The Brookhaven City Council voted unanimously Oct. 25 to defer a vote on the controversial MARTA rezoning request that would construct a mixed-use development on Peachtree Road.
Questions about stormwater retention, proposed traffic improvements, architectural design and also MARTA’s plans to seek tax credits for the multi-million dollar planned transit-oriented development, or TOD, at at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe station were raised by the council and given as reason to wait until the Jan. 24, 2017 meeting to reconsider the request.
“We are are talking about Brookhaven’s front door, the city’s only transit center and the convergence of three of the city’s busiest streets [Dresden Drive, North Druid Hills Road and Peachtree Road],” Councilmember Joe Gebbia read from a lengthy prepared statement before voting to defer.
After the vote, Amanda Rhein, Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development and Real Estate at MARTA, implied the future of the development may be in doubt after the vote delays first by the Planning Commission last month and now the City Council for another three months.
“This is a time-sensitive project … and I don’t know what this means for our development partners,” she said. Developers for the project, Brookhaven City Center Partners, is a joint venture of The Integral Group and Transwestern. “They were expecting approval.”
Rhein said she understand the concerns of the council and said MARTA will work with the city to resolve remaining questions.
MARTA developers have also begun the process of discussing with the Brookhaven Development Authority the possibility of getting between $17 million to $26 million in tax breaks for “site amenities” such as streetscape and road improvements made as part of the project, Gebbia said. He and Councilmember Bates Mattison questioned what public benefit the project provided the city and its residents.
“The single largest ‘site amenity’ the development team is seeking is public fundraising for the $8.4 million MARTA parking deck to replace surface parking,” Gebbia said.
Jessica Hill, attorney for the developers, pointed out the rezoning request does not address funding for the project. She said benefits included a public town green at the center of mixed-use development as well as some 15 acres of apartments, condos, a hotel, an office building and retail shops now being put on the tax rolls.
Rhein said at a public meeting in February the development is projected to bring in $200 million to the city on a site where there is currently no revenue being made. MARTA owns the land and will not pay property taxes, she explained, but the developments to the property, including retail space, means more sales tax revenue.
MARTA wants to build the pedestrian-friendly mixed-use development on the parking lot that sits mostly empty at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe station as a way to encourage public transportation ridership.
Opponents to the development told the council that the project would worsen already terribly congested roads around the station and urged them to consider a proposal that would affect the city for generations to come.
“MARTA is already known as the subway to nowhere,” said Kate Jones. “This project will have a devastating affect on traffic. If history repeats itself, we’ll be sitting in a Brookhaven version of the Lindbergh station disaster.”
Jack Honderd, member of the Brookhaven-Peachtree Community Alliance, said the MARTA redevelopment is part of a movement to park cars and create sustainable communities by promoting public transportation and urged the council to support the development by making a “forward-looking decision today.”
“I’m a 34 year resident of Brookhaven, moved here before MARTA was here,” he said. “We have an obligation to our kids and grandkids to find a sustainable way to live. But now we are facing serious car congestion and air quality issues. For our quality of life, we need to find new ways to live, [such as] a TOD. This gives people choices to have no car or keep it parked.”
MARTA along with some Brookhaven residents have worked for more than a decade on such a high-density development at the station. In addition to a rezoning request, MARTA developers are asking for a special land use permit to construct the 8-story office building fronting Peachtree at 125 feet rather than the currently allowed 100 feet.
Mayor John Ernst, who does not have a vote on the council, did voice support for the deferral, saying, “I really do want a project that is right, not necessarily right now.”
Councilmember John Park suggested cut-through traffic from the proposed development through the adjacent neighborhoods would be “catastrophic.” Councilmember Linley Jones said she didn’t believe the architectural designs for the project were not yet distinctive and worthy of what would become Brookhaven’s “city center.”
The proposed mixed-use development at the station that borders Apple Valley Road, Dresden Drive and North Druid Hills Road includes a 125-room hotel, 547 residential units, nearly 56,000 square feet in retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space as well as small town center park on an approximate 15-acre site.