Brookhaven Appoints MARTA Citizens Review Board

Brookhaven Councilman Bates Mattison has put together a Citizen Review Board (MARTA-CRB) to help insure a quality developer is chosen to redevelop the area around the Brookhaven MARTA station.  MARTA has sole control over the RFQ, RFP and final selection of the developer; however, MARTA administrators insist that they are open to feedback from the City of Brookhaven during the process.  The Citizen Review Board is intended to be the main conduit for that feedback.

 

The specifics of the MARTA-CRB’s role are not yet defined, but the board hopes to provide input into MARTA’s RFP, give feedback to developers responding to the RFP, and, ultimately, review developers’final proposals and make recommendations to MARTA on developer selection.  Any questions or suggestions regarding this process should be directed to the CRB member representing your district or civic association.

Members of the MARTA-CRB, and the Brookhaven organization they represent, are as follows:

Denise Starling (District 1)

Blair Belton (District 2)

Michael Roberts (District 3)

Linda Martin (District 4 & Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce)

Susan Coker (Brookhaven Development Authority)

Pat Hoban  (Brookhaven Development Authority)

Michael Roberts (Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance)

Joe Palladi  (Brookhaven Comprehensive Transportation Plan)

Joel Putterman (Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association)

Kathy Chrisman (Ashford Park Civic Association)

Giles Stevens (Brookhaven Heights Civic Association)

Jack Honderd (Brookhaven Fields Civic Association)

David Leaderman (Fernwood Park HOA)

 

 

BPCA and the Redevelopment Powers Act

The BPCA has not taken and will not take an official position on the Nov. 4th referendum to grant Brookhaven Redevelopment Powers.  A recent flyer distributed throughout Brookhaven by an unknown group calling themselves “Citizens for a Better Brookhaven” causes confusion on this front.  First of all, the group’s name echoes BPCA’s website “abetterbrookhaven.org”.  Secondly, the flyer purportedly quotes Jack Honderd (whose name is misspelled) as a “spokesman” for the BPCA.  While Mr. Honderd wrote an opinion piece supporting Redevelopment Powers for Brookhaven, it was done as a private opinion and not on behalf of BPCA.  Moreover, the purported quote appears fabricated and does not exist in Mr. Honderd’s opinion piece.

The BPCA finds it troubling that this flyer would appear in our young city already struggling with transparency and citizen distrust.  While much of the information is useful, the inaccuracies suggest it is campaign literature put together by political tricksters.

Redevelopment Powers for Brookhaven is a serious issue that deserves thoughtful, transparent discussion.

Why I will vote for Redevelopment Powers for Brookhaven

by Jack Honderd
 

Recently, a few Brookhaven citizens have articulately made the case against Redevelopment Powers for the City of Brookhaven, and I share some of their concerns.  It’s always dangerous, however, to let dedicated opponents define what Redevelopment Powers are and what they can do because one can end up with half the picture.

 

By way of full disclosure, I am a Brookhaven resident, and an architect and developer.  I am familiar with development economics and obstacles, as well as how public rules and incentives can mold development.  I own no commercial property in Brookhaven, nor do I have any plans to do so.  This is written from the viewpoint of a Brookhaven citizen with a keen interest in good urban planning and making Brookhaven a better place to live.

 

First, I agree with opponents’ assertion that we do not need to incent redevelopment in Brookhaven.  Brookhaven’s demographics and location make this one of the most desirable places to develop in the Atlanta metro area and, in fact, in the Southeast.  Developers are lining up for a shot at the MARTA station parking lot, and Buford Highway redevelopment is just a matter of time.

 

Why then Redevelopment Powers?  Because popularity, commerce and a growing tax digest don’t make a city a great place to live—it’s a city’s public realm that truly makes the difference.  It’s the streets, plazas, parks, trails, sidewalks, meeting places, public art, playgrounds, and neighborhoods that make a city a great place to live.  Well, it’s the people, of course.  But to realize that, people need myriad ways to interact, and it turns out that “incidental interactions”—ie. the kind that happen on the sidewalk or playground, at a local restaurant, in the dog park, during a neighborhood fun run or at a concert on the square—are the essential glue that creates a great community.  Yes, online forums, public meetings, schools, churches, and HOA’s also contribute significantly to this social fabric, and most communities have those.  What the most memorable communities have, though, is a great public realm.  Think about the towns and cities you like to visit or consider special.  What’s special about them?  Is it the flagship companies located there?  The convenient airport?  The low housing costs?  The smooth 5 lane commercial strip lined with restaurants and auto dealerships leading into town? These are all useful characteristics, but likely it is the public spaces and public life of a place that makes us want to spend time there.

