Brookhaven, GA, April 29, 2016 – Commentary by Riley O’Connor – Along with a large number of my neighbors, I attended two recent presentations about proposed development on Dresden Drive. I don’t want to sound cynical, but meetings such as these often take on a kabuki-like ritual. That is, the developers present their ideas and the neighborhood proceeds to take shots at it. Not that the neighbors have it wrong, but it does point out a fundamental conflict between invested financial capital and invested community capital. People have moved into a neighborhood and made it their own; and along comes someone with money looking to invest who has come up with an idea that is fundamentally out of synch with neighborhood values.
Call it what you want, but Brookhaven east of Peachtree Road has been in a process of change for perhaps thirty years. I’ve been here since 1978 and witnessed much of it. It’s been a slow, gradual process and all of a sudden, along come developers with plans so radical as to be fundamentally unacceptable to those who have been part of the gentrification process. Looking at it another way, in recent days the developers have presented projects which are out of scale with the neighborhood and are out of character with the neighborhood.
The notion of “out of scale” with the neighborhood is easy enough. The existing zoning for the properties in question is very specific, yet the developers want more. Where neighborhood standards are largely two, three and a few four story structures, the developers in one plan want five stories. “Out of character” with the neighborhood is a little harder to quantify, but it is fairly clear when you look at things. What is proposed to be built is not congruent with how people currently live in the neighborhood. And these new plans will attract people from other areas to come here and try to find a parking space.
Speaking of “not congruent”, at one meeting the developers themselves seemed to be unprepared for a presentation to the community. The mere question of how many parking spaces were going to be placed in their development seemed to briefly stymie them. After some paper rattling, they did come up with the number, but it pointed out the fact the while the neighborhood views new development cautiously, the developers themselves simply view this as just another project, one of many. At the same meeting, a question was asked about the developers ending participation in a project in Nashville. For a moment they looked perplexed while they tried to remember just which project it was. Eventually they came up with a perfectly acceptable answer, but the delay in their response seems to indicate a different level of interest toward the community. One developer has four offices in three states, so presumably the Dresden Drive project is just another project from a large regional firm that may, or may not, have roots in Atlanta. And certainly not in Brookhaven.
While the developers envision a residence for upper scale people who are tired of living in New York City, their plan is in conflict with a large number of people who moved to Brookhaven to settle in and raise a family. While the developers envision space for restaurants and boutiques, the neighbors do not see a place for people to park their cars for those restaurants and shops. While the developers see an opportunity to make financial gain on an investment, the neighbors see something which impinges upon their existing investment, both in family and in physical property.
And, neither developer acknowledges the impending massive development which will be built around the MARTA station. It’s either not on their radar or they fear that mentioning the MARTA development will hurt their chances. The MARTA development will certainly add to both the retail and residential inventory in Brookhaven. Not to mention the additional traffic generated by it. Perhaps in twenty years all will make sense, but for the moment the neighborhoods are faced with massive change that threatens the very character of our home.
Perhaps the best illustration of the disparity between the parties was what happened after the meetings were over. More than a few of the locals went home, put their kids to bed and sat down to contemplate their uncertain future. After the second meeting, my lovely bride and I repaired to our front porch to have a glass of Côte du Rhone and reheated chicken wings from Galla’s. Presumably, the developers went to Bone’s Restaurant afterward for a debriefing, a couple of double whiskeys, steak and then home to their gated Buckhead residences. As with so much else, so little similarity and as a result such a disparity between the developers and the community they want to build in.
How will all of this end? Discussing this matter means that you have to acknowledge property rights, that you are entitled to build what you want on property that you own. At the same time, you as a developer knew what the zoning situation was when you planned to buy that property. You should not ask for more than what is allowed by the current zoning without making concessions and compensation for what you have gained. It is the role of our government to ultimately resolve this conflict. And perhaps the good sensibilities of the developers who want to build here.
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