Brookhaven, GA, November 4, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Jen Price from Sycamore Consulting, as well as members of the Brookhaven community who served as point-persons for their individual area, provided Planning Commissioners with the results of the recent Character Area Study designed to get community feedback on creating more specific guidelines for land uses within the City, and to add to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Eleven character areas were studied.
According to the report (embedded below), feedback City-wide resulted in some of the main findings tracking consistently with other surveys and feedback the City has received in the almost four years since incorporation. Those findings include:
- a strong desire to have a net zero gain in density
- maintain the current culture and feel
- sidewalk and bike connectivity throughout the City
- address issues with the Peachtree Corridor Overlay
- create buffers between single family residential and other uses
- traffic improvements and solutions
The feedback was gathered through a series of kick-off meetings, charrettes, a pop-up idea session and on-line engagement. “At the charrettes we had round-table discussions, comment forms, as well as preference surveys where we asked questions about development and development types,” Price told Commissioners. “We did some on-line engagement as well, where we had an on-line survey. We used all that information to put together a picture of what City of Brookhaven residents wanted, stakeholders wanted.”
Ken Yates, representing the Ashford Park/Drew Valley Character Area, explained these neighborhoods were established in the 1940’s and 50’s and are primarily comprised of single family detached homes, under a lush tree canopy. “We want to save our trees and protect the infrastructure, our exceptional schools and our quiet way of life,” said Yates. He said the undeveloped land known as Ashford Forest across from PDK airport on Clairmont Rd. is an irreplaceable treasure that must be permanently preserved from any development. “We have no other large tracts of natural area in this City.”
Yates went on to explain the Ashford Park and Drew Valley neighborhoods are experiencing an exceptional amount of in-fill development, and the City needs to uphold the codes and setbacks without variances. He said new homes should be in scale and in style and the extensive traffic problems should not be made worse with more development that will further gridlock traffic. Cut-through traffic and street parking were also significant issues he pointed out. “Higher density often benefits the developers to the detriment of established neighborhoods,” Yates added. “The impact on the quality of life of residents must be of primary concern.”
From the Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields Character Area, Jen Heath told Commissioners the areas she is representing are part of Brookhaven’s great mix of old and new, “from our residents, our homes, our roads and our love of where we have come [from] and the excitement of where we can go.” She explained Brookhaven is a City of neighborhoods coupled with the diversity of Buford Highway to the prestige of Historic Brookhaven and the Capitol City Club. Heath pointed out the community is very engaged, with great neighbors and a great village area. “And we want to keep it as such,” she added.
Some of the bullet points the study recognizes for the Brookhaven Heights/Brookhaven Fields Character Area includes greater enforcement of existing City codes, revisiting and redefining Overlay strategies and the need for the preservation of transitional buffers.
Marty Sik spoke on behalf of the Osborne Character Area, mostly comprised of cluster homes built in the 80’s and 90’s on cul-de-sac streets. She said neighbors have asked for the City to preserve the existing residential neighborhoods and promote connectivity, connecting the cul-de-sacs with one another via sidewalks or paths. “People want bicycle or pedestrian connects, and we’d like some crosswalks,” Sik said. “And they would like the minimum lot size not to be anything less than R-50.”
Buffers are also important to those in the Osborne Character Area, said Sik, particularly for those residents near the Peachtree Overlay Corridor where there is commercial backing up to residential. Other notable items suggested for the Osborne Character Area is for the City to address spillover parking from Brookhaven Station retailers in to the neighborhoods and promoting affordable housing.
Speaking on behalf of the Roxboro Character Area, Lauren Rock told Commissioners neighborhoods in the Roxboro and Pine Hills are single family homes, and the residents want it to stay that way. “We love that we are close to all the infrastructure and all the benefits of Brookhaven, and Buford Highway and Buckhead,” Rock said. “It would be great if we could get to those without being in our car. And it would be great if we could get to those things without all the people cutting through us as they try to get to the highways.”
Rock said the neighborhood wants to be sure that where the community touches Buford Highway, those areas remain single family and a buffer zone is established, without higher density sneaking in. Other priority points the survey yielded for the Roxboro Character Area included the management of density, maintaining the current level of density, pocket parks instead of regional parks and passive parks without night-lighting.
For the Lakes District Character Area, Jen Price presented those findings. She said,” We had a very robust discussion with neighborhoods in this community.” Not allowing the subdivision of lots to allow for increased density was a hot topic as well as maintaining required setbacks and height requirements.
Connectivity was also a hot topic in the area. Price said connectivity to Murphey Candler Park and the park amenities were important, particularly to neighborhoods to the northeast of the area. With Perimeter Center in close proximity to this Character Area, maintaining and enforcing buffers and exploring alternative housing options was noted. Increasing density in general, is also a hot button issue.
Price also presented the Blackburn Park Neighborhood Center area study results to Commissioners. There, participants wanted to see improved bike/ped connectivity to neighborhood commercial, parks, paths and the Cowart Family YMCA. Participants said they would like to see more redevelopment before new construction is considered, and more opportunities for passive recreational spaces. They stressed 1-for-1 replacement of commercial. “If you take out one commercial establishment, you don’t replace it with two,” Price added. “People like the neighborhood scale of development there.” Traffic was also a major concern, with improved connections needed.