 

To create this for Brookhaven, we have to provide healthy attractive ways for people to get out of their cars and experience Brookhaven and Brookhaven-ites face-to-face and on foot.  This requires some serious public investment.

 

Private development is good at doing several things.  It can build buildings and fill them with businesses which provide jobs and tax revenue for Brookhaven.  It can attract additional private development.  It can provide a return for its investors, thereby keeping the wheels of commerce turning.  Sometimes, it will provide public improvements such as sidewalks, turn lanes and rebuilt utility lines across the public frontage of its site.

 

But certain things, private development is NOT good at doing.  Private development has little interest in planning beyond its particular site boundary or investing more than what can be shown generating a clear-cut return on a proforma—it’s not a big picture enterprise.  It’s not interested in larger public investment per se.  This isn’t a knock on private development—it’s a micro-economic creature not designed to tackle macro-economic goals.

 

Let’s consider Buford Highway.  If our vision is to have new buildings and businesses line Buford Highway much as it is now, but spiffy and taller, private development can do that without City of Brookhaven investment.  If, however, our vision is of a transformed Buford Highway, a street vibrant with cars AND walkers and bicycles, with storefronts pulled up close to the sidewalks, offices above and parking behind, and with a linear park and bike/jogging path lining the North Fork of Peachtree Creek, then only City government has the vision and resources to make this public realm a reality.

 

The kicker on this kind of thinking/planning is that the redesign of Buford Highway and addition of a new linear park along North Fork of Peachtree Creek has the potential to transform the area in ways we can barely conceive. Much like along the Atlanta Beltline, new development may want to orient buildings toward the new park as much as to the street, thereby doubling the potential property value.  This, in turn, would generate a larger tax base for Brookhaven than a conventional redevelopment approach would.  More importantly, it would enhance Brookhaven’s public realm, the public spaces where we meet and enjoy activites and nature and build community—the realm that makes Brookhaven memorable and special.

 

And therein lies the great value of the Redeveloment Powers Act.  Private enterprise isn’t going to do this.  Only Brookhaven citizens can accomplish a vision and project on this scale.  The City staff and City Commission is the action arm of Brookhaven citizens, and Redevelopment Powers are the tool that can allow Brookhaven to do this at no incremental cost to Brookhaven citizens.  Good planning can pay for itself.

 

This scenario is perfectly laid out for a TAD (Tax Allocation District) under The Redevelopment Powers Act.  The City issues TAD bonds to finance the building of the linear park and redesign of Buford Highway; private development rejuvenates the corridor with new buildings and businesses built to meet the City’s design guidelines; the increased property value generates increased taxes which pay the interest and principal on the bonds.  We Brookhaven citizens get a new restaurant-shop-business district plus a 2 mile long park and multi-use path along a creek without paying higher property taxes.  How can this be bad for Brookhaven citizens?

 

In essence, when we talk Redevelopment Powers, we are talking the business principle of investment.  If we invest borrowed money (bonds), and receive a return higher than the cost of borrowing, that is generally perceived to be a good return on investment (ROI).  Why don’t we wait for surplus funds (savings) to accrue and invest then?  Because we would be foregoing years of ROI while we wait for enough funds to accrue.  Building through savings would be a safe financial route, but discouragingly slow.

 

We can give more examples of how Redevelopment Powers could be leveraged to enhance Brookhaven—the Peachtree Road corridor, a Brookhaven Beltline, a completely redesigned and rebuilt Ashford Road/Johnson Ferry commercial node. But utility doesn’t appear to be the heart of the opponents objections.  The objections seem rooted in fear of what can go wrong.

 

TAD bonds are issued and backed solely by the income stream generated in the TAD district (additional property taxes due to additional property values created).  By law, Brookhaven citizens and Brookhaven’s general fund have no obligation to make good should the income stream not meet projections.  Bondholders are at risk.  Opponents point out that in such a scenario, Brookhaven may feel the need to make good in order to protect Brookhaven’s general creditworthiness.  That’s possible, but the point made by TAD expert Sharon Gay at her recent presentation is that no TADs in Georgia (that she is aware of) have been supported by a government’s general funds.  The worst case scenario is that TAD bondholders’ payout term is extended a couple years–and that is rar, even after our recent Great Recession.  Most TAD bonds have been paid off early due to higher revenues than expected. This is testimony to the strict and conservative underwriting rules governing a TAD bond issue.

