A townhome proposal in Buckhead’s Garden Hills headed to an April 8 city rezoning hearing with a rare divided vote from the local Neighborhood Planning Unit amid concerns about housing affordability and impacts on two adjacent schools.
Buckhead-based Silver Creek Redevelopment and Hedgewood Homes, the owner and developer, aim to demolish 20 of the 22 units at the Delmont Townhomes at Delmont Drive and Sheridan Drive. Replacing them would be 35 new luxury townhomes — down from 37 after a Garden Hills Civic Association (GHCA) review. The higher density requires a rezoning of the 2.5-acre site.
The site is across the street from Atlanta International School, an attorney for which spoke in opposition, and Garden Hills Elementary School, which was said to have concerns at an April 6 meeting of NPU B. AIS attempted to buy the site itself for undisclosed plans. In a late twist that has allowed the plan to proceed, AIS bought one of the existing townhomes, also for unclear reasons, forcing two of the units to be split off from the main property and preserved.
NPU B’s board ended up granting its approval for the rezoning on 10-7-1 vote that balanced property rights and support from the majority of a neighboring homeowners’ association with a bevy of other concerns.
NPU B chair Nancy Bliwise told Laurel David, the developers’ attorney, that “you have a lot of conflict,” ranging from worries about water runoff and affordable housing to “concerns from Garden Hills Elementary School about whether they’ve had a seat at the table.”
David said that the developers agreed to attach 21 conditions to the rezoning after the GHCA review, including: installing sidewalks around the perimeter, installing a crosswalk for use by students; limiting the maximum density of the townhomes; and contributing $20,000 to a traffic study within the next five years if the neighborhood decides to pay for one.
The project drew support from the HOA at neighboring townhomes at 55 Delmont. Lynn Brown of the HOA told NPU B that “our residents are overwhelmingly in favor of this community” after agreeing to shared-use terms on an existing alley that will become a driveway. However, that through-way is outside of the rezoning application, David said, and a legal agreement about its use had yet to be completed. One 55 Delmont resident who declined to be named said in a later interview that he is not happy about increased traffic using the driveway within 5 feet of the townhomes bedrooms and that it will lower property values.
NPU board member Jason Kendall expressed several concerns with the plan, personally and, he said, with the permission to speak on behalf of Acorns to Oaks, a Garden Hills Elementary parents group that in recent years completed renovation of a field, park and outdoor classroom at the school. “Some of their biggest issues were, all of this negotiation and commentary went on without bringing all of the neighbors together,” Kendall said of the group. “They spent a quarter-million dollars improving this area and this developer has not reached out to them at all.”
Increased cars, the effects on students walking to school, and possible stormwater runoff onto the field area are all concerns, Kendall said. He also called the project’s density “a tremendous grab” and that the GHCA approval was a “horrible mistake” because the conditions are not tied to the site plan, leaving open the possibility of a sale to another developer who will do something different.
David said “these conditions are very specific to the site plan and Hedgwood’s method of creating homes” and that any changes would have to go through a neighborhood process. She said Hedgwood would retain a position on the townhomes’ homeowners association.
DeLille Anthony of the organization Trees Next Door noted the plan involves cutting down many large trees and said the site plan includes relatively little space for new ones, making for a long-term canopy loss for the neighborhood.
The amount and flow of traffic was another concern raised by some residents and Harold Buckley Jr., an attorney who said he represented AIS.
Yet another concern was the shift from relatively affordable to luxury housing, which may prompt long-term discussions in NPU B about how to address the issue in general. Elizabeth Gibson, who said she is an eight-year tenant at the neighboring 72 Delmont and enjoys affordable rent, cited the increased cost of the new townhomes as among the neighborhood changes she fears it will cause.
Buckley said some of the existing townhomes are rented to tenants paying around $1,400 to $1,500 a month, while the new townhomes are estimated to cost $800,000 to $1.5 million each. “That is a problem because it is exacerbating Buckhead’s existing housing crisis, affordable housing crisis,” he said. Buckley said he and his wife, who is also an attorney “can’t swing a $1.5 million house” and that replacing the Delmont townhomes “with housing two lawyers can’t afford — that’s a problem.”
The discussion caused some disession about the role of such groups as NPU B. Bill Murray, the NPU’s longtime zoning committee chair, said that questions of affordable or workforce housing were beyond its scope. “It’s not an NPU issue,” he said.
Buckley, who previously served as a city of Atlanta planner and Board of Zoning Adjustment assistant, said that’s not true and that NPUs are free to give advice on any subject they choose.
Humberto Garcia-Sjogrim, a Garden Hills resident who sits on the AIS Board of Trustees but said he spoke only for himself, decried a “stunning lack of leadership” among the civic organizations and elected officials. He said that the GHCA and NPU won’t tackle housing affordability and City Councilmember Howard Shook typically supports whatever those groups approve, it’s a “fait accompli” that developers “will determine the future of our wonderful neighborhood. No one’s taking the high-level look.”
Later in the NPU meeting, member Robert Patterson, who also leads the North Buckhead Civic Association, said the NPU should devote time — possibly a special session — to discussing the issue of affordable housing and approaches to it. Bliwise said she agreed the issue is “coming to the fore” and worthy of discussion.