A local developer’s request to annex a portion of the busy intersection at Clairmont and Briarcliff roads into the city so he can build a 24-hour gas station, fast food restaurant and oil change shop was dealt a blow Sept. 5 when the Brookhaven Planning Commission voted to reject the rezoning and land uses for the property.
Jay Gibson, the Brookhaven developer, now has to make his case Sept. 26 to the City Council. The council has the final say on rezoning and is the sole body to decide annexation requests. Gibson failed to get approval from the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners earlier this year and is now seeking annexation into Brookhaven.
“This is part of a bigger issue … of what do we want there,” Commission Chair Stan Segal said before the commission voted.
Gibson wants to construct a new 24-hour RaceTrac gas station and convenience store that sells beer and wine, a Wendy’s drive-thru restaurant and an Express Oil on the northwest corner of the intersection where an old auto repair store and several dilapidated buildings now stand.
“I just don’t see those uses in the future,” Segal said, adding the proposed development felt like “looking in the rear view mirror.”
Commissioner Conor Sen also said the area should really be part of a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta character area study, which the city does not currently have. CHOA is building out its massive 70-acre medical campus at the I-85 and North Druid Hills interchange. The hospital’s campus below I-85 was annexed into the city in 2014. Last year the city annexed another 11 acres for CHOA’s campus. CHOA’s plans include building a new $1.3 billion hospital.
City staff is recommending denial of the rezoning and SLUPS because the proposed development does not fit in with the city’s comprehensive plan and also because the Buford Highway Corridor, which this area was considered part of by staff, calls for higher density.
The highly visible intersection at Briarcliff and Clarimont already includes a QuickTrip and Chevron as well as a Popeye’s fast-food chain restaurant. Brookhaven can only grow if it annexes land south of I-85 because it is surrounded by the cities of Chamblee, Dunwoody and Atlanta on other sides. With the CHOA campus expected to be a catalyst for redevelopment south of I-85 and along Buford Highway, the commercial areas near Briarcliff and Clairmont are being eyed closely by developers. DeKalb County is also trying to hold onto its valuable land.
In order for the some four acres of property at the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads to even be considered for annexation into Brookhaven, the city would also have to annex the Camden St. Clair apartments at 3000 Briarcliff Road. The property includes 336 units on approximately 13 acres, including a small cemetery.
Camden St. Clair borders Brookhaven and the land Gibson wants to build on; city ordinance requires property seeking annexation be contiguous to the city line.
More than 20 DeKalb County residents living near the intersection packed City Hall Sept. 5 and urged the commission to deny recommending the rezoning request. They brought the same arguments they made to DeKalb officials, including such a development would increase traffic in the already congested area.
“This whole area needs to be treated holistically,” Barbara Vargas told the commission. “You need to look at the whole area and not just a quadrant here and there.” She added traffic would only get worse once CHOA’s new facilities open in the next few years.
Vargas suggested this spot is better suited for a hotel that would serve families and patients using CHOA. DeKalb Commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon also suggest a hotel for the site in a letter to Mayor John Ernst and the City Council asking they deny the Gibson annexation request.
Andrew Flake, a founding member of the Vista Grove cityhood initiative that includes the land in question, said if Brookhaven annexes this property it would harm the Vista Grove movement.
Flake called Gibson’s request to Brookhaven after not getting approval from DeKalb a “cynical attempt” to conduct an end-run around the county’s process to create “jurisdictional friction.”
The hopes for this area do not include the kinds of businesses Gibson is proposing, Flake added.
Martha Gross of the North Druid Hills Resident Association also said any rezoning of this area along Clarimont and Briarcliff roads needs to include a vision statement from Executive Park and CHOA.
Executive Park was annexed into Brookhaven four years ago along with CHOA. Emory University owns Executive Park and Brookhaven approved a new Atlanta Hawks practice facility on that site. What else is planned for the Executive Park is unknown.
Gibson told the commission the corner he wants to build on is now blighted property where homeless people are living. He said the owner of the land is a 101-year-old woman who wants to sell the land for development so she can give the money to her heirs. One resident in the area told the commission the approximate four-acre property Gibson wanted to develop was for sale for $6 million.
Gibson’s attorney, Carl Westmoreland, who also represents the Camden St. Clair apartments, said there seemed to be a “disconnect” between residents saying they want a hotel or higher density developments at the intersection yet don’t want more traffic.