Redevelopment on Buford Highway, affordable housing, walkability and cataloging historical sites in the city were all set as important issues for the city to take notice of in 2021, according to discussions at the Brookhaven City Council’s Feb. 22 retreat.
The City Council retreat, or “Council Advance” as the city calls it, takes place annually to set council priorities for the upcoming year. The meeting was held virtually this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia announced recommendations for ways the city can protect Buford Highway residents in the event of redevelopment as well as ways to promote affordable housing. One of Gebbia’s main recommendations was the creation of a redevelopment authority, which would allow the city to buy land and redevelop that land for less money, allowing for more affordable housing.
Gebbia said the benefits of having such an authority will be valuable if the city pushes forward with redevelopment along Buford Highway. In addition to the redevelopment authority, he said, it would be important to formalize a city policy that would protect the rights of residents and businesses along Buford Highway during the redevelopment.
“The objective is to take a true humanitarian approach to relocation if and when that should become the case, as [Buford Highway] redevelops,” Gebbia said.
For residents in that area, Gebbia suggested a 120-day rent protection period for those affected by redevelopment. He also suggested that businesses located in buildings that are torn down for redevelopment should be offered the opportunity to occupy the new buildings with a five-year protected rent program to be paid for by abatements.
“This I think is essential for us as we look towards the redevelopment of Buford Highway,” Gebbia said. “That we have a plan in place that is effective in helping to protect our residents and our businesses.”
Gebbia also suggested the creation of “opportunity zones” — economically distressed areas where private individuals can invest, receiving tax benefits while also helping spur economic growth — to help create more affordable and workforce housing in Brookhaven.
Gebbia said this idea for affordable and workforce housing is paired with the city of Atlanta’s efforts to consolidate bus routes between multiple counties. Some of the new stations for proposed consolidated routes would be built in Brookhaven, he said.
“If city-led abatements are used to secure that land that will end up being used for bus hubs, the city should be able to position and negotiate for the right to use a portion of that land … to build workforce and affordable housing,” he said.
Gebbia also suggested updating Brookhaven’s affordable housing requirements for developers by allowing them the opportunity to contribute to a workforce/affordable housing fund. Gebbia said that would operate similarly to the city’s sidewalk fund, where if builders do not want to build a sidewalk in front of a new home, they are required to pay a fee. That money goes into a fund that is used by the city to fill in sidewalk gaps.
“I think this would be viewed positively by developers,” Gebbia said. “It helps protect their long-term financial model which means we’ll get the best project out of them. But at the same time, we’ll be able to have them contribute towards what’s really needed in protection of housing costs.”
Ashford Park pedestrian crossing
Councilmember John Park, whose District 2 contains the neighborhoods of Ashford Park and Drew Valley, proposed adding a pedestrian crossing between the two areas to increase walkability and bikeability.
The proposed pedestrian walkway would cross Dresden Drive close to John Lewis Elementary School. Dresden Drive separates the two neighborhoods, with Ashford Park to the north and Drew Valley to the south.
Park said he has seen the amount of children riding bicycles increase in Brookhaven over the years and wanted to increase safety for pedestrians in the area.
“[There’s] really nothing in the middle of the district to provide connectivity between the two neighborhoods as well as the rest of Brookhaven,” Park said.
The image Park used to show what the crossing might look like, which was a stock image, showed a pedestrian/bike tunnel moving under a bridge.
“Rather than having to cross the street, we could have something like this at Dresden [Drive] to connect the neighborhoods and put a pedestrian and bicycle artery through the heart of the district,” Park said.
Historic site map
Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin introduced plans for a historic resources story map, an interactive online map that will show residents all of Brookhaven’s historic sites.
Historical sites in Brookhaven include Lynwood Park — the first Black neighborhood in DeKalb County — and Fischer Mansion, which was built in the 1920s.
Ruffin said residents will be able to click through items on the map, pulling up pictures and information about each specific site.
“Once it is completed and finalized, we would like to have it go live on the city’s website,” Ruffin said. “And also include resources such as the DeKalb Historical Society and Georgia Historical Society for information for the public to be able to access.”
Ruffin also said the Community Development Department would like to consider asking a professional historian during the 2022 budget year to chronicle the first 10 years of Brookhaven’s history. Brookhaven was incorporated as a city in 2012.