Gated communities in Brookhaven are not unusual today. But a move by the City Council points to a new trend by city leaders to eliminate enclosed complexes for a future of “connectivity” in the city.
“I don’t support any more gated communities in Brookhaven,” Councilmember Linley Jones said in an interview. “In the long term, I think it will benefit the city through connectivity. I know we have many of them already, but I don’t support creating more.”
Jones led the effort at the Oct. 24 City Council meeting to deny Ardent Companies request to build a wrought iron fence around a 22-townhome development on Pine Cone Lane. The proposed 22-townhome project was to be part of the developer’s 73-townhome unit now under construction on Coosawattee Drive, where the Park Villa apartments were once located.
In a rare 3-2 vote, Mayor John Ernst broke the tie in favor of denying Ardent Companies’ request to add the gates around the proposed 22 new owner-occupied townhomes to be located on Pine Cone Lane. Ardent is currently constructing a 73-unit owner occupied and gated townhome development on Coosawattee Drive, across the street from the Pine Cone property.
The council’s vote to reject allowing gates around the two acres led Ardent’s Neville Allison to say the project is now in jeopardy.
“If the gates are prohibited, we will not move forward with the project,” Allison told the council after the vote while urging them to find some way to add the gates back into the project.
“I know emotions are running high but I’m not persuaded by the developer’s threat to take his ball and go home,” said Councilmember Linley Jones to audible laughter from supporters of the project sitting in the crowd.
“I hope that he will develop this and accept that the direction of the city of Brookhaven is that we are not interested in gated communities,” she said.
The council approved Ardent’s request to rezone two acres of property including 2070, 2080, 2088 and 2096 Pine Cone Lane and 2069 Coosawattee Drive from R-75 (single family) to RM-75 (multifamily). Single-family houses are located on Pine Cone Lane and the 2069 Coosawattee Drive parcel is an access drive.
The rezoning request allows Ardent to build the townhomes, but just not surrounded by a gate. Ardent has two other gated luxury townhome developments in the works in this area. But these developments are being built on former multi-family sites that include entitlements for gates.
The 73-unit project now under construction, where the Park Villa apartments were located, will include gates along Coosawattee Drive and Pine Cone Lane. Ardent’s desire to add the extra two acres to build 22 more townhomes was to “square up” the property and would mean extending the gates further out on Pine Cone Lane and behind where the houses now sit.
The vote to rezone the property seemed to be a slam-dunk and included Community Development staff and the Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval. Before the rezoning vote, however, the mayor stated he had some fundamental problems with the proposed development, including his feeling this two-acre site did not need to be a gated community and also his wish that “diversity in housing” included.
After Councilmember Bates Mattison made the motion to approve the rezoning as originally proposed, Jones asked if she could make a friendly amendment to prohibit gates.
Mattison, who worked with the developers on its request, denied the friendly amendment.
“This area … is unfortunately right next to the center of crime taking place in the city,” he said, in reference to its close proximity to Buford Highway. He also added that the development does not have a park or amenity that will be accessible to the public.
After Mattison denied the friendly amendment, Jones then made the formal amendment to prohibit gates. That amendment was approved 3-2. The council then voted unanimously to rezone the property for multifamily use.
Jones said she opposed walling off communities and neighborhoods because she believes in connectivity, walkability and bikeability in the city. As metro Atlanta becomes more urbanized, these types of alternative transportation resources will be crucial to Brookhaven’s future, she said.
Allison told the council Ardent could already build gates along Pine Cone Lane and Coosawattee Drive as part of the 73-unit development. The reason to add the gates surrounding the additional 22 units is because, in part, these kinds of townhomes attract a younger, mostly female demographic who want gates for security and exclusivity.
Allison said Ardent is also willing to make a contribution for a future sidewalk to nearby Briarwood Park. “We have a commitment to this area,” he said. “This is our third development here … and they are all gated.”
“By no means are we trying to wall off pedestrian connectivity,” Allison said.
Mattison, who seemed shocked by Jones’ amendment, said there was no path for successful connectivity from the development’s site and said it was bad policy to make changes to a zoning application from the dais. The city’s bike-ped plan lays out a trail a few hundred feet away from the townhome development, he added.
“Doing this doesn’t provide any connectivity,” he said. “To have a developer walk away from this property … I can’t understand why we are doing this.”
During public comment following the vote, an upset Michael Miller, said he owns two of the houses on Pine Cone Lane that Ardent wants to buy. He said he rents the houses for $850 a month and
taxes to the city were minimal from his rental properties.
“You could have had  townhouses there bringing in [more] revenue,” he said.