City of Brookhaven?

A glance at Brookhaven-area yard signs is all one needs to surmise the hottest topic in town: should Brookhaven become a city?

What does the BPCA think?

The BPCA formed in 2004 to promote good planning in Brookhaven.  Our goal has been to create a recognizable heart for Brookhaven, a place where people meet, play, do business, and celebrate, a public center that everyone knows is Brookhaven.  The ARC study and subsequent Overlay zoning provide the vehicle to do this, and we now define our primary mission as promoting and defending them.

We can do this within whichever political framework Brookhaven residents choose to take forward.  The BPCA board is resolved to stay neutral in this debate.  We have received exemplary support for Brookhaven planning issues from Commissioners Rader and Gannon of DeKalb County to date, and we would fully expect to receive similar support from elected commission members at a new city hall, should that be local citizens’ decision.  Good planning is good for Brookhaven and enjoys strong neighborhood support no matter which form of self-government we choose.

This is not to say that members of the BPCA board have no individual opinions.  In fact, we have board members who favor a new city and members who favor no new city.  There are good arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, and we encourage everyone to participate in this lively debate.

The key for the BPCA is to keep its organizational focus and be prepared to work energetically with whichever political system Brookhaven citizens choose on July 31st.  For more facts and discussion of the city hood issues, we encourage you to attend the City Forum sponsored by the Brookhaven Reporter on Monday, July 9th, in Lupton Hall at Oglethorpe University.

Kroger Variances Approved

The DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved Kroger’s variance requests on June 13, thereby clearing the way for Kroger to build an $8 million dollar addition to their Cherokee Plaza store.

The BPCA argued that Kroger or Weingarten (Cherokee Plaza owner/manager) should install an Overlay-compliant sidewalk and streetscape along Peachtree as part of their expansion.  Unfortunately, DeKalb County Planning Department termed the expansion a “renovation of existing building” and did not require full site compliance.  Thus, while the ZBA was sympathetic to BPCA’s goals, it decided it did not have the authority to require Kroger to install that which the Planning Dept. was not requiring.

Kroger has agreed to provide a clear and safe pedestrian path from Peachtree through the parking lot, as well as improve pedestrian access from Colonial.  In addition, they will plant 40 trees in the parking lot.

After the ZBA hearing, Kroger representatives told BPCA privately that they would consider ways to improve the pedestrian experience along Peachtree.  They said they would get back to us wit specifics in 2 weeks.

Chase Variance Deferred until June 13

On Wednesday, May 9th, Chase Bank’s request for variances on the Hastings property was deferred for decision until the June 13th meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals.  BZA member Rebecca Chase Williams, not present at the May meeting, requested a deferral  in absentia so she could participate in the decision.  The DeKalb Planning Department recommended “denial” and the BPCA, represented by attorney Linda Dunlavy along with 370 petition signatures and 15 supporters in person, urged the Board to affirm the Planning Department’s recommendation.

Several neighbors from directly behind the Hastings property also attended the hearing to show support for Chase’s variances.  Their thinking was that Chase’s planned development would have a fairly benign impact on their homes, while a higher-density development allowable under the Overlay zoning code could potentially bring more noise or a taller building to the site.

The central issue continues to be moving the proposed building up to the street to create the proper building-pedestrian zone-street relationship envisioned in the Overlay.  Chase’s attorney maintains that the property owner, SDS Real Property Holdings LTD of Miami, FL, (Chase would have a long-term land lease with them) cannot relocate the exit driveway easement that they put on the property. The easement currently serves Kauffman Tire Co., according to Chase’s attorney, and cannot be changed without Kauffman’s permission.  If it could be changed, Chase would have no objection to moving their planned building up to the street in a classic “main street” relationship.

The BPCA maintains that the owner imposed the easement (“created his own hardship”) and should have the ability to alter it (“remove the hardship”).  In the end, the BZA directed Chase’s attorney to obtain a copy of the Kauffman lease and make it available for inspection.  “We can’t make a decision based on a hypothetical reading of a document that we don’t have,” a BZA member stated.

