Brookhaven’s proposed Buford Highway Overlay zoning district will include an affordable housing mandate and apartment tenant protections as city leaders try to address gentrification of the corridor known for its international restaurants and immigrant residents.
Besides an affordable housing mandate, other recommendations are expected to include requiring apartment complex owners to give “extended notices” to tenants when their complex is sold for redevelopment so they have ample time to find a new home. How long that extended notice will be is not finalized yet.
Incentives to developers providing affordable housing are also expected to be part of the overlay recommendations, according to Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin, but she said she could not explain further.
Affordable housing, or workforce housing, is currently defined in the zoning rewrite as “For-sale housing that is affordable to those households earning no more than 80 percent of the median household income for the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area, as determined by the current fiscal year HUD income limit table.” That median income is about $68,000.
The hold-up in finishing the recommendations for the Buford Highway Overlay is due to the city attorney studying them to ensure they can be legally implemented, Ruffin explained.
Ruffin said city staff is still working with consultant Duncan Associates to finalize what will be included in the proposed new Buford Highway Overlay district. Those recommendations should be ready for public review in mid-August. Original plans were to have these plans available in mid-July
The affordability elements were praised by Marian Liou, founder and executive director of We Love BuHi, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the culture and diversity of Buford Highway.
“We support these substantive measures to ensure housing and commercial affordability for the immigrant community that is an essential and defining part of our city,” she said.
But Liou also expressed concern about the lack of zoning specifics in the public review so far, calling for more time.
“Zoning is always an imperfect and rigid tool for executing the broader vision for a community,” she said.
“I think what we need here is time and intention,” she said. “There should be no rush.”
Mayor John Ernst said the city has received “considerable input” during the zoning rewrite process and more public input will be gathered at Planning Commission and City Council work sessions and meetings in August and September.
“At any time, the Buford Highway Overlay can be separated from the rest of the rewrite and advanced or decelerated per the will of the council,” he said in a prepared statement.
In June, the city approved a 6-month moratorium on development along Buford Highway as the zoning rewrite is finalized. Councilmember Joe
Gebbia has indicated that if the zoning rewrite can be completed by September, then the moratorium can be lifted sooner.
Liou said that September goal by Gebbia put pressure on the process.
“I think the moratorium was a good beginning. But how we use that time we created for ourselves … there can be more intention and strategy for using that time,” she said.
Ruffin said the city has spent sufficient time gathering input for the Buford Highway overlay and staff intends to have the zoning rewrite completed for a Sept. 26 vote by the City Council.
Liou, who served on the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, said she understands there have been many plans on Buford Highway before now. “But who did we see engaged in the process?” she asked.
A Spanish interpreter was not at any of the four public meetings for the zoning rewrite and none of the draft zoning documents have been translated into Spanish. Much of the city’s nearly 25 percent Latino population live and work on or near Buford Highway.
The city’s bilingual outreach specialist who translated city documents recently resigned her job and has not been replaced. The city is currently working on a paid contract with the Latin American Association to translate materials and perform other Latino community outreach.
Ruffin said the city did conduct one pop-up meeting at Northeast Plaza with Spanish surveys and documents during the character area studies it completed of all the city’s residential neighborhoods in 2016.
Information gathered from the Buford Highway character area study, along with recommendations last year from the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force and Georgia Tech School of City & Regional Planning graduate students, are also being considered in the Buford Highway Overlay, Ruffin added.
Last year, the city paid a consultant $135,000 to conduct a Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay rewrite process following demand from residents living in affluent neighborhoods surrounding Dresden Drive and near the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station.
The Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay and Buford Highway Overlay were supposed to be created as part of the zoning ordinance rewrite, Ruffin explained.
The mayor and City Council decided to pull the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay out to be done separately due to a developer’s lawsuit and public outcry against a proposed massive transit-oriented development at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station.