The city of Brookhaven recently purchased a vacant QuikTrip on Buford Highway as part of a new strategy to spark redevelopment along the corridor where property prices continue to rise and gentrification threatens to push out existing residents and businesses.
The City Council on May 8 approved spending $1.7 million to purchase the station at 3292 Buford Highway. The lot is slightly less than 1 acre and is at the intersection of North Cliff Valley Way. The purchase also marks the city’s first time purchasing land with no specific purpose in mind. Buying property with no specific purpose is often considered “land-banking,” but city officials say this is not part of an affordable housing scheme.
“It appears that ‘land-banking’ is a term, but it refers to the government process of buying, redeveloping and selling residential (blighted) properties,” city spokesperson Burke Brennan said in an email. “That QT purchase is not land-banking. It is a catalytic investment to influence the pace and nature of redevelopment in the Buford Highway corridor.”
Director of Economic Development Shirlynn Brownell said the land buy is a strategic purchase to help the city guide economic development along the corridor.
“Buford Highway honestly is an underutilized road,” Brownell said. “Redevelopment is going to happen one way or another. We want to ensure quality development.”
Brownell said that by purchasing the old gas station, the city is taking steps to help control the kind of development envisioned in its 2014 Buford Highway Improvement Plan. Those plans include more mixed-use developments, implementation of a pedestrian and bike plan, connection to the Peachtree Creek Greenway as well as creating jobs, she said.
Sustainable growth and keeping in place “some sense of affordable housing” are part of the city’s vision for Buford Highway, Brownell said.
The purchase also gives the city direct influence over how the property is developed.
“With ownership of the land, we have influence over the type and quality of development which would include that parcel. We could also use this parcel for municipal purposes, or potentially package it as an economic development incentive,” Brennan said in an email.
Home to many immigrants, Buford Highway has been long-known for its immigrant-owned businesses and as a regional attraction for its international restaurants. The city also wants to ensure it preserves that uniqueness, Brownell said.
A recent attempt by TD Self Storage to build a 5-story self-storage facility at 2991 Buford Highway was described as “scary” by Councilmember Joe Gebbia and initiated a sense of urgency for the city to act in buying land to hold onto.
“That is a prime piece of real estate and they were suggesting single-use,” Gebbia said of TD Self Storage’s plans.
“If TD Self Storage had been approved, that would have been a 50-year problem,” Gebbia said. “It would have thrown a monkey wrench in a phenomenal project.”
The city continues to look at other sites along Buford Highway for purchase as well, Gebbia said. “[City staff] are always looking,” he said. “Conversations are always active. It’s always a matter of money.”
Land-banking is not unusual for city governments. Sandy Springs in 2016 purchased a gas station that had been vacant for 11 years with no clear plans for the property. Sandy Springs also continues to buy houses on Hammond Drive for an anticipated road-widening project.
The city recently purchased 19 acres of undeveloped land on Briarwood Road for approximately $2 million. The property, just off Buford Highway and adjacent to Northeast Plaza, will be used as a trailhead for the Peachtree Creek Greenway. On May 8, the council also announced it would be building its new public safety headquarters on the property.
Gebbia, whose district includes Buford Highway and which he sees as the city’s “diamond in the rough,” has been advocating the city purchase land along Buford Highway for several years.
He said he envisions possibly a Brookhaven welcome center on the old QT site, where the city’s Economic Development Department and a restaurant association could be housed to greet developers and others visiting Buford Highway. By having a place to go, people can find out easily what Brookhaven imagines for the future of Buford Highway.
“This would be a good tool for the city,” he said. “We want to make sure we dictate what we want.”
“It makes sense we use our assets to leverage for maximum impact,” Gebbia added. “If we want to see the maximum use of land, we’ve got to treat [Buford Highway] like our diamond in the rough.”
This story has been updated with the correct price the city paid for the Briarwood Road property at approximately $2 million, not $20 million.