In addition, the BZA asked that the various neighborhood groups meet and try to resolve their different views of the Chase proposal before the June 13 hearing.

 

Chase Files Request for Variances

Chase Bank filed a request for multiple variances to be heard at the April 11th meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Chase would like to build a suburban-style bank on part of the old Hastings site.  The variance application and site plan can be found here:

BPCA – Hastings – Chase variance plan 3.15.12

BPCA – Hastings – Chase variance application 3.8.12

Other than the fact it shows a two story building, Chase’s current plan fails to meet the requirements and spirit of the Overlay.  In particular, the proposed building is placed 54′ back from the street/pedestrian zone to allow an access driveway to pass between the building and the Peachtree.  Chase claims that this access driveway serves Kauffman Tire and is a requirement of Kauffman’s lease.  However, the same entity, SDS Real Property Holdings Ltd., owns both the Hastings property and the Kauffman Tire site–and thus the property owner has “created its own hardship.”  It also should have the power to remove this “hardship.”

If this drive were removed and the building moved forward to front the pedestrian zone and street, it would have a much stronger presence on Peachtree and begin to create the friendly streetscape the Overlay envisions.

In addition to the front yard setback, Chase is asking for 21 more parking spaces than allowed under the Overlay (38 spaces vs. the 18 allowed).  As you can see on the plan, about 90% of the site would be pavement.  This seems unnecessarily large, especially given customers’ move to the convenience of on-line banking, and creates adverse environmental effects (heat island generation, storm run-off).

Without site plan changes, Chase’s plan would be a serious retreat from Overlay Zoning District principles, and thus BPCA is compelled to vigorously oppose the request for variances.

Hines Files for Variance

The Hines Co. has filed a variance request to reduce the public sidewalk width along Dresden in front of their project from 10′ to 8′.  The request will be heard at the Zoning Board of Appeals on April 11th at 1 PM.

The BPCA supports this request.  The Hines Co. has been cooperative in meeting Overlay requirements, and has put considerable effort into creating a pedestrian-friendly streetscape along Dresden.  As part of this, they have incorporated parallel parking spaces along Dresden per Overlay guidelines.  Parallel parking helps slow down through-car traffic and creates a barrier between faster-moving cars and pedestrians, making pedestrians feel safer.

The inclusion of parallel parking spaces means giving up some property to make a wider street right-of-way. This, in turn, pushes back the building face or crunches the space between street edge and building face where the sidewalk and plant strip must go (“pedestrian zone”).  Hines does not have room on the site to move the building back further, and feels they cannot condense the building more:  thus they’ve requested the variance.

The required 10′ wide sidewalk is important where streetfront retail exists; in this case, we have streetfront residences, and pedestrian traffic will not be as dense as in front of retail.  Thus we are comfortable with the 8′ width, given that Hines is voluntarily providing parallel parking to meet Overlay guidelines.

The Hines Co. provided the following updated plan and elevations to support their variance request.

Site Plan SP-01- Ashford at Brookhaven – 3-23-12 – CORRECTED

Elevation A4-01- Ashford at Brookhaven – 3-23-12

Elevation A4-02- Ashford at Brookhaven – 3-23-12

Elevation A4-03- Ashford at Brookhaven – 3-23-12

Kroger Meeting Report, 3/6/12

Representatives from several area neighborhood groups and the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance  (BPCA) met with Weingarten  yesterday, and the outcome of the meeting was disappointing.  Our primary objective for Cherokee Plaza is to get landscaping / street frontage improvements (i.e. wider, safer sidewalks).  The Kroger expansion is a lesser concern.

We believe that the extent and amount of investment of  the Kroger expansion should require Overlay  Ordinance compliance on the landscaping / streetscape issues.   In separate meetings with Weingarten and Kroger, both  have said that these improvements are either not their responsibility or there is no money for such improvements.

