Residents living on Bramblewood Drive at Buford Highway expected to make good money off the sale of their homes as part of a proposed townhome development. But negotiations between the developer and the city collapsed, leaving them with an uncertain future.
Allen Lucas, 75, has lived on Bramblewood Drive since 1980. He said he has been wanting to leave the area for years. So when the Ardent Companies’ proposal came along last year, he jumped at it, as did all the other 29 property owners on the street.
“At least four of us did [buy second homes],” he said. “And now we’re all stuck with two mortgages. My hopes are all dashed.”
Ardent contracted with the homeowners in April 2017 to buy their homes to build a 197-unit townhome community on the property. The townhomes would be priced at about $300,000.
Ardent’s purchase of the Bramblewood homes would only go through after the development was approved as part of the city’s zoning process, according to the contractual agreement.
Lucas said he was so sure the deal would go through after the Planning Commission recommended approval in April, that he bought a second home in Stone Mountain the following month. He said Ardent was offering above market value for his home but declined to reveal the price.
The homeowners’ contract with Ardent expired in June. Lucas said his future is now uncertain; he has health problems and cannot easily afford the upkeep of two homes.
“I’m a very disgruntled homeowner,” he said. “All of us are.”
The Bramblewood residents were caught in the crossfire of failed real estate negotiations between Ardent and the city on what kind of development was appropriate for the site.
Buford Highway is where city officials envision a place for high-density and mixed-use developments as well as diverse housing with different price points, including affordable housing. The city’s comprehensive plan also calls for a pedestrian-friendly corridor.
Ardent wanted the proposed townhome development to be a gated community and asked the city to abandon the approximate two acres of right-of-way on Bramblewood Drive so the street could be closed off from the public. Neville Allison, managing director of Ardent, said his company’s appraisal for the right of way was right at $250,000.
But Bramblewood is a public street and the City Council and city officials balked at abandoning the real estate. They priced the right of way at $2 million.
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. Ernst said new gated communities prevent connectivity. The council later reversed the decision and allowed the fence because the process to deny the fence was flawed, according to the city attorney.
When the council in June deferred voting on the proposed Bramblewood development for three months, several Bramblewood residents were there, saying the council was putting their lives in “limbo.” Many also said they had stopped making major repairs to their homes, including air conditioner repairs, as they anticipated selling their homes quickly.
The deferral gave time for the city and Ardent to try to work out a new deal for a development. But city officials said Ardent’s demand for a massive $30 million tax abatement coupled with a dispute over how to define affordable housing blew up further talks. The development planned in these negotiations included 170 for-sale townhomes, 300 apartments and a five-story parking deck.
Ardent withdrew its original 197-unit townhome development on Sept. 5.
As part of the negotiations, the city did say if Ardent paid $2 million for the right-of-way, the city would then reinvest $2 million in infrastructure for the development, including the parking deck.
Crew Heimer, 64, who owns two houses on Bramblewood, said it sounds like there is a “lot of finger-pointing going on” right now. He also worries the controversy over this deal could hamper future development on Bramblewood.
“Will developers want to touch us now?” he said. “I would have loved if the deal had gone through. I would have all my mortgages paid off and money in the bank for my kids to go to college.
“There may be something better than townhomes, but that may be years down the road,” he said.