DeKalb County officials who aim to fight the Dresden Village development’s tax break in a Dec. 1 court hearing are now being joined by Brookhaven neighborhood associations that oppose the street changes that are a rationale for the deal.

“The city of Brookhaven is pushing, against justified county and school board opposition, a tax abatement predicated on the delivery of an infrastructure change that the adjacent communities do not even want,” said neighborhood representatives from Ashford Park and Brookhaven Fields in a written statement.

A site plan of the Dresden Village development, showing the controversial Green Meadows Lane extension. (Special)

The mixed-use development would be on a 4-acre lot on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road. The Brookhaven Development Authority in August approved a tax break worth up to $13.5 million over a 22-year period to the project, under the code name “Project X.” The tax break has strained the city’s relationship with the county and drawn criticism from some residents and officials as unnecessary and lacking transparency. The county and the DeKalb County School District consider the project a drain on their tax base.

The tax break has to be approved in a DeKalb County Superior Court bond validation hearing to take effect. In October, Judge Stacey Hydrick ruled that the county government and the DeKalb County School District can present objections to the bond validation at a Dec. 1 hearing.

Neighborhood residents can’t directly join the court battle, but some are applying political pressure to the city administration and City Council members.

Dresden Village has been locally controversially, especially for potential traffic impacts, since its zoning approval in 2017. The project was supposed to break ground in 2018, but stalled out. Connolly Investment & Development, the project’s developer, says it is back on track, but needs the tax abatement to cover costs of the street and traffic changes.

Those changes include creating a new extension of Green Meadow Lane — a residential street — past Caldwell Road to Dresden Drive. The plan also would eliminate a traffic light and pedestrian crossing at Dresden and Caldwell.

Ricardo Kamenetzky, chair of the Zoning Committee for the Brookhaven Fields Civic Association, said that neighborhood groups fear those changes would increase traffic on residential streets and reduce pedestrian safety. He said that in recent informal voting among 119 residents of Ashford Park and Brookhaven Fields, 89% opposed the project’s traffic changes, and the same percentage opposed the tax abatement.

On Oct. 5, residents from those neighborhoods held a virtual meeting with Hari Karikaran, director of the city’s Public Works Department, and City Councilmembers John Park and Madeleine Simmons.

In a presentation, the residents made several demands: changing the Dresden Village site plan back to roughly the original version from 2017; canceling the tax abatement; commissioning a Dresden Drive corridor traffic study; and placing a moratorium on high-density development in that corridor pending such a study and a related implementation plan.

“I am listening to my constituents and I understand why some of those in Brookhaven Fields are upset,” Simmons said in email.

She noted that the elimination of the traffic light is in a city transportation plan that predates her election to the council. As for the new cut-through street, she said, “… I understand the opposition to the Caldwell and Green Meadows connection and am committed to researching viable options to address the concerns.”

Park and the city administration did not respond to comment requests.

–John Ruch and Erin Schilling

John Ruch

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