Attorney Mary Galardi purchased her condo-office space in Brookhaven Village on Dresden Drive eight years ago. The location, the restaurants, the shops – all of this appealed to her as she decided to move her business from Norcross.
But now she worries two proposed apartment developments on Dresden Drive will disturb the mixed-use developments in the area that create a thriving community.
“When my clients walk into my office they all say, ‘This is just awesome, that you can just walk downstairs to a nice restaurant,’” said Galardi, who specializes in estate planning and corporate law.
When Galardi purchased the condo, located in the same building as the Kaleidoscope restaurant, on the second floor and right above Pour Bistro, she knew future development would be taking place.
Developers want to build two more apartment buildings on Dresden, within a block of Galardi’s office.
One proposed complex will sit where the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s office now stands. It will be named Dresden Village and developed by Connolly Investment and Development, and Fairfield Residential.
The other, Solis Dresden by developers Terwilliger Pappas, would be directly across the street from Galardi’s office on an undeveloped piece of land. Solis Dresden proposes 121 apartments and Dresden Village is proposing 206 apartments. Two other complexes are already located nearby on Dresden Drive – @1377 and Rosewood. Both were approved by DeKalb County before Brookhaven became a city.
“I was under the assumption the new development would be more mixed-use and more owner-occupied,” Galardi said. “I’m an attorney – apartment residents are not my clients, homeowners are.”
‘Vibrant, mixed-use development’
Jack Honderd is a developer and resident of Brookhaven Fields who helped develop the Brookhaven Livable Centers Initiative plan and what’s known as the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District that includes Dresden Drive.
Mixed-use developments were part of the plan for the area dating back to the early 2000s, long before Brookhaven became a city. “The vision was for vibrant mixed-use development tied to the MARTA station and extending to Dresden and Peachtree,” Honderd said.
The Atlanta Regional Commission funded 80 percent of the LCI study, which was completed in 2006. The writing of the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District—the actual zoning code that resulted from the LCI study—was funded entirely by DeKalb County, with final adoption in 2007, Honderd said.
Permits for Brookhaven Village were obtained and construction was begun before the Overlay District was in place; construction was finished after passage of the Overlay District, Honderd said.
Honderd said he shares the concerns that many residents have been expressing at community meetings – traffic and apartments, particularly apartments.
The past five years, development along Dresden Drive has been too “mono-cultural,” he said. “It does feel, right now, that it’s being flooded with one kind of product all at one time.”
Density is important for the area, though, because it increases “walkability,” which is necessary to ensure restaurants and shops are viable, he said.
“Some will use density as a key word for whatever they don’t want,” he said. “It’s a bit of a red herring.”
The vision of the LCI and Overlay District was to give people a choice, Honderd said. They were not relegated to the area only by car , but also through bike paths and sidewalks.
But Honderd also knows that with change comes anxiety.
He recalled leading the effort to rezone Brookhaven Village, anchored by Village Place and Village Park Place mixed-use developments, years ago. There was a group of approximately eight people who fought the rezoning “tooth and nail,” Honderd said. Then, when J. Christopher opened about 2010, Honderd said he and his wife, Betsy Eggers, decided to walk over for breakfast one morning.
“Coming out of J. Christopher was a leader of that opposition. She was with her husband and told us, ‘We can’t tell you how great this is. We come here once a week,’” Honderd said.
“And she said it with no sense of irony. They embraced it and loved it,” he said.
And just taking a wild guess, with no hard data to back up his anecdote, Honderd said he finds about 50 percent of homeowners will sell due to development while 50 percent will come to embrace the change. New people who embrace the change will then move in.
Honderd also praises the long, difficult public process developers must go through. The opposition from residents always results in a better development.
“Perceptions and emotions are strongly felt,” he said. But those are not always supported by data – and data is what needs to be looked at when considering such issues as traffic.
Honderd said the city is now prepared to tackle issues such as traffic. He said he agreed with Mayor John Ernst when he said at his recent traffic town hall meeting that traffic is a sign of an economically viable community and city.
The City Council approved at its June 7 meeting an $83,000 contract with a consultant to lead residents through “character area” studies for the various neighborhoods and districts in the city. Ernst called for the character study areas in February because he said he was getting backlash from people about not having their own input on the city’s comprehensive zoning plan in part from residents disturbed by proposed development on Dresden Drive.
Many people have asked the council to implement a moratorium on all development along Dresden Drive until after the character studies, which are expected to begin in July and then take six months to complete.
Ernst said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to call for a moratorium because he knew developers, including the two that are proposing the apartments on Dresden Drive, would then “rush to City Hall” with their applications and try to ram them through the city planning process.
“The city cannot stop people from asking for what they want do to,” he said.
Ernst was able to get MARTA to agree to a voluntary moratorium on its planned transit-oriented development at the Brookhaven station. Plans were initially set to have MARTA file rezoning and variance requests June 1; however, that date has been pushed back to at least July.
Traffic for heavily traveled Peachtree Road, North Druid Hills Road and Dresden Drive is being tackled as a regional issue now, Ernst said, with input from the Georgia Department of Transportation, MARTA, the ARC and the city.
After residents demanded in community meetings that developments at least have some retail and commercial space, both developments have complied. But for many attending these meetings, the changes are not enough.
Jennifer Heath is a third-generation Brookhaven resident. She’s witnessed first-hand the booming growth of the city, especially along Dresden Drive, and said she’s “somewhere in the middle” of supporting future development along the thoroughfare that borders several single-family neighborhoods.
“I enjoy the density we have currently and being able to go to the restaurants and shops,” she said. “But I’m scared of the existing proposals and what they could do to us.”
Heath lives near Dresden Drive and she’s become a leading neighborhood activist speaking out recently against the two proposed apartment developments. Residents at community meetings bring up the typical concerns – traffic, density, owner-occupied versus rentals.
But Heath said it’s more than just these concerns – it’s the worry that the wrong kind of development will drastically change the character of a neighborhood that has been part of the city’s history, and identity, for dozens of years.
“We have a real sense of community. We have suburban neighborhoods. We owe something to those for making [the city] desirable [with development]… but we need to back off now,” she said. “It’s like a pendulum swinging.”
Building near the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station is understandable, she said. But why not put that development on the Peachtree Road corridor itself and not backing up to established neighborhoods along Dresden Drive, she asked.
Heath says her goal is to not stop progress, but to ensure the development is applicable to the area.
“People have invested a great deal of money in their homes and because of that we have become very passionate,” Heath said. “We just have to keep the passion going.”