A developer of a controversial property was ready to bend to the city’s demands for a mixed-use development on Buford Highway but the deal failed over a massive tax abatement request and a dispute over defining an affordable housing component.

Ardent Companies anticipated investing $124 million for a proposed mixed-use development including affordable housing on 17 acres at Bramblewood Drive while seeking a $30 million tax abatement from the city.

The project would have included $60 million for 300 apartments and $64 million for 170 for-sale townhomes and retail.

The figures were detailed in a June 1 email exchange between City Manager Christian Sigman and Ardent Companies Director Neville Allison that was obtained through an open records request.

Ardent Companies was seeking a $30 million tax abatement from the city’s Development Authority on the proposed 470-unit housing project on Bramblewood Drive including retail fronting Buford Highway, according to city officials, but negotiations collapsed in August.

The city issued a press release announcing the deal failed over a disagreement on how to define “affordable” housing.

The city required Ardent Companies to use an area median household income of $50,000, while the developer insisted on using $68,000 household AMI.

Allison accused the city of extorting developers and said the deal was a no-go once the city required a “claw-back” provision as part of the tax incentive that required a portion of any profit made on the sale of the development be paid back to the city.

The $30 million abatement would have been large by city standards. In 2016, the Brookhaven Development Authority approved a $36 million tax abatement to the Atlanta Hawks over 15 years to pay for construction of a practice facility in Executive Park.

Allison attempted to have the total cost of the proposed Bramblewood Drive project kept under wraps.

His attorney, Simon Bloom, emailed the city Aug. 14 threatening to take legal action if any documents were released to the Reporter that included such details.

Bloom noted Sigman and Economic Development Director Shirlyn Brownell signed a nondisclosure agreement on July 10 and claimed that releasing any information on the negotiations was a violation of the NDA.

The city released about 100 emails last month that showed back and forth discussions taking place in June and July between city staff and Allison.
When asked in an interview about Ardent Companies’ total investment, Sigman declined to answer, citing the NDA.

Allison confirmed the figure in an interview. “That was an approximate number,” he said, adding, “It would’ve been a great project.”

The mixed-use project Allison proposed in the June 1 email to Sigman included 470 housing units on Bramblewood Drive —about 300 apartment units and up to 170 for-sale townhomes. Retail fronting Buford Highway would include possibly a coffee shop or café and co-working space, Allison stated in the email.

The project was only discussed behind the scenes as part of an economic development proposal including the requested $30 million tax abatement on city, county and school taxes for 30 years for 30 affordable housing units. No formal application was made to the city.

Ardent Companies filed with the city earlier this year on the same property a proposal to build 197 townhomes priced in the $200,000-$300,000 range. No tax incentives were requested for that project.

But the mayor and council insisted the Bramblewood site be used for a mixed-use development to include a mix of housing types and price points, as well as a retail component fronting Buford Highway as part of their vision of increased density along and near Buford Highway.

On June 12, days after that June 1 email from Allison to Sigman, the City Council voted to defer for 90 days a vote on the 197-townhome project to allow negotiations to continue on a mixed-use project the city and Ardent could agree on.

Following the collapse of the mixed-use development talks, the City Council was left to consider Ardent’s originally proposed 197-unit townhome development; Ardent requested to withdraw that application at the Sept. 12 City Council meeting and the council agreed.

Ardent Companies has assembled about 33 parcels on Bramblewood Drive and Buford Highway for the proposed townhome project, including 29 single family homes on Bramblewood Drive.

Ardent Companies entered into contracts last year with the homeowners to buy their homes, anticipating city approval of the townhome development. The deal hasn’t gone through, leaving many homeowners angry at the city.

Sigman said the city regularly hears from Bramblewood Drive homeowners urging the city to approve Ardent Companies’ proposed development.
Going public about the failed tax abatement project was to let those homeowners understand what was happening, he said.

The city looked at possibly buying a portion of the Bramblewood Drive property for a new public safety headquarters even as Ardent Companies was seeking to have it rezoned by the city.

The city eventually decided to construct the new public safety headquarters on the 19 acres of land on Briarwood Road it purchased for construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

Sigman said the city has no interest in the property now.

Dyana Bagby

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