Brookhaven, GA, July 7, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven’s Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday evening to recommend City Council deny a Terwilliger-Pappas proposal to rezone several parcels to construct a four-story mixed-use development comprised of 113 apartments, 8 townhomes and retail space at the corner of Dresden Drive and Appalachee Drive.
Nothing brings people out to City Hall in the City of Brookhaven like a good old-fashioned multi-family mixed-use development rezoning case in the Dresden Drive corridor. Such was the case Wednesday evening, when hundreds of residents from the Ashford Park, Brookhaven Fields, Drew Valley and surrounding communities showed up, many dressed in red, to oppose the project called Solis Dresden.
Coming off of a 30 day deferral and asking for another, Woody Galloway, attorney for the applicant, explained his client has put a considerable amount of work in the form of meetings with the community and reworking plans to bring the proposed development to a place where the community would approve. “This developer has shown they are willing to work with the community, and they have,” said Galloway. “Many developers would not do that.” He said more time will allow them to continue to fine tune the project.
But the work Terwilliger-Pappas has put in to massaging the project plan has fallen short of getting community support and Planning Commissioners were not impressed with the differences between the original proposal and where the project stands today.
Fifteen community members signed up to speak in opposition to the proposal while no one signed up to support the plan. Twice as many residents who did not wish to speak filled out comment cards in opposition and turned them in to get their opinions of the project on the record.
Community members delivered a well-crafted, 57-page presentation to the Commissioners, walking them through the reasons they oppose the development and why they want it denied. Resident Justin Owings said, “Tonight, we need the City of Brookhaven to hear what we have to say.”
Owings then outlined some of the things that have made the Dresden corridor great. “But,” he said, “we need to be smart about development and we can make Dresden even better.” Owings says over 600 signatures have been collected in favor of smart growth and smart development on Dresden Drive. “That’s almost three times the number of that was collected way back to support the incorporation of Brookhaven as a City.”
Dan Shim, who lives on Canoochee Dr. behind the proposed development said, “If approved, I will be living in its shadows.” Shim walked Commissioners through six reasons “to deny the proposal outright.” Shim said the request does not conform to the policy and intent of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and among other reasons, PC-2 zoning adjacent to other homes in the neighborhoods would be “completely unprecedented.”
The impact on traffic is always a topic of concern with any proposal for the Dresden Drive corridor, and Indie Bowman, whose home would back up the proposed development, said the traffic plan submitted by the applicant left off some key points. “Not one page [in the traffic report] mentions the only East-West street that is most closely touching this property is Cannochee Drive and how the traffic would be diverted.” She said it is very likely Canoochee would be used as a cut-through even more than it is today.
“As we stand here today, there are almost 6,000 luxury apartments within walking distance of this location, and there are currently another 1,000 plus proposed including this site,” Brookhaven Fields resident Jen Heath told Commissioners. “This would put almost 7,000 apartments in the area of established single-family neighborhoods.” Heath said apartment renters are innately transit and not as connected to the community. “I think you can see by the people wearing red shirts behind me, we have a very connected community,” she added.
Ashford Park resident Karen Dernavich explained many neighborhood streets in the area are narrow and are already getting hit with growing levels of cut-through traffic created by drivers trying to avoid Dresden Drive. Dernavich said another point of concern is stormwater and sewer capacity. She said there is an ongoing hydrology study, and with other development proposals in the area including MARTA, this needs to be considered. “I respectfully request you do not put the cart before the horse and put infrastructure in place before you start building,” she added.
Nine-year-old Handley Greeley even got in on the conversation, telling Commissioners development is having a negative impact on animals in the area. “Think about the wildlife. They live here too,” Greeley said. “Some buildings are made of wood. Wood comes from trees. Birds, chipmunks and all those animals live in trees. We’re making animals extinct because of all of the buildings. I don’t know about everybody else, but I don’t want animals to be extinct because of this.”
Galloway said they have applied for a sewer letter from DeKalb County that is required for the project to move forward, but he said they have not received it as of yet. He also said there are changes that have been made to the project not included in what the Commissioners have in front of them, and what the City’s Community Development department used to formulate their Staff Report that recommends denial of the project.
After the public hearing portion of the meeting ended, a period that was extended twice by the Planning Commissioners to allow all of the speakers to voice their concerns, Commissioners began their deliberation by asking the applicant more questions.
Commissioner John Funny asked Galloway to explain how his project conforms to the “step-down” as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan designed to provide a gradual transition in height and density as it tapers off from highest to lowest, eventually meeting the density of the single family neighborhoods. Galloway explained the building as proposed does step down from four stories to three stories and in intensity of us. Galloway also said there are other projects with similar characteristics as the proposed Solis Dresden project and was allowed there.
“That doesn’t mean it’s right and that doesn’t mean they built a quality product,” said Funny. “I think what we would like to do in Brookhaven is protect the quality of life as it relates to what exists and to what’s coming. Not because it’s done everywhere else.” Funny said the Solis Dresden project “may just not fit for what we are looking at for this property as it exists on Dresden.”
Commission Chair Stan Segal questioned Galloway as to what the specific differences are between the contents of the original plan submission and what is being proposed today. Galloway explained the original proposal spec’d 121 apartments. Today the plan calls for 113 apartments and 8 townhomes, he said. The retail square footage has remained the same and he said the new proposal adds 44 parking spaces that would be available for public use. Plantings have also been added to provide additional screening and noise buffer along the outer edges of the project.
In the end, Planning Commissioners decided to recommend City Council deny the Solis Dresden application. They opted to not grant Terwilliger-Pappas another deferral, citing they do not believe there would be an appreciable amount of change to the proposal to make it work on the proposed site.
Wednesday’s Planning Commission decision does not mean the application is dead, however. The City Council will consider the application during their July 26th meeting, where they will ultimately decide the fate of the project. The applicant and the community will have another chance to present their cases.
Residents applauded the Planning Commission on their decision, but said they know the fight is not over, not only with this project, but others they face that are right behind it.
Much more in the video below.