As the City Council vote on the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA transit-oriented development approaches next month, councilmembers are quickly trying to determine if the city needs an Architecture Review Board in place to oversee the potential development, as well as other city developments.
Mayor John Ernst said the idea of the review board, with members appointed by the mayor and approved by the council, is not a new one. But the impetus to get one in place by next month is prompted by what could happen with MARTA’s proposed plans, including building a 10-story office tower.
“The idea has been out there in the ether; this is not something that has come out of the blue,” Ernst said.
“Obviously the pressure is on because of different projects going on … and discussions we’ve had with MARTA is a driving factor,” he said. “But this board is something the community has asked for. We want good, quality-designed buildings in our city.”
Last month during a work session, City Council members discussed what a proposed ARB would look like and what its scope would be: would it be city-wide, which buildings and developments would it include, and how would the process work.
Ernst said he wants professionals, including architects, to be on the board. But the council may decide it doesn’t need a full board, but rather a city architect instead to oversee building designs, he added. And although the MARTA vote is slated for Jan. 24, Ernst said the council will take the time needed to ensure it has the right board, or person, in place.
“We’re not trying to rush ourselves. We’re working through this. There are a wide ranging number of issues to go through,” he said.
Councilmember Bates Mattison favors creating an ARB that includes only the MARTA planned development or the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District, so the council has more time to consider what kind of scope a city-wide board would include.
“Right now we’re all over the place” with scope, Mattison said. “Probably the tipping point for this is the look for the office building at MARTA.”
But residents have raised serious concerns over other development projects in the city, including the Rockhaven homes being constructed between North Druid Hills and Roxboro Road, he said. The use of wood siding and the “dramatic” clear cutting of trees in the area disturbed many people, he said.
Residents also recently met with consultants to create character areas for their neighborhoods that also need to be taken into account when deciding on an ARB.
But Jan. 24 is the City Council’s deadline to have an ARB in place, Mattison said, and that’s why he believes implementing one to cover only the small area of the MARTA project or the overlay district is the best route to take.
“My preference is we start small and then grow it,” he said. “And then we can discuss ways it can be used to enhance places like Buford Highway, Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Perimeter Summit.”
Mattison said he also worries about developers having another layer of bureaucracy to go through. Currently, developers have to go through the Planning Commission and the City Council and also the Zoning Board of Appeals if seeking variances. The process adds time and money and may thwart businesses from locating in Brookhaven if it becomes too complicated, he said.
Councilmember Linley Jones said the scope of an ARB should not include single-family homes. “That’s a horrible idea,” she said. “I think it would make the city feel like a giant HOA.”
She favors an ARB that focuses on community development to ensure the city is not, for example, filled with “cookie cutter apartment complexes that other cities are subjected to.”