 

The bigger objection seems to be unnecessary use of redevelopment tools and unwarranted payouts to private enterprise.  Redevelopment tools such as TAD districts can only be activated by a vote of our elected representatives (City Council) and only after an extensive public review process.  At heart, then, this testifies to distrust of those we’ve chosen to lead us, fear of cronyism between government and developers, and, ultimately, a lack of confidence in our own ability to choose leaders and govern our city.  What can I say?  The newspapers are full of stories of political cronyism and corruption.  It happens.  Cynicism of government is widespread.  And yet, if we aspire to anything greater than a just-let-it-happen Brookhaven, government is our best tool to get there.  Only government—the voice and arm of Brookhaven voters—can have the vision, authority and fundability to accomplish large-scale projects of  public benefit.

 

If we want to create a better Brookhaven, then, we will need to do so through our City Council and City staff.  Talk more with your leaders if you don’t trust them.  Change them if you must.  If you believe government by nature is corrupt, I can’t influence your opinion.  But if you believe Brookhaven can be a great place to live, and you understand how public investment and the public realm make it so, then give our elected leaders the tools they need—Redevelopment Powers–to fufill that vision.

Kroger Update 10/16–“not ONE DIME…!”

From Thomas Porter, who has been pursuing Kroger and Cherokee Plaza owners to upgrade the sidewalks and streetscape along Peachtree Road per Overlay standards:

Through Kroger representatives, the City has just been informed that the “Ownership” of Cherokee Plaza (Hines et al) has no interest in providing improved streetscape or safety measures along Peachtree despite our City’s offering to invest. They are not interested in putting “one dime” towards those things.

MARTA Design Workshop–Updated Schedule

Here is the latest schedule of stakeholder “tracks” specifically set up for neighbors participation. Note there are changes from the originally published schedule!  Click on the image below.  The complete schedule of all tracks can be found here.

MARTA Charrette schedule

MARTA Design Workshop, Details and Schedule

The MARTA Design Workshop being led by Southface, officially known as a “charrette”, begins next Sunday, Oct. 13, with a kickoff meeting at 6:30 PM.  All meetings are at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church, 3016 Lanier Drive.  You may attend any “track” as an observer, although you must be a designated “stakeholder” in that track to participate and comment.  Monday and Wednesday 4 PM sessions are designed for neighbors’ participation, and the Thursday noon session will be a final presentation of neighborhood input.

Here is the general announcement and information;  below is a detailed schedule of “track” sessions.  Each track has a unique color on the schedule, and a unique set of stakeholders will participate in each track (although certain stakeholders may be identified to participate in multiple tracks).  A “stakeholder” is a person identified as a key participant because of their professional expertise; ownership of nearby real estate; representation of MARTA, ARC or GDOT; leadership position in the City or surrounding neighborhood; or other salient and pertinent characteristic.

If you live in Brookhaven Heights, Historic Brookhaven, Brookhaven Fields or Ashford Park, you are a minor stakeholder, even if not identified as an official stakeholder, by virtue of your location.  You may participate in the “MARTA Station Area N’hood Engagement” sessions.

MARTACharretteA

 

MARTACharretteB

Kroger Update, Oct. 8

Thomas Porter, AIA, who is leading the effort by BPCA (click on “Kroger” in sidebar to get full story) to get Kroger to comply with building permit requirements as well as encouraging them to improve their Peachtree streetscape to Overlay standards, recently received the following letter from Marie Garrett, City Manager for Brookhaven:

Good morning Mr. Porter. Glad to hear from you. I was thinking about you over the weekend and wanted to reach to you for an update. A meeting was held recently between Kroger, the county staff, kroger’s atty, our city attorney and myself with Susan Canon. In this meeting, we reviewed all of the conditions that were assigned to the county’s ZBA approval. It was found that Kroger is in compliance with them. Your greatest concern regarding the ingress/egress has been resolved and the island that would have blocked the entry and could have created stacking onto Peachtree is now removed and by this design, traffic will not be impeded. Thank you for working so hard to get that point across to Kroger and the county. As you know, once we learned of it, we contacted the county and had a hold placed on the C.O.

Currently, we are in discussions on the landscape and trees for the parking field. I will have to get back to you on that matter. Basically, we are discussing the acceptable type of trees to be planted. The number of trees that were conditioned by the county’s ZBA are now being respected and will be provided.

 

The sidewalk and streetscape are being discussed and negotiated at this time. The city would like some introduction of the overlay standards along Peachtree. Unfortunately, Kroger is not required to do this as per the ZBA approvals. However, we are working in good faith to try and bring some of the overlay elements along this frontage. Nothing has been decided at this time but I will keep you advised.

 

Thank you and I hope to get back to you soon with an update.

 

 

Marie L. Garrett

City Manager

City of Brookhaven, GA

 

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.