Chamblee, GA, December 21, 2016 – by Trey Benton – In a strange turn of events, Chamblee Councilmembers reversed a November 15th decision to deny a request by developer Wakefield Beasley & Associates to change their plan for the Chamblee-Atlanta Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project, a project slated for 3.86 acres currently known as the Hickman Nissan site located at 5211 Peachtree Boulevard.
The decision reversal from denial to approval, came about when during Tuesday evening’s meeting, Councilman John Mesa made a motion (seconded by Councilwoman Leslie Robson) to rescind the Council’s November decision to deny Wakefield’s “Major Modification” request.
Prior to Mesa’s motion that in the end carried, Councilman Tom Hogan motioned for the item to be deferred until their January meeting, allowing for the entire Council to have enough time for some existing concerns to be addressed by the developer such as the monolithic feel of the project design, particularly at the corner of Peachtree and Malone. Hogan’s motion, later called a political move by Councilman Brian Mock and Mayor Pro-Tem, failed for lack of support.
Because Mayor Eric Clarkson, who is employed by Wakefield Beasley had recused himself, Mock presided over the agenda item and cast the tie breaking vote. Conversely, Mock was also the tie breaking vote in November denying the modified plan that he says he always supported, but had questions.
Mock explained he was unable to attend the Council’s November Work Session where Wakefield Beasley’s plan modification request was discussed in detail. He said he really wanted the reworked plan deferred instead of denied, giving him a chance to learn more about the modifications.
Councilman Darron Kusman and Hogan both voted “Nay” on Tuesday’s motion to rescind and questioned the validity of the process by which the action was taken. Their understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order, a procedural guide for meeting process, was that only a Councilmember who was on the affirmative side of a vote could make a motion to rescind a previous decision.
City Attorney Joe Fowler read from Robert’s Rules and pointed out Hogan and Kusman were indeed correct if in fact Mesa’s motion was one of reconsideration. But since the motion was to rescind the November decision, not a reconsideration, the proper process was indeed followed. Fowler told Councilmembers in the time he has worked in Chamblee, he has never seen a vote rescinded.
Hogan echoed Fowler’s statement, but called the issue “trickery” and “against the spirit of what we’ve done here for so many years”. “I have no respect for your decision to pursue this course whatsoever,” Hogan told Mesa. “Be careful [about] what you say you can’t take back,” Mesa responded. Mesa said it was as if Hogan had never been notified of his plans to rescind Council’s previous decision. “I take offense to that, especially since you were notified on Thursday this was going to happen,” Mesa added.
In July, Wakefield’s original plan was approved unanimously, a plan that received an $11 million tax abatement from the Chamblee Development Authority. That plan called for a project consisting of 4-stories of residential (289 apartments) over 1-story of retail.
But after the original plan was approved, it was discovered a retaining wall as part of The Olmsted’s 283 apartment unit TOD development next door, resulted in some ground floor units in the Chamblee-Atlanta project facing a retaining wall. In order to avoid this, the modified plan involved shifting parking and moving the affected units.
In “correcting” the issue, Wakefield Beasley’s revised plan also increased the building height facing Peachtree Blvd. and Malone Dr. from 4-stories of residential over 1-story of retail to 5-stories of residential over 1-story of retail, thereby increasing the building height from 73 ft. to 83 ft., increasing the apartment unit density from 289 units to 311 units. It also added a 7th story to the project’s parking deck.
Mock told The Post after the meeting concluded, the developer was under pressure to get the project approved before the end of the year because they were in danger of losing HUD financing, and Hogan knew that. But Hogan told The Post he always supported the project and did not want to see it die. He said the claim his motion to move the item to the January Council meeting was political, was simply not true. “If the project is viable now, it will be viable in January,” Hogan told The Post. “I never wanted to see the project fail.”
Between the November 15th meeting and Tuesday’s meeting, Hogan and Kusman said there has not been a significant effort by the developer to get with them to discuss some of their concerns about the project. And, because of that, they would like more time to work with them. Mesa and Robson disagreed, and suggested there had been an adequate effort extended and no appreciable gain would be obtained by moving the discussion to January.
“This is a large scale project and there is a middle ground that can be reached,” said Kusman. “Regardless of effort, there has been a seeming unwillingness to make any changes, let alone substantial changes. It’s disappointing to see action taken on such a divisive issue where there is a middle ground.”
The project can now move forward as modified.
More in the video attached to this Post. Images of the revised Wakefield Beasley plan are below. (Source: The City of Chamblee)