Price said for Briarwood Park, feedback came in that this may be an appropriate location to promote “aging in place”. Greater enforcement of existing codes, promoting affordable housing, preservation of the residential character of the area and the exploration of burying utilities. As an alternative development type, Price said people were interested in “co-working” space that they could walk to, to work. “Locations along Buford Highway would be prime for converting to co-working space, or maybe within their community,” Price noted.
Bikes and bike accessibility came up a lot in the Briarwood area discussions, Price said. Accessory dwelling units also received positive feedback.
For the Buford Highway Corridor, Michael Diaz, Lauren Rock and Rajib Khan represented that area. “Of all the areas in Brookhaven, Buford Highway has the strongest identity of them all,” said Diaz. “Buford Highway is a treasure due to demographic, diversity and the international flavor of its local businesses. Preserving and enhancing that diversity, means coming up with affordable, creative housing solutions that continue to allow local workers and the businesses they work for to thrive and attract clientele from across the Atlanta metro area.”
Diaz said, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, the Buford Highway area is home to one of the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents in the U.S. “Many consider it the holy grail of ethnic food in the Atlanta metro area,” he said. “Let’s not be the municipality that kicks out the diverse residential and commercial members of that area.”
Of some of the important points gathered in the Study, parks and greenspace needs, improved bike/ped safety and connectivity, smart development/redevelopment, inter-parcel connectivity and the creation of more community uses topped the list – not to forget the importance of the proposed Peachtree Creek Greenway for the area.
Kahn told Commissioners he and his family have been living and doing business in the area for a long time. He said making the Buford Highway Corridor more family friendly, with parks and open spaces would be very welcomed. “There are a lot of kids in the area and we hope to see the City of Brookhaven create a diverse environment for businesses and the residents so they can get different services they need within a close range,” he added.
Rock shared with Commissioners that when her parents mover to Atlanta from New York, they lived on Buford Highway for years. Later, they purchased a home elsewhere in the area. “Now we all return to Buford Highway for the great diversity of food and restaurants,” she said. Important to the area is preserving the character and the history that has made Buford Highway a great place now, and a great place in the future. Rock said it would be great if Buford Highway were a place that could be walked to.
Mike Elliot represented Historic Brookhaven in the Character Area conversation with the Planning Commission, and pointed out the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood is one of the oldest in the Atlanta area. With larger lots in the historical area that have greater setbacks, the community would like to preserve those characteristics moving forward. He said the community would also not be supportive of new in-fill development.
Among the improvements/enhancements residents would like to see is better sidewalks, connectivity to Brookhaven Park, pedestrian connectivity to Town Brookhaven and for the City to address spillover parking from Brookhaven Station retailers. Accommodations for bikes and runners was also an item with a lot of interest. Protection for the single family homes that back up to commercial on Peachtree Road is a top priority as well, and reduction of cut through traffic.
Lauren Rock once again took to the podium to speak on behalf of the Lenox Park Character Area. She said Lenox Park is filled in the afternoons and weekends with area residents who walk the trails and pathways. Rock added with the wonderful sidewalks and infrastructure around the area, once all the business people leave for the day, it would be great to have a coffee-house or an ice cream shop to walk to, making the park something that can be enjoyed even more.
Michael Diaz closed out the individual Character Area Study reports with Lynwood Park. Monuments into Lynwood Park, like those going in to Historic Brookhaven, were part of the discussion. The thought being, “Why not historic Lynwood Park,” he said pointing out the neighborhood was the oldest DeKalb African-American Community. “Little of the original neighborhood remains.”
As with other areas involved in the Character Area Study, the notion of “aging in place” was also made part of the Lynwood discussion, as well as the need for affordable housing. Encouraging neighborhood commercial at the corner of Windsor Parkway and Osborne Road was also a topic noted in the Study Report, as well as exploring options for the land that used to be Morrison Farms where community members and visitors from the area used to frequent for their spring and fall plant material.
After the individual reports, Commissioners had the opportunity to ask questions. Commission Chair Stan Segal noted the focus is what would the community like to see in five years, or ten. He said that when subdivisions or projects come to the Planning Commission, they have some guidance – the point of the individual Character Area Study in the first place.
Among the big ideas encompassed in the Character Area Study, is the concept of pocket neighborhoods. And the land where Morrison Farms once operated on Osborne Road was a point of focus. According to the study results, there was mixed support for this idea in the study group. The concept contemplates small, affordable homes, with interconnectivity and walkways to connect to existing cul-de-sacs and to create a new “walkable grid”.
Another big idea was improvements to the Clairmont Corridor – a desire for more green, fewer curb cuts, wider sidewalks and better coordinated traffic signals. A sidewalk with a bike path was contemplated as well as angled parking.
According to the report, there was a high level of support for neighborhood commercial at Windsor and Osborne – neighborhood scale retail that can be walked to. Concerns raised were the vacant church at that corner and whether the current land owners have a desire for multi-story businesses.
In the end:
As noted by the City at the outset of the Character Area Study exercise, the point of it all is to “continue to refine the Character Areas identified in the Comprehensive Plan 2034 planning process.” The City said the study “will result in more defined and specific guidelines for Brookhaven’s distinct districts.”
While the presentation during the November 2nd Planning Commission gave a good top-level view of what the community is thinking and what they would like to see, Commissioners noted they would like to see more data, how the main points were derived and how it can be translated into a working guide for City Planners and officials to go by.
Sycamore’s Price said they do have more detailed data and that will be supplied to the City.
The Study as presented is below.