Archives for July 2013

MARTA Station Design Workshop

There will be a workshop in October to focus on design for the redevelopment of the Brookhaven MARTA Station parking lots.  The workshop will both build on the LCI work done to date and mine for fresh thoughts and approaches.

Grants from the National Board of Realtors and The Home Depot are funding the workshop and Southface Institute’s Sustainable Communities Design Group will organize and lead it.  MARTA, ARC, the City of Brookhaven, the BPCA and other citizens will participate.  Exact dates and location has yet to be designated.

Southface is currently identifying all “stakeholders” for participation.  If you have an interest, contact Alex Trachtenberg via email:  atrachtenberg@southface.org

BPCA Analysis of Overlay Text Amendments

The BPCA supports the recent changes to the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District zoning code initiated by the City of Brookhaven’s Planning Department and approved by the City Council on June 20th.  Here is a brief analysis of the individual components.

TextAmend1

The change here is the addition of the word “average” before “elevation of the finished sidewalk.”  This is to define the measurement of building height where the road slopes pronouncedly while the building maintains constant floor levels.  Alta Brookhaven on Dresden Drive is a good example.

TextAmend2

This is a detailed and clear definition of “second story.”  The previous code version did not define exactly what constituted a second story, thereby leaving it up to the Planning Director to interpret.  This allowed certain developers—Walgreen’s, for example—to try to “game” the requirement and argue that a mechanical and storage popup on the roof of a one-story building constituted a “second story.” The new definition ensures that designers must comply with the original intent of the Overlay.

TextAmend3

The original Overlay code version did not specify parking requirements for restaurants, leaving it up to interpretation as to whether they were “commercial” or “retail.”  Neither the commercial or retail requirement is adequate for restaurants, and we can see the potential effects along Dresden where multiple restaurants have opened with minimal parking capacity.  Additionally, in most districts of Brookhaven’s Zoning Code (inherited from DeKalb County), restaurants are allowed to add patio or outdoor space up to 50% of their indoor floor area without increasing parking capacity.  The theory has been that people either sit inside or out—not both.  However, this is patently untrue as we can see at Hudson Grille and Mellow Mushroom, thereby allowing restaurants a 50% expansion without providing additional parking.

 This amendment addresses both issues and ensures that new developments will provide parking better matched to actual use.

TextAmend4

This amendment allows businesses to have sidewalk signs, and carefully spells out their size, material and location.

TextAmend5

This is a rather subtle legal distinction geared to strengthening the City’s argument that residential density is not specified in the Overlay language, and therefore the underlying zoning district establishes it.  Effectively, this means that new projects along Peachtree in C-1 districts (think Hastings site) will have to apply for a Special Land Use Permit or for rezoning of the underlying zoning district if they want to include housing in their development. While clearly not the intent of the Overlay, which intends to entitle property for mixed-use, this interpretation does allow additional public input and review.  The public input and review period often encourages developers to put forward their best effort and think more deeply about public space aspects of their projects.

TextAmend7

This text amendment is a key change from BPCA’s perspective.  Section 27-915 lists zoning provisions which cannot be waived or altered by variance.  Previously, the second floor requirement could be waived by the Zoning Board of Appeals through a developer’s variance request—as was the case with the new veterinary clinic going up next to General Hardware.  This is no longer possible.

 

 

Growth That Works

By MIKE MORGAN, an Atlanta-based landscape architect and urban designer 

Growth has been, for decades, one of the Atlanta’s primary economic forces. Development, infrastructure, manufacturing, engineering, and architecture are all part of the growth economy.

In aggregate, the markets that enable growth have been second only to the energy markets (fuels and electricity) in Atlanta.

Successful industries require innovation and investment. The growth industry is no different. Lately though,accommodations needed for growth have been out of balance.

In particular, the arteries of transportation are becoming ever more congested, and the public realm has come to be seen as hostile. New and wider roads have been the normal solution to the problem.

However, an ever expanding sea of asphalt has begun to tear at the fabric of urban life. Increases in congestion and asphalt have begun to damage much that has made the city attractive. The “city in a forest” has come to be seen as the city of traffic jams, pavement and heat.

A recent event opened my eyes to another view of Atlanta. A colleague from Boston was in town for meetingsand commented that she wished that Boston’s public transportation system was as good as Atlanta’s. I was floored by her comment. Isn’t Boston’s system excellent and Atlanta’s second-tier?

My colleague had flown into ATL, boarded the MARTA train to Decatur, walked from the Decatur station to a downtown Decatur hotel. She spent a pleasant evening in Decatur, and the next morning she took the train north to Doraville for meeting preparations. Around noon we took the train downtown for our meetings. She then hopped a train back to the airport and debarked for home.

As a visitor, she experienced an Atlanta that few auto-bound residents perceive. Atlantans, however, seem trapped in a belief that roadway improvements are the only way forward and that huge inputs of public funding are required to make the city more inviting. Perhaps an alternate vision is called for rather than a bigger road network.

Fortunately, we do not have go very far to find a great example the results that can be achieved through a change of direction.

Decatur is the place, and it is right next door. Decatur made a radical choice to reorient itself to the realm of the pedestrian. They went on a road diet. They narrowed Ponce De Leon Ave. to two lanes. They replaced auto capacity with shady sidewalks, on-street parking, and bike lanes. They focused a vibrant living environment right on top of their fine downtown train station.

