The Brookhaven City Council decided at its Jan. 10 work session it wanted input from the Planning Commission on the parameters of a proposed Architecture Review Board for the city, which likely means another delay in a vote on the proposed Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA redevelopment.
A deadline to have what is now called the Design Review Board in place before the City Council is slated to vote Jan. 24 on the rezoning request for the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA transit-oriented development will not be met because the Planning Commission does not meet until Feb. 1.
On its website of the project, MARTA has posted its anticipated groundbreaking for the project to happen by March. MARTA declined Wednesday to comment on the council’s action.
“If it goes through the Planning Commission, it changes the dynamic and timing” of the vote, said Mayor John Ernst.
The proposed project has gone through several delays already, starting when Ernst asked MARTA last year to delay its rezoning request to the city from April to June so the city could meet with local and regional experts to address traffic issues.
The Planning Commission delayed its vote on the rezoning request in September until October when it eventually voted Oct. 5 after a three-hour meeting to recommend approval. The City Council then voted in October to delay its vote on MARTA for three months.
As part of the City Council October deferral, the council voiced their support for implementing a Design Review Board in response to residents’ concerns about how the MARTA development would look. A group of residents has continually showed up at City Hall to protest the development, arguing among other things the proposed project is too large for the area and would only increase traffic in the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
During Tuesday’s work session, though, council and staff debated if the Design Review Board should be included in Chapter 2 of the city code, which covers the creations of boards, or Chapter 27, which deals with zoning. Anything that deals with zoning must go before the Planning Commission first before being considered by the City Council.
Councilmember Bates Mattison said he would like the council “to pull the trigger” as quickly as possible on voting on a Design Review Board to have one in place before the expected MARTA vote.
But later, Mattison acknowledged it would be helpful to have input from the Planning Commission on the implementation of the ordinance to create the new Design Review Board to determine such things as scope and what kind of developments the new board would review.
“This is not our area of expertise,” Mattison said. “We should have the Planning Commission review it. I think it would be helpful.”
After the meeting, Mattison said he doesn’t know what will happen in two weeks because the timeline now laid out makes it “impossible” to have a Design Review Board in place before the MARTA vote.
“The question is is the council going to hold up the MARTA development because of the Design Review Board?” he said.
Mattison said there may be a way to put a condition in place or have some other kind of contract that would require MARTA still honor a Design Review Board created at a later date and work with the board on the design of the proposed project before the vote.
“It wouldn’t have the same quasi-judicial powers because it would just be a condition, or contract, and I don’t even know if that’s possible,” he said.
Mattison said he is trying to honor residents’ requests to have a Design Review Board in place in order to monitor the development every step of the way if it is approved. But he also said he knows MARTA and its developers have been waiting a long time for the vote.
“I’ve heard loud and clear from members of the MARTA Citizens Review Board and citizens about the SLUP for the office tower [MARTA is asking for a special land use permit to build the 8-story officer tower at 125-feet rather than the allowed 100-feet] that we need to have a DRB if the city is going to have have any teeth in the process,” Mattison said.
“I know that MARTA and the developers have been waiting around a long time and they have been very tolerant,” he said. “I respect that. But I have to have balance as we make decisions that represent the interests of my constituents … as well as the concerns of time and money that MARTA have.”
In October when the City Council deferred the MARTA vote, Amanda Rhein, Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development and Real Estate at MARTA, implied the future of the development may be in doubt due to the city’s decisions to delay votes.
“This is a time-sensitive project … and I don’t know what this means for our development partners,” she said at the time. Developers for the project, Brookhaven City Center Partners, is a joint venture of The Integral Group and Transwestern.
“They were expecting approval” in October, she said. On its website about the project, MARTA states its anticipated groundbreaking as being by March.
The proposed MARTA development at the station that fronts Peachtree Road and 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 of what is now a mostly unused parking lot.