The city of Brookhaven grew by annexing more land and started a plan for a downtown “City Centre.” It pushed through the pandemic, requiring masks and closing City Hall at the first positive test of COVID-19. Following the racial justice protests across the country, the City Council formed a commission to take a closer look at the issues closer to home.
Controversial annexation ends with Brookhaven win
The city annexed approximately 28 acres at Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads after an arbitration panel ended a challenge from DeKalb County. An arbitration panel rejected all the county’s arguments and made it pay additional fees. DeKalb County had opposed part of the annexation involving nearly 7 acres at 2601 North Druid Hills Road, where a redevelopment is planned to include a 140-room hotel, 300 apartments and 55,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space.
Dresden Village project withdraws tax break bid
The controversial Dresden Village development on Dresden Drive and its large tax break got killed for the time being. The Brookhaven Development Authority had granted the mixed-use project a property tax break worth up to $13.5 million under the code name “Project X,” but faced court opposition from DeKalb County government and the school district, with support from some neighborhood associations. J.R. Connolly II, the CEO of developer Connolly Investment, said the company intends to make unspecified changes to the plan and reintroduce it later.
City commission to tackle racial and social justice issues
In the wake of nationwide and local protests about the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd, the city granted history-marker recognition to the historically Black Lynwood Park neighborhood and announced the formation of a Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission to review city policies and practices.
Murphey Candler Park road reopening triggers debate
The city’s move to reopen a road in Murphey Candler Park for parking triggered neighborhood association complaints about safety and environmental issues. The loop road, off Candler Lake East, was originally gated to cars in the late 1970s because of crime concerns.
Voters say no to unlimited terms for mayor
Voters killed a city attempt to eliminate mayoral term limits. The failure of a ballot question by 55% in the Nov. 3 election means the mayor still can serve only two consecutive four-year terms. Incumbent John Ernst is in his second term and will be ineligible to run again.
DeKalb Schools finally gets a superintendent
Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris took over the DeKalb County School District this summer after months of turmoil, including a Board of Education rejection of prior candidate Rudolph Crew, who claimed the vote was discriminatory. Watson-Harris came on in the midst of the pandemic and debates about when to return to in-person classes.
City Centre plan begins
The City Centre Master Plan, which will guide future developments in the area concentrated near the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station, launched late in the year. The area that will be considered the city center includes the commercial areas on Peachtree Road, extending south near Colonial Drive, east to Conasauga Avenue and north past Osborne Road, according to the scope of the project. The council is set to vote, after several community input meetings, on the plan in June 2021. The master plan is set to include a study of current conditions, an evaluation of community needs, a review of the zoning code and suggestions for streetscaping and public art.
City tackles the pandemic
The city took an active approach to the pandemic. City Hall shut down March 14 after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, sending city officials (as well as a freelance journalist for the Reporter) into quarantine. The city adopted the slogan “Brookhaven Strong” and made it a theme for a national anthem sing-along and an art contest. The City Council was an early adopter of a mask-wearing mandate, though Mayor John Ernst later drew criticism for allegedly going maskless at charity softball games. The city made news for using federal relief funds to pay off residents’ overdue utility bills and an offer to help with unpaid rent, among many other efforts.
I-285 toll lanes shock with property impacts
The Georgia Department of Transportation in January revealed preliminary designs for toll lanes, on I-285, which are intended to speed traffic as part of a metro-wide system, but would impact hundreds of properties and would turn some local streets into highway interchanges. Approximately 155 properties in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs could be affected or demolished. More details will come in the new year.
Former Mayor Williams dies
Former Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams died March 11 from cancer at age 70. She was remembered for her career as a journalist at TV networks and locally, with husband Dick Williams, at the Dunwoody Crier newspaper. She worked for several years at Atlanta’s WXIA-TV station where she won three regional Emmys and went on to a 20-year career with ABC News as a national correspondent. Rebecca Chase Williams was elected to the first Brookhaven City Council and was appointed as the second mayor in 2015 after J. Max Davis stepped down to run for state office.
–Holly R. Price and John Ruch