Rather than separating residents from transit with vast expanses of asphalt, Decatur actually mandates a mix of uses – residential, working, and recreation all together within the compact area of downtown. They placed emphasis on livability over throughput, and the yield has been one of the most desirable urban environments in the US.

Atlanta, to date, lacks a focused commitment to an urbane lifestyle. Look at the areas surrounding most of the intown train stations. While originally envisioned as community centers, policies were never put in place to make transit development desirable.

Stations are separated from users by blasted looking parking lots, high fences, atrocious urban design, dangerous roadways and sprawling commercial districts. The stations are not friendly to pedestrians or bicyclists. Is there any wonder that few people use them?

Much of Atlanta is actively hostile to people who are not in cars. Just walk along the edges of Piedmont Park if you don’t believe it.

Atlanta’s most popular park is separated from adjacent neighborhoods by four lane arterial streets with dangerously narrow sidewalks and fast traffic. Sidewalks everywhere in Atlanta are irregular and full of obstacles.

And yet the City’s priorities appear to be on big ticket roadway expansion and transit projects.

A really interesting fact about urbane environments is that they are not expensive. With few exceptions, the changes that have made Decatur so alluring have been the result of a switch to people-oriented development patterns.

Looking further afield, Manhattan, of all places, has been on a road-diet binge in recent years. Where money is scarce for pedestrian and bicycle projects, impatient

Manhattanites have simply narrowed roads by installing boulders and planters in the streets thus converting roadway to bike lanes and people areas. Portions of Broadway near Times Square have been closed and famously filled with plastic lawn furniture.

The west side freeway is now a beautiful parkway. People love it. Manhattan now sees thousands of people riding bicycles in simple dedicated bike lanes for both work and fun.

Urbanity is a state of mind. Great cities do not become great by building freeways. Never have, never will.

It is imperative to remember that cities are, first, places for people. When this attitude takes hold in Atlanta we can begin a return to healthy growth.

The old way is gone.

Kroger Fails to Comply with Brookhaven Standards

Beginning in early 2012, the Kroger Company fought hard to avoid zoning compliance for its expansion in Cherokee Plaza, and, was inexplicably granted 15 variances by the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals in June 2012.  At that time, Kroger pledged to continue to work with the community to resolve the important outstanding issues relating to achieving compliance with the Brookhaven Overlay streetscape improvement standards.

Just last month, about a month before the planned opening of the expansion of Kroger on August 1, 2013, Kroger representatives finally sat down to let a group of concerned neighbors know that they were not doing anything further to satisfy community concerns.  These neighbors also learned that Kroger was not in fact even upholding the requirements imposed by their variances.  After months of requests, it was the first time Kroger shared their approved plan.   Kroger has been difficult to reach and unresponsive to numerous requests to address long standing concerns.  It is now clear that Kroger will not follow through on previous promises made to work towards improving the Peachtree Road frontage

At stake are three main issues with this property for Brookhaven:

  • Failure to Address Vehicular Safety Concerns: A new landscaped island that they propose at the main entrance off Peachtree Road will back traffic onto Peachtree Road with only two vehicles in the shallow entrance (see sketch). This is truly a PUBLIC LIFE/SAFETY  ISSUE whose impact at best will be to further snarl traffic, or worse, to trap a southbound car turning left in the path of northbound traffic.

    Kroger Entrance Conflict

    Kroger Entrance Conflict

  • Failure to Comply with Zoning Approvals for Site Landscaping: Kroger plans to install trees that are less than half the size of those required by their variances, and, 6 fewer trees than the minimum required.
  • Failure to comply with Overlay Streetscape Standards & Pedestrian Safety: Kroger refuses to widen the Peachtree sidewalk and install landscaping as all other developers in the Overlay zoning area have been required to do. This is far more than an aesthetic issue on Peachtree Road; it is a public safety issue in an area that is already dangerous for pedestrians and auto traffic. Invariably, cars exiting Cherokee Plaza block the sidewalk & force pedestrians to walk in the street.

Further discussions with Kroger after our meeting have been dragged-out and their promises of timely responses have been broken. Kroger is scheduled to begin the site work on August 1st.

Simply put, regard for traffic and public safety should be utmost in the minds of anyone who does business in Brookhaven. The ruling of the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals exemplifies at least one of the reasons why Brookhaven is now a city. Currently DeKalb County retains authority over the Kroger permits and inspections. The City of Brookhaven is not powerless though.

What can you do as a resident and a Kroger shopper?

  1. Contact Kroger – Tell Kroger that you’re bothered by their failure either by phone, email  or stopping by to see Bobby Smith (Store Manager) at 404-240-0808 (robert.smith@stores.kroger.com).  You might also contact Eyvonne Johnson, Assistant Real Estate Manager at Kroger (eyvonne.johnson@kroger.com) 770-496-7583.

Send a clear message to Kroger that your patronage is at stake and they need to support this community and do what is right.  If they don’t, then shop there a little less or not at all.

  1.  Contact the City of Brookhaven – Let you City Council representatives know that you’re bothered by this and wish they could do whatever they can to help.
  2. Contact Cherokee Plaza –   call Lori Walker, Cherokee Plaza Property Manager for Weingarten Real Estate (LWalker@Weingarten.com) 770- 618-1086, and insist that their property meet Overlay standards.

 

If we think as a community, expend a tiny bit of effort, we can send a clear message to all the merchants that want our dollars that they must respect and support the community too. Time is of the essence as we understand the site work will begin about August 1

Thank You.