Developer Minerva USA’s plan to build 62 townhomes within the Lenox Park complex got a 30-day deferral April 1 from the Brookhaven Planning Commission, which wanted detailed plans before voting.

Brian Davison, a managing partner at Minerva, said the pandemic and an architect’s illness were to blame for the lack of detailed plans. The company was “totally fine” with the deferral while it works out more details with neighbors.

A design concept for the 61 for-sale townhomes proposed to be built in Brookhaven’s Lenox Park. (City of Brookhaven)

The general response was favorable from the commission and residents’ comments at the meeting, which was held by teleconference. Questions focused on certain details, such as tree loss and pedestrian crossings.

The plan calls for the townhomes, priced in the $800,000 range, to be built on a five-acre, largely open site at 1035, 1045, 1055 and 1065 Lenox Park Boulevard, on the Buckhead border.

Minerva is seeking a rezoning from office/industrial to residential at 18 units per acre. It is also seeking zoning variances: for rear-yard setbacks of 10 feet rather than 30 for three units; and to waive requirements that garages be less than 50% of the facade, to install two-car garages in the narrow townhomes.

A site plan of the Lenox Park development as shown by Brian Davison of Minerva USA during the April Brookhaven Planning Commission meeting.

Davison called it “kind of a tricky site” and “definitely transitional” between AT&T’s large office buildings within Lenox Park and single-family homes on adjacent Arbor Trace.

He said Minerva is working on the design with residents and has agreed on various points, including: no new curb cuts, no roof decks, a maximum height of three stories, and orienting the townhomes to face the street. Short-term rentals would be banned with the townhomes complex at the request of the Residence Inn by Marriott hotel in Lenox Park, Davison said.

Specific concerns in public comments, which were read aloud by city staff members and commission chair Stan Segal, centered on three areas. One was the accuracy of a tree count, which Davison said could be refined. Another was a proposed additional left-turn lane into the complex as possibly making it more difficult for pedestrians to cross safely. A third concern was keeping the sidewalk and right of way as wide as possible due to currently difficult passing there.

The area where the new townhomes would go is currently a grassy field. (City of Brookhaven)

Commissioners echoed some of those concerns. Commissioner Michael Diaz asked staff to clarify the city’s inclusionary zoning affordable housing policy, which does not apply to townhomes; he suggested that a revision may be worth discussing separately.

Segal said the proposal seemed “suitable” for the site, but the lack of detailed plans was an issue. He also said the requested variances seem “a little bit self-inflicted,” especially the setback request, which could be resolved by eliminating the three units.

Davison said the feedback was “massively helpful” as Minerva will develop the plans and return at a May 6 meeting.

Expanded deferral policy approved

The commission also voted to recommend approval of its own idea to expand possible project deferrals up to 120 days.

Currently, the commission can defer a vote on projects up to 60 days. The policy change — an amendment to the zoning code — would allow an applicant, with city staff approval, to request another 60-day deferral if it was not prepared to present the project.

The issue recently arose, Segal said, when an applicant turned out to be unprepared to present a project but was too late in the process to withdraw.

Open Meeting example

The meeting was held via the teleconferencing service Zoom and Facebook Live video, with the public able to comment through those platforms as well as via email.

Brookhaven Planning Commission members, city staff members and developer Davison appear in the commission’s April 1 meeting, held by Zoom teleconference.

City Attorney Chris Balch noted that the state Attorney General’s Office is advising local governments on how to meet remotely during the pandemic in accordance with the Open Meeting Act. One resident had expressed concern about the Planning Commission meeting’s legality, he said, adding that its Lenox Park agenda item had already been advertised and the city code lacks a provision for delaying it.

Some areas do not have the technology or infrastructure to broadcast teleconference meetings, he noted, but Brookhaven does, and is giving feedback to the Attorney General’s Office about the experience, he said.

“The goal here is to advise the Attorney General to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do… [and are] complying not just with the letter but with the spirit of the Open Meeting Act,” Balch said.

The Attorney General’s Office has been encouraging local governments to continue meeting, said spokesperson Katie Byrd, though it suggested they “delay non-essential matters.”

“We do feel Brookhaven, using a mix of Zoom Meetings and Facebook for public comments, did a good job making the meeting as open and accessible as possible,” Byrd said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of townhomes proposed.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.