The young city of Brookhaven continued its march to set itself apart with big moves in 2019 that included the mayor leading regional talks on I-285 transit and opening the first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The city also broke ground on a new $15 million police department and courthouse; approved Emory University’s $1 billion redevelopment of Executive Park; and finished the year by adding 2,000 new residents with the annexation of the LaVista Park neighborhood.

Mayor Ernst reelected to second term

Mayor John Ernst.

In a race that pitted an established politician against a community activist, John Ernst coasted to a second term as Brookhaven’s mayor in the Nov. 5 election, defeating challenger Jen Heath. Ernst campaigned on promises to increase green space, protect the city’s tree canopy and build more paths and trails while keeping taxes low. He said he plans to continue focusing on the basics, like public works, police and parks. He also said he would continue his strategy of taking a regional approach on transportation needs by working with other governments to find ways to alleviate traffic congestion in Brookhaven and surrounding cities.

I-285 toll lanes worry residents

An overview of the new sections of the I-285 toll lanes project. The section of Ga. 400 to the north has a separate but connected toll lanes project. (GDOT)

Homeowners living in the northern part of the city packed an April community meeting hosted by Mayor John Ernst and City Councilmember Linley Jones to voice their concerns about the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to build toll lanes along the top end of I-285. Ernst and Jones told them there was nothing that could be done to stop the project and they also learned the project could impact approximately 300 properties, but not all in the city. Ernst and Jones invited an attorney who specialize in eminent domain to outline what the residents could do if GDOT decides it does need some of their property for the project. In Brookhaven, the elevated toll lanes are expected to be constructed near Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. Ernst is leading a regional effort to get rapid bus transit incorporated into the toll lanes project.

‘Model mile’ of Peachtree Creek Greenway

Mayor John Ernst and the City Council cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the first phase of the city’s portion of the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

Exactly one year after breaking ground on the “model mile” of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the city hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open it on Dec. 12. The first mile is located between North Druid Hills Road and Briarwood Road and cost $10 million, according to the city. Funding for the Greenway came from hotel-motel taxes. Plans are in the works for the second mile from North Druid Hills road to the Atlanta border. The Greenway is a linear park and multiuse path that is envisioned to stretch 12 miles and connect the city to Atlanta, Chamblee, unincorporated DeKalb County and Doraville.

Big plans for Buford Highway

The day-long ‘Developer’s Day’ on Sept. 12 included stops at various sites in the city, including the Peachtree Creek Greenway. (Dyana Bagby)

The city hosted its first Developer’s Day in September, where officials unveiled illustrations showing a major mixed-use development where the Salvation Army is currently located. They included an 18-story office tower overlooking I-85. The illustration was part of a visioning exercise to show some 50 developers and business owners attending the invitation-only event the kind of redevelopment the city wants to see along Buford Highway. Dramatic drawings of massive office campuses along Buford Highway that were part of the city’s unsuccessful bid for Amazon’s second headquarters were also released to the public. In actual development, the city spent $1.5 million to buy a 1.5-acre parcel on the corridor for a future flyover bridge to Executive Park.

CHOA and Emory’s massive developments

A site plan for Emory University’s proposed redevelopment of Executive Park. The darker blue buildings show where new facilities are planned, including a hospital, hotel, multiunit residential buildings, office and retail space. A multiuse trail is planned in the center of the development under Georgia Power lines. (City of Brookhaven)

Emory University broke ground in October on its new Musculoskeletal Institute that is part of its planned $1 billion redevelopment over 15 years of Executive Park. Across the street, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is finishing up construction on two office buildings and parking decks as part of the build-out of its 72-acre campus. Once the buildings are completed and employees are moved in, CHOA will tear down its current office complex on Tullie Circle and start building a new $1.5 billion hospital on the site.

New public safety HQ

An illustration of Brookhaven’s new public safety and municipal court building scheduled to be completed by summer 2021. (City of Brookhaven)

The city broke ground on its new $15 million public safety headquarters that is being built along the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The 34,000-square-foot headquarters will house the police department and municipal court facilities that are currently located in a leased building on Buford Highway. The facility will include a public restroom accessible from the Greenway.

LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance

Brookhaven City Councilmemember Linley Jones, standing at front, at Councilmember-elect Madeleine Simmons listen to people share their thoughts on the city considering an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance. (Dyana Bagby)

The City Council held a public hearing on an ordinance that would ban local businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, classes of people currently not protected by state or federal law. A vote on the ordinance was scheduled for January. The ordinance would be named for Richard Rhodes, the gay activist and resident who urged the city pass such an ordinance before he died in July at age 81.

Library site squabble

The Brookhaven Library is located in a outdated building at 1242 North Druid Hills Road. (Dyana Bagby)

Where to build the city’s new library that was funded by a DeKalb County bond referendum in 2005 continues to be a debate. County officials said this year they have a strong interest in building the new building on the front portion of Brookhaven Park, property the county still currently owns. The city set aside $2.2 million of its 2018 parks bond money to buy the front portion of the park, but the county says a final agreement has not been made. City officials say they do not want the library built in Brookhaven Park because it would take away significant open green space. They also said the master plan for the park approved in 2018 with community input did not include the new library.

LaVista Park annexed

A map of the LaVista Park community expected to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven. (City of Brookhaven)

About 2,000 new residents became part of the city after the City Council approved Dec. 10 annexing the LaVista Park neighborhood just south of Executive Park. The LaVista Park Civic Association requested annexation into Brookhaven because members said they wanted to ensure their voices were heard as Emory University redevelops Executive Park. The city adopted a policy creating “special tax districts” for newly annexed areas. Property owners will continue to pay higher DeKalb County taxes into a special tax district fund to pay for infrastructure improvements. That ensures the city’s existing tax base does not have to pay for what the county did not fix under its watch, according to the city.

New tourism branding

A new branding strategy to boost the city into a regional and national presence was unveiled, inviting people to “Explore Brookhaven.” The council approved spending more than $800,000 to hire consultants to develop a comprehensive strategy as well as marketing materials, including a new logo. Explore Brookhaven will be the used in the city’s marketing and tourism materials and even within city departments to “distinguish Brookhaven from its older, larger or more established neighbors,” according to the city.

Dyana Bagby

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