City spokesperson Ann Marie Quill confirmed the city is in ongoing discussions with Ardent about the proposed development that includes a mixed-use component, including retail and a mix of housing types with different price points.

“In discussions with the developer, which happen with nearly every application, the council asked for additional input and possible options. None of those plans have been submitted as an amendment to the current plan and the current application continues to be the only plan under active consideration,” she said in an email.

“Council has expressed that they would like to see increased density near Buford Highway, with a mix of housing types and price points, and a retail component with Buford Highway frontage,” she said.

Neville Allison, director of Ardent Companies, said his proposed townhome development does fit in with the comprehensive plan approved by the city for Buford Highway.

“All we want is a fair shake at the hearing. We want to be heard and voted on,” he said.

A Google Map image of Bramblewood Drive, marked with the red pin.

The 90-day delay is more of an issue than a new site plan that includes more density and mixed-uses, he added.

“The real issue is the timing of the zoning is so protracted. We’re doing our best to accommodate what the city wants,” he said.

Gebbia did say the current plans do not fit in with the city’s vision for Buford Highway that includes more mixed-use development. City Attorney Chris Balch said the request to modify the plan did come from the council, but he said he could not comment further due to the threat of litigation by Ardent Companies.

“This is a longstanding request [to modify],” Gebbia said.

The 3-month deferral angered more than a dozen residents who own homes in the single-family neighborhood on Bramblewood Drive and who attended the council meeting. They say the city’s decision to postpone the rezoning vote puts them in “limbo” because the 29 single-family homes in the neighborhood have been under contract with Ardent Companies for nearly a year. Their home sales and the project can’t move forward without the rezoning.

Many of the Bramblewood Drive homeowners have already purchased a second home because they believed the rezoning was going to be a quick process, including a recommendation for approval by the Planning Commission in April. 

Some Bramblewood residents said they are also not making major repairs to their home, such as fixing a water heater or air conditioner, because they don’t want to spend money on a house they keep expecting to be torn down.

“I want to remind you your month-by-month [delays] are imposing severe hardships on residents of Bramblewood,” Crew Heimer, a Bramblewood Drive resident, told the council during public comment. “Our lives are in limbo.”

Heimer also accused the city of putting a “de facto” moratorium on the proposed development that coincides with its new 6-month development moratorium on Buford Highway that was approved the council June 12. The Buford Highway moratorium is needed until a zoning rewrite and Buford Highway Overlay district can be approved, according to city officials.

The city’s actions to delay Ardent’s rezoning request and not tell residents what is taking place reduces trust between the city and voters, Heimer said.

Steve Presser, who has lived on Bramblewood Drive since 1988, said the delays have got to end. “You can’t perpetuate this forever,” he told the council. “We are in a state of flux. We don’t know what will happen next. But we are not going to roll over.”

Another resident, Hillary Dwyer, said the lack of transparency from the city is what upsets the residents the most.

“Our issue is simply that Brookhaven has not provided any transparency or reasoning to us regarding their decisions,” she said. “No one understands why they deferred it for so long. Ninety days seems very excessive for a deal that has no opposition and full support from the homeowners.

“We have homeowners who have made major life changes in preparation for this deal, [and] our lives have been very much affected by Brookhaven’s lack of cooperation,” she added.

Renderings of proposed townhomes to be built on Bramblewood Drive off Buford Highway. (City of Brookhaven)

As part of the rezoning request, Ardent is asking to buy the public right-of-way on Bramblewood to include what is now planned as a gated community. The city deferred a vote to sell it at the June 12 meeting also. The city is asking $3 million for the right-of-way.

The City Council and Ardent have clashed before. Last year, the council voted in a rare 3-2 vote with Mayor John Ernst breaking the tie to deny Ardent’s request to build a wrought-iron fence around a 22-unit townhome development on Pine Cone Lane. The council reversed the decision and allowed the gates because the process to deny the gates was flawed, according to the city attorney.

The 22 townhomes are part of a larger 73 townhome development by Ardent. This development is going up where the Park Villa apartment complex once existed and where many immigrants and low-income residents lived. Ardent purchased the complex then razed it to build luxury townhomes, displacing dozens of families. 

The Bramblewood property was also considered by the city as the site for a new public safety headquartersThe DeKalb County School District also looked at the same property as a potential site for a new Cross Keys High School, but the board of education voted to build the new school on property it already owns in unincorporated DeKalb County.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.