If DeKalb Co requires such improvements, they can figure out who is responsible and somehow divide the financial responsibility.

The only negative outcome for  Overlay compliance would be that Kroger and Weingarten would  spend more money  now, a relatively small investment considering the cost of the Kroger expansion and the value to Weingarten. However, the negative outcome for Brookhaven will be felt for  probably 30 years  (the Kroger lease term)  if these improvements are not required  with this improvement.

Beyond this specific situation, the message that we consistently and unequivocally send to property owners and developers is that  Overlay  compliance and achieving the vision of the LCI study is  a non-negotiable commitment of the community and DeKalb County government.

Cherokee Plaza is  the oldest development in Brookhaven with a long history of providing commercial services to area residents. However, it is a relic of an age of strip commercial development that the Brookhaven LCI study recommendations and the Overlay has purposely sought to transform to a better alternative for the community’s future.  Situated in the heart of Brookhaven and  being the first commercial property to encounter driving north on Peachtree from Atlanta’s Buckhead, a new  Overlay compliant streetscape will not only greatly enhance our community, it will serve as a model for future development along the Peachtree corridor and be a symbol of Brookhaven’s and DeKalb County’s future.

 

Hines Project Sketches

Here are sketches of Hines’ proposed apartment project on Dresden (click “Hines Co.” in sidebar for more info) as presented at the neighborhood meeting on Feb. 20.  Note that design is still in progress and the “look” may change somewhat before construction.

Hines site plan

Site Plan

Hines pict

Fernwood Circle/Dresden Corner

Hines--Ellijay/Dresden

Ellijay/Dresden Corner

Hines project pict

Elevations

Hines Apts. Update

Hines will present their proposed project to us (neighbors, Brookhaven-ites) on Monday, Feb. 20, at 7 PM at the University Baptist Church.  The church is the same as our polling place and is directly across Fernwood Circle from the Hines site.  This meeting is a required part of permitting in DeKalb County.

Come by to take a look at their proposal, comment as you see fit and share suggestions on how to make it better!

Help Revitalize Brookhaven Park

Now every resident of Brookhaven has a chance to help make our community a beautiful place to relax and play.

One of the least known but true gems of the community is Brookhaven Park. Located at 4158 Peachtree Road on the corner of Osborne Road, its historic site once held the old Veteran’s “48” Hospital which was constructed after WW II. Today the location includes the DeKalb Training Center, a daytime facility that assists challenged residents of the county. The 9-acre park includes a multi-use field, basketball court, playground, picnic shelter and walking trails.

Led by the volunteer group, Friends of the Park, Brookhaven residents are shaping the future of the park. In the summer of 2008 Friends of the Park, a volunteer group supported by BPCA, held three “visioning” sessions at the park to increase awareness, build support and gather ideas for a redesigned park of the future. Neighbors divided into groups and developed a set of ideas to guide future planning.

“From this base, we hope to proceed in the raising of funds to hire a landscape architect to produce a master plan for the park,” said Jack Honderd, architect and member of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance (BPCA). Friends of the Park, BPCA and other volunteers will work with DeKalb to develop a master Plan for the park enhancements.

A key objective of the Brookhaven LCD study is to develop a well-designed heart for Brookhaven, a centerpiece accessible by all members of the community. According to Honderd “we see this as occurring around the Marta Station – and a true public greenspace, a re-envisioned and redeveloped 17-acre Brookhaven Park behind the DeKalb Training Center.

Dr. Paul Hudson, historian at Georgia Perimeter College and Oglethorpe University, will produce a series of columns to keep Brookhaven Buzz readers informed of changes in Brookhaven Park. All interested residents of Brookhaven are invited to join in and help plan and create a better Brookhaven Park for everyone. For further information contact Carol Haley, 404-262-1607, chaley@bellsouth.net