The Brookhaven City Council voted unanimously Jan. 24 to defer a vote on the proposed MARTA transit-oriented development with the mayor saying the city’s relationship with MARTA and its developers “needs a total reset.”

The council agreed to delay the vote until Feb. 28 after receiving a request to do so by Art Lomenick, president of Integral’s Real Estate Development Division. Integral and Transwestern Development Company make up Brookhaven City Center Partners, the developers hired by MARTA for the TOD to create a “town center.”

Art Lomenick, center, developer for the proposed MARTA transit-oriented development, stands surrounded by people in red shirts opposing the project. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

The postponement will give the city Planning Commission and City Council time to create a Design Review Board that will be in charge of upholding architectural standards still to be defined. The Planning Commission will take up the DRB and how to define its scope at its Feb. 1 meeting.

After the vote , Mayor John Ernst directed city staff to stop working on tax abatements requested by MARTA for the proposed mixed-use development on 15 acres of a mostly empty parking lot that includes a hotel, an 8-story office building, more than 5oo apartments, nearly 56,000 square feet in retail space and a small park center. Ernst also voiced displeasure with the current developers.

MARTA is seeking tax incentives as part of the project, causing backlash from many residents as well as City Council members.

Mayor John Ernst, right, read a terse statement at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting, asking for a “reset” with MARTA on its proposed transit-oriented development. Councilmembers John Park and Linley Jones listen. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

“[T]he MARTA TOD does not have a City Center perspective. What I mean is, the City Center is not just the MARTA station proper, but the larger City Center area as defined in the original [Brookhaven-Peachtree] Overlay plan,” Mayor John Ernst said after the vote.

“As such, I am asking the city administration to suspend all staff work on the incentive request from the development team. The MARTA TOD project needs a total reset in relationships. The city needs to have a stronger working relationship with MARTA directly on this redevelopment because the city / MARTA relationship is more enduring than with the development team,” Ernst said.

“As an elected body, our relationship on this City Center project is not just the immediate neighborhoods, but with the city as a whole. While the rezoning process will continue, the city, and more specifically, our elected leadership, need a more active role in defining the City Center directly with MARTA similar to other cities have in DeKalb County,” Ernst added.

More than 100 people in attendance, many wearing red shirts to show opposition to the development, applauded Ernst’s statement.

Lomenick, the only MARTA representative at the Tuesday meeting, declined comment.

Ernst’s full statement read at the City Council meeting:

At the City Council Work Session earlier today, we referred the administration’s recommendation concerning the formation of a Design Review Board to the Planning Commission for their input. As a new city, the DRB will be instrumental in defining the character for the city. I envision that the DRB will be heavily influenced by the character area studies approved this evening as well as the zoning rewrite later this year. I appreciate the MARTA TOD development team recognizing the need to get the DRB structure finalized before voting on the zoning application. The zoning vote will occur once the Planning Commission provides their guidance on the DRB.

 

While I cannot speak for my colleagues on the City Council concerning their vote on the MARTA zoning matter, there will be a redevelopment of the MARTA parking lots at some point in the future; whether it be immediate or long term.

 

However, there is an overarching problem with the MARTA TOD project; it does not have a City Center perspective. Let me repeat that: the MARTA TOD does not have a City Center perspective. What I mean is, the City Center is not just the MARTA station proper, but the larger City Center area as defined in the original overlay plan. I want to thank the Citizen Review Board for its significant impact on defining the MARTA TOD project, but I believe our decision making on this project must be in the context of the entire City Center area.

 

As such, I am asking the City Administration to suspend all staff work on the incentive request from the development team. The MARTA TOD project needs a total reset in relationships. The city needs to have a stronger working relationship with MARTA directly on this redevelopment because the city / MARTA relationship is more enduring than with the development team. As an elected body, our relationship on this City Center project is not just the immediate neighborhoods, but with the city as a whole. While the rezoning process will continue, the city, and more specifically, our elected leadership need a more active role in defining the City Center directly with MARTA similar to other cities have in DeKalb County.

 

Furthermore, the Brookhaven Development Authority has not developed policies for incentives for economic development or public infrastructure financing. We can’t be analyzing an incentive request from the developers while developing incentive policy at the same time. To be clear though, a project the size the MARTA TOD will possibly include incentives of some measure given the amount of public space generated and the special conditions the city’s zoning process imposed, but the nature and amount of any incentives needs to be tied to a larger vision for a City Center and guided by sound incentive policy.

 

I will be contacting MARTA board members directly to let them know that our direction today concerning incentives is not an anti-TOD posture, but an offer to work more directly with MARTA to chart a plan for the Brookhaven City Center.

 

As mayor, I am proud of our efforts to be inclusive and comprehensive in reviewing the MARTA TOD project proposal, and I think it is important for citizens to understand the great lengths the developers and MARTA have taken to listen and incorporate community input, but this is our City Center and I am not comfortable that the efforts to date have reflected this perspective and have too narrowly focused on the MARTA property alone. This is not just another development project at a MARTA station…it is Brookhaven’s future.

21Shares