Brookhaven, GA, October 25, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Members of the Brookhaven City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to defer a decision on an application submitted by Brookhaven City Center Partners (BCCP) to create a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station. An application for a Special Land Use Permit to exceed the standard allowable building height in the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay district by 25 feet was also deferred.
According to MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development and Real Estate, Amanda Rhein, the Council’s decision leaves the project on uncertain ground.
The 90-day deferral to the January 24, 2017 Council Meeting, came after a more than two-hour meeting and careful consideration. Councilors agreed more time was needed to further vet the proposal and to continue to work with the community to get some of the remaining issues addressed. Councilmembers also said they want more clarity on topics such as who is going to pay for some of the traffic improvements as explained in a Development of Regional Impact Study BCCP performed.
Councilmembers also want assurances the City will not be on the hook for paying for an $8.4 million MARTA parking deck or sewer capacity and stormwater improvements – and they want assurances that what is spelled out in the DRI, the developer will be required to implement.
In a meeting that contained a sort-of “duel of community surveys”, one presented by members of the We Are Brookhaven GA group showed among 376 respondents, 69.9% said they are against the higher density developments being proposed in Brookhaven in the Dresden / Peachtree area.
Another survey was presented by Fernwood Park Homeowner Association President Mickey Roberts. His survey indicated that in his community of 72 homes directly across the street from the proposed development site, 68.51% of the 54 respondents said they were for the project.
Councilman Bates Mattison said the project is too important to the future of the City of Brookhaven to not take whatever time is necessary to make the right decision, based on complete and clear information. Mattison also brought up the topic of tax abatements and incentives that MARTA is discussing with the Brookhaven Development Authority. He said he believes those numbers to range from $15 to $25 million.
“In order for us to consider whether to give incentives for anything, there needs to be a public benefit to Brookhaven’s citizens and the greater community,” said Mattison. “If there is going to be an incentive it needs to be clear what it is for and be discussed in an open and transparent manner. It needs to be a true benefit.”
Attorney for the applicant, Jessica Hill, said the City would benefit from tax dollars the project would generate and pointed out currently the MARTA station is not on the City’s tax rolls. Hill pointed out however, a tax incentive conversion has nothing to do with a zoning decision.
Councilman Joe Gebbia explained while he agrees tax incentives are not part of a zoning conversation, the developer has sought public financing of what has been described as “site amenities” that started out at a $17 million number, then escalated to $22 million and has now reached $26 million. “While a discussion, analysis and debate over incentives is not a part of a rezoning decision, the developer has included in the public funding of “site amenities” the specific cost of various rezoning conditions,” Gebbia noted.
Councillors also discussed the creation of a Brookhaven Architectural Review Board, a board who traditionally looks at the design aspects, materials and whether a project fits within look and feel of a community.
Gebbia said he wants to be certain such a board is in place before the City approves any zoning requests for the MARTA site. “I think it is the direction of the Council to establish an Architectural Review Board for the purpose of providing guidance to Council on this very important project as well as future projects of this magnitude,” said Gebbia. “The structure and authority of this Architectural Review Board should be established prior to a zoning decision.”
During the 90-day deferral period, Gebbia outlined four topics that need to be addressed:
- Determine the impact and cost of the on-site stormwater retention. Emphasis should be on providing a more park-like setting for the Fernwood detention basin
- What is the TRUE cost of sewer work and who will pay for it
- What will be the structure and make-up of the Architectural Review Board. The immediate challenge to Council will be developing the necessary resolution, appointing members and establishing the process
- What will the City of Brookhaven be willing to support for incentives – if any for this project. If provided, it will definitely not be $26 million. The Brookhaven Development Authority needs to complete a line item review for each request seeking public funding, especially those items linked to rezoning conditions. In addition, the Development Authority must work with Brookhaven’s colleagues from the DeKalb County School District and the DeKalb County Government to discern their level of participation. It is inappropriate for the development team, or the City of Brookhaven for that matter, to assume the Brookhaven Development Authority will unilaterally give away future tax revenue that supports educating our children and funds County operations
The site plan presented requires the rezoning of “underutilized” surface parking located at MARTA’s Brookhaven/Oglethorpe Station. The PC-2 zoning sought will allow for the construction of a variety of uses. Currently the parcels have a mixture of zoning classifications such as C-2, M, R-75 and RM-75. The development team explained the TOD will be constructed in four phases.
Councilmembers said they were sensitive to the fact a MARTA development was the original impetus for the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay and LCI study in the first place, and has been in the works for 12 years. But Councilmembers see this development as a project Brookhaven residents will be living with for the next 50 or 100 years. They say they must get it right – the first time.
Councilman Mattison made the motion to defer 90-days, Gebbia seconded. A unanimous vote followed.
The case will be before City Council again on January 24, 2017.