Brookhaven, GA, October 4, 2016 – by Trey Benton – What is being called by residents in the City of Brookhaven as the most significant development that could occur in the foreseeable future, the City’s Planning Commission will assemble Wednesday to consider an application submitted by MARTA to rezone “underutilized” surface parking located at their Brookhaven/Oglethorpe Station. The Planning Commission deferred the case back in September in its first trip through the process.
The PC-2 zoning sought would allow for the construction of a planned Transit Oriented Development (TOD), with a mixture of uses. Currently the parcels have a mixture of zoning classifications such as C-2, M, R-75 and RM-75. MARTA describes the assemblage of land as totaling 17.57 acres, mostly comprised of underutilized parking lots.
A request for a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) to construct an office building 25-feet taller than the 100-foot height allowed in the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District will also be considered by the Planning Commission.
MARTA filed their application with Brookhaven’s Community Development Department on July 1st, some 4 months after Mayor John Ernst announced during a February Town Hall Meeting that MARTA and its development partners, Brookhaven City Center Partners (BCCP), a master development joint venture of Integral and Transwestern Development Company, agreed to a “moratorium”. Those applications were initially slated to be filed with the City in late February or early March.
MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development, Amanda Rhein, said in an April OpEd, under the leadership of General Manager, Keith Parker, MARTA is advancing a TOD program with the following over-arching strategic goals:
- To generate greater transit ridership which is a natural consequence of clustering mixed-use development around stations and along corridors;
- To promote a sustainable, affordable and growing future for the people of Metro Atlanta; and
- To generate a return on MARTA’s transit investment—through enhanced passenger revenues, greater federal support, and, where applicable, development on MARTA property.
According to Rhein, in 2010, the MARTA Board of Directors approved guidelines which provide a framework for designing and constructing successful TOD projects. “The TOD Guidelines are built around four principles, one of which is a rich mix of land uses,” said Rhein. “TOD creates places where the clustering of uses allows people to do what they need and want to do more conveniently. A lively mix of uses strengthens the link between transit and development as station areas become “24/7” places that are more attractive and inviting.”
Combining transit origins such as housing with transit destinations and with jobs and schools, Rhein explained TOD’s allow the system to carry rush-hour commuters in both directions. “That enables MARTA to operate more cost-effectively by serving more riders with the same fleet of rail and bus vehicles,” Rhein noted.
But in meeting after meeting held over a period of several months, and before and after MARTA filed their application for the needed rezonings and SLUP, the surrounding community has expressed considerable opposition to the plan. Some of the main concerns are sewer capacity, stormwater runoff, increases in traffic, increases in cut-through traffic, traffic patterns in and out of the proposed TOD and the overall density the application proposes.
On-street parking on Apple Valley Rd. is also a topic of concern for area residents. Neighbors contend motorists will be driving around looking for parking as well as neighborhood streets becoming preferred routes. They say with the density MARTA proposes, the plan indicates parking will be inadequate once the project is fully developed.
According to Kimley Horn, BCCP’s Traffic Consultant, peripheral streets were included in their traffic study because once improvements are made to the main roads, the cut-through traffic coming back on to the main roads could counteract the planned North Druid Hills Rd. at Peachtree Rd. and Dresden Dr. at Peachtree Rd. improvements.
The study Kimley Horn produced shows the Gross Project Trip Generation will produce 10,751 trips per day – 5,376 Entering and 5,376 Exiting. Those trip generation counts were reduced to 7,104, as it is expected some of the number of trips will be lowered because of transit use or reductions because of the nature of a TOD. Those traffic counts have been disputed, however.
Included in MARTA’s rezoning application packet is a Sewer Capacity Letter from DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management. The County says in the letter that based on collected flow data, “sanitary sewer capacity may be available for the subject property at this time.” However, the County notes the determination of available capacity expressed is not guaranteed because it is “based upon the known conditions as of the date of this correspondence and on the provided anticipated capacity needs associated with the project.”
The County further states in the event sewer system infrastructure improvements are required to accommodate the “new flow contribution and ensure adequate sewer system capacity as a result of development on the referenced property, the developer will be responsible for the cost associated with installing any such improvements to the existing sewer system infrastructure.”
Since the June date of that Sewer Capacity Letter however, there has reportedly been a change in the requirement of 15″ lines to 24″ lines. During a recent MARTA community meeting, BCCP said they are still gathering information on that topic. What did come out of that meeting was that MARTA will have to pay $1.5 million in sewer connection charges and run a new line from the proposed site, all the way to a defined point in the Drew Valley neighborhood.
Recent media reports speak to DeKalb shuddering from lack of sewer capacity and show there are a number of projects Countywide being made to pause. In fact, one of those projects was the Terwilliger Pappas Solis Dresden proposal the City recently denied.
The Post has learned this week, a Rockhaven Homes 28-unit townhome development the City approved for the corner of Apple Valley Rd. and Dresden Drive, has had their sewer capacity letter from the County recalled, halting progress. That leaves residents wondering whether the Brookhaven MARTA TOD project will face the same sewer challenge. The Post is working to answer that question.
MARTA indicates in their application filing they will pursue tax incentives in the form of Tax Abatements. Whether those incentives will be ultimately awarded by the DeKalb Development Authority or the City of Brookhaven is not 100% certain, although negotiations are currently underway with the City. If the City is to award the abatements, City Leaders tell The Post, they would have more control over how those funds are handled.
The number being thrown around at this point is between $15 million and $17 million. BCCP says they expect the tax abatements will cover the necessary infrastructure costs. Residents say no tax incentives should be awarded and if MARTA and their development partner cannot afford to do the project without diverting tax dollars away from the County and the School System, they have no business asking to be put on what some are calling “Corporate Welfare”.
The City says they have not decided what amount of tax incentives, if any, they will give away at this point.
DeKalb County School District (DCSD) says the proposed MARTA TOD, if approved, would add approximately 49 students to DCSD Schools – 20 at Ashford Park Elementary School, 9 at Chamblee Middle School, 14 at Chamblee High School and 4 students to an unspecified DCSD school. “While the 23 students to Chamblee MS and Chamblee HS will not put these schools over capacity this Fall,” DCSD notes, “both schools are currently expected to be at or over capacity by August of 2018.”
The proposed Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA multi-phase TOD project is described currently as:
- An 8-story, 200,000 square foot office building,
- A 75,000 square foot, 125 room hotel;
- Two for rent multifamily buildings aggregating 340 units;
- Two for sale multifamily buildings aggregating 107 units;
- One senior housing building with 100 units; and
- Retail and restaurant uses aggregating 55,768 square feet.
Brookhaven’s Community Development Staff issued a Staff Report recommending MARTA’s rezoning and SLUP requests be Approved with a list of extensive Conditions prior to the September 7th Planning Commission Meeting. That list of conditions totaled 25. In the current October 5th Agenda Packet, the list has grown to 35 conditions. The Community Development Department also recommends approval of a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) request to exceed the maximum 100′ building height the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District allows by 25 feet.
The City includes in their list of 35 conditions, the project must be developed in general accordance with the site plan and architectural elevations received by the Community Development Department on August 5, 2016. The Staff says the MARTA TOD project embodies “the implementation of the redevelopment vision that was documented in the 2006 Brookhaven Peachtree LCI study”, as well as the City’s 2034 Comprehensive Plan.
The Staff report goes on to say in reference to their recommendation to approve the requested SLUP, “The proposed increase in the height of a commercial building by approximately 25 percent would likely have a relatively minor impact on the volume of traffic generated by the overall TOD project. However, traffic mitigation projects recommended by GDOT and the City as conditions of approval would help to reduce any adverse effects.”
The Staff Recommended Conditions also require MARTA to make and pay for the identified traffic and infrastructure improvements as described in a Development of Regional Impact Study performed by MARTA.
The Wednesday, October 5th Planning Commission Meeting will start at 7:00 PM at Brookhaven City Hall located at 4362 Peachtree Rd. The full list of the Community Development recommended conditions is below. The full agenda packet is here.