A developer is seeking to build an access road through a Brookhaven city park to a planned neighborhood as a way to avoid the “stigma” of a Buford Highway address.
Representatives of Pulte Homes, which is seeking to purchase two tracts of land on Buford Highway where The Terraces at Brookhaven and Northeast Plaza Apartments are currently located, said it would be better for residents wanting to purchase homes up the $700,000 range if they could enter and exit on a proposed access road through Briarwood Park rather than only via Buford Highway.
“This is an expensive proposition … and people will not be very excited [to live in the new neighborhood] if the only entrance they had was on and off Buford Highway,” Joel Reed, vice president of operations of PulteGroup, which operates Pulte Homes, told a group of some 30 residents gathered at the Forest Patio Pavilion in Briarwood Park at an Oct. 4 community meeting.
The Pulte planned development would include up to 250 residential units made up of 162 townhouses, including 40 single-family, three-story townhouses at about 3,100 square feet and valued in the $700,000 range; and 50 condominiums. Acreage for planned development is about 14 acres.
The developers are asking the Briarwood Park Conservancy to support a land swap with the city to build an access road from Briarwood Way adjacent to the park’s tennis courts into the proposed new development. If the new access road is not supported and approved, Reed said people will not want to purchase the expensive homes and the investment would not be worth it to Pulte Homes. He did not say how much the investment would be.
The “perceived value” of Buford Highway is not as desirable as the appearance of being in Brookhaven that a road through the park would give to those in the new neighborhood “rather than coming in on Buford Highway,” Reed said.
Reed acknowledged Pulte Homes intentionally was not fronting single-family residences on Buford Highway because of its reputation but thought perhaps a developer would do so in the future as more redevelopment occurs.
In exchange for the land needed to build a road, Pulte Homes would donate a small stretch of land at the northern end of the park as well as $200,000 to the Briarwood Park Conservancy. Pulte Homes would also add multi-use trails along the road.
Because no official plans have been filed with the city, the Conservancy is not yet taking an official stance. However, there appeared to be a split among members at the meeting. Some argued that getting rid of the complexes they described as run-down and crime-ridden would increase usage of the park while others said that ushering more cars via a new road through a park defeats the purpose of having green space in the first place.
“I will never be for it,” said Chad Boles of the Briarwood Park Conservancy. “We started a Conservancy to protect this park.”
Sue Binker of PARC of Brookhaven, a coalition of citizens from all city parks groups, said if the city were to approve the access road it would set a “very dangerous precedent” for all city parks by opening the door for similar land swap deals to developers.
Donna Hall wanted to know why the city would hold numerous community meetings to come up with a parks master plan only to allow a new development perhaps change everything that has been worked on and approved for Briarwood Park. The city is currently implementing the parks master plan.
“Nobody said they wanted a street through the park,” she said. “The conversations in community meetings were all for preservation, for keeping trees, encouraging greater usage. It’s really hard to think people are going to be encouraged to come to the park if there is a lot of traffic coming through it. It’s hypocritical.”
Others said they did not oppose the development itself but did not want a new road through the park because it would bring more traffic to an area surrounded by new development.
But Rich Clarke, who lives in the small neighborhood of Peachtree Hills on Buford Highway and brings his children to play at the park every week, said he supports the redevelopment.
“It’s very obvious they are trying to avoid the stigma of Buford Highway … and I want to destigmatize Buford Highway because I live on it as do thousands of other people,” he said.
“But if that [no access road] jeopardizes the development from happening at all, then I think coming up with a solution to give them access is reasonable,” he said.
One person asked what would happen to the people living in the apartments Pulte Homes wants to tear down, noting the city has recently put a focus on affordable housing.
“I don’t know if we want to be in a place to run people out of Brookhaven … leave them alone,” she said. “They contribute to the neighborhood.”
The real estate broker for Pulte Homes said there are hundreds of affordable apartments currently located between North Druid Hills and Clairmont Road that are available to rent.
“This development will only demolish 350 apartments,” he said. “There is still a lot of affordable housing. If [lack of affordable housing] becomes a trend, then it needs to be addressed.”
Councilmember Joe Gebbia said he is trying to develop a plan to assist people displaced by redevelopment, including an idea where the city could mandate new developments include affordable housing in their projects.