Emory University’s proposal to build a $1 billion “health innovation district” over the next 15 years on approximately 60 acres of Executive Park in Brookhaven has some residents living in nearby neighborhoods worried about cut-through traffic and more congestion on such roads as Sheridan, Briarcliff and North Druid Hills.
Emory officials say they are working to alleviate those concerns by constructing new roundabouts and roads within Executive Park they say will deter neighborhood cut-through traffic. Plans are also to build multiuse trails within the proposed redevelopment to connect to outside trails to encourage alternative modes of transportation.
The “Emory at Executive Park” site is across the street from a massive new Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta medical complex under construction at the I-85 and North Druid Hills Road interchange. Emory already operates several medical offices in Executive Park, including a joint medical and training facility with the Atlanta Hawks basketball team that opened in 2017.
About 100 people gathered May 20 at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Sheridan Road to learn more about Emory’s proposed plan to redevelop Executive Park as a “live-work-play health innovation district” that includes a hospital, a hotel, multifamily housing and retail, medical and office space.
The meeting was part of a requirement by the city of Brookhaven for its rezoning cases. Emory University plans to appear before Brookhaven’s Planning Commission on July 10 and then go to the City Council on July 23 to seek rezoning for the proposed project.
The meeting began with an approximate 20-minute PowerPoint presentation giving an overview of what Emory is planning over several stages that could take as long as 15 year or more years, depending on the market and philanthropic donations, officials said.
Attendees were then invited to visit representatives standing before easels with display boards covering such topics as traffic, zoning and multiuse trails. That led to sizable crowds standing in front of various stations, making it difficult for people standing in the back to hear questions and answers.
Several people left, angered by the way the meeting was structured. “This is the worst format,” one woman said. “They should take questions from the crowd.”
If all goes as planned, construction of the new Musculoskeletal Center (MSK) building as part of Emory’s existing Orthopaedics & Spine Center could begin this fall, according to Emory officials. Construction would also include a parking deck.
Besides the MSK building, the first phase would also include road improvements within Executive Park, including adding a roundabout near the current main entrance off North Druid Hills Road. A new road would be built south of the roundabout to where the new MSK building is to be constructed for patients to use.
Other plans include narrowing the current roads to force motorists to slow down.
One LaVista Park resident, who asked that his name not be used, remained doubtful that what Emory plans would keep motorists from using Sheridan Road adjacent to Executive Park and cutting through his neighborhood.
“I feel we are being given a dog-and-pony show,” he said. “If you’ve lived in Atlanta, you’ve seen these kinds of [presentations] before and they may not be reality. And I don’t see the commitment to the communities. I think it’s just an investment in their own services.”
Added another LaVista Park resident, who also asked her name not be used, “I don’t think they’ve given fair consideration to the neighborhood, to the residents and homeowners in LaVista Park.”
She said she doesn’t think her neighbors are necessarily opposed to the new development, and said Emory is a great brand. But many people invested in expensive homes in the neighborhood years ago, she said, and their retirement packages are tied to their homeownership. This new redevelopment could severely impact their quality of life by adding even more traffic to an area already known for congestion and cut-through traffic.
“It would have been nice to have been involved in the process to get to this point,” she said. “We understand where we are. But I think we need more balance.”
The LaVista Park Civic Association is leading an effort to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven and is currently gathering signatures from residents. Members of the association have met with Emory officials about the planned project. They have said one reason to be annexed is because they wanted to have a say in what is developed at Executive Park.
Sara Lu, Emory University’s assistant vice president for real estate, said she understood the residents’ concerns and said Emory was working on ways to alleviate cut-through traffic.
“We are very cognizant of that,” Lu said. “We are here to work together to make these things happen.”
The position of the development with buildings closer to North Druid Hills Road encourages people to take use I-85 to access the complex, she said. Planned roundabouts within Executive Park keep traffic flowing but are not conducive to cut-through traffic, she added. A future traffic signal at Executive Park Drive and Sheridan Road could also help deter cut-through traffic, she said.
Traffic studies on Executive Park’s surrounding roads and intersections have been completed as part of a development of regional impact and recommendations from participating agencies are expected by mid-June, before Emory goes before the Brookhaven Planning Commission.
Director of Economic Development Shirlynn Brownell attended the meeting and said the city was looking forward to working with Emory in the future.
“We’re really excited about what they’re bringing … and Emory is a great organization to have in the city of Brookhaven,” she said. “We’re looking forward to a long partnership.”
Emory University’s prepared presentation from the May 20 meeting: