Brookhaven, GA, March 15, 2017 – by Trey Benton – As many as 300 residents and business owners showed up at Brookhaven City Hall over the course of two meetings held Tuesday, to learn about what City consultant Gresham, Smith and Partners’ (GS&P) envisions for the Ashford Dunwoody Corridor.
Nithin Gomez, GS&P’s Project Manager for the Study along with City Public Works Director Richard Meehan, walked the Council through the full Visioning Report and the 19 projects it contemplates. “This project is a recommendation out of the [Comprehensive Transportation Plan] the City completed as a two-phased process,” he said. “The Corridor vision is phase one and the second is the design of the project.” Gomez also said another study that fed in to the Visioning Report was the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail Plan Brookhaven completed last year. He said community engagement was also a key driver of the contents of the Visioning Report.
As in previous meetings, some of the “simple and easy to implement” short-term ideas for the area were met with some degree of understanding and approval, although the majority of attendees agreed more work needs to be done over a longer period of time to measure the impacts a change to the Donaldson Dr. access and an I-285/400 interchange project will have on area traffic. Many said the City should hit the brakes until those projects are done, instead of “foisting it all on them at the same time”.
Councilwoman Linley Jones, who represents the majority of the area the Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Study encompasses, said she has spoken to a number of traffic engineers who are telling her the I-285/400 interchange project is “not going to provide traffic relief for the City of Brookhaven.”
Several persons who spoke to Council Tuesday referred to a restriping project done on the “Valero” end of the Johnson Ferry / Ashford Dunwoody Intersection, which they say was a very simple, easy to implement project that has made a big difference. They want to explore similar solves before getting in to big, expensive plans.
Also as in previous meetings, a long-term vision for the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody Rd. and Johnson Ferry Rd. came under fire. It contemplates rerouting Ashford Dunwoody Rd. behind the Oglethorpe Crossing Publix and Johnson Ferry Rd. behind the Cambridge Square Kroger. It also ends Ashford Dunwoody Rd. near Ashford Club Ct., resulting in a greenspace area. (See page 119 in the Visioning Report here)
Holding up a printout of the long-term vision idea, Jones addressed directly the source of what she believes is causing a lot of the concern in the community. She said neighbors and businesses have been stirred up with flyers and petitions that are spreading erroneous or incomplete information. She said one of the flyers that has been distributed, conveniently cut-off part of a plan legend that clearly stated there would be no median on Johnson Ferry Rd. in front of Mesh Corners, Texaco and Jo’s Grill.
“I have received enumerable emails from people deeply concerned about our valuable businesses at the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry – and them losing business because of a solid median,” Jones explained. “There was never a plan for a solid median.” She went on to say the plan would actually triple the amount of potential vehicles that would travel in front of the businesses there, “and we all know that vehicle traffic is a major driver for businesses.”
“Haste makes waste,” said John Knudsen who lives on nearby Duberry Ct. He told Councilmembers he would like to see the City slow down and really take the time to fully absorb this “very complex process”. “I hope you wouldn’t feel bound to a timeline that could be changing based upon revelations that are coming up,” Knudsen said. He said he doesn’t see how routing traffic behind Kroger and Publix is going to improve the flow of traffic because of the curves along the travel path.
Laurenthia Mesh, who owns Mesh Corners, says she keeps that center running in memory of her mother and intends to pass it on to her children. She said when she first heard about the ideas included in the Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Study last November, she distributed the flyers Jones referred to earlier, but did not intend to mislead anyone and cutting off the legend was simply to get the map to fit on a smaller sheet of paper.
“A lot of people did not know about this,” said Mesh. “45 businesses have written, not just me, not just Jo’s…Pure has signed, Marlow has signed, Burn, Starbucks, Valero says they’ll have to sell.” She said other businesses were told they have other stores in Brookhaven and that if the businesses are good, people will come to those. “We don’t want our vibrant community center completely destroyed,” Mesh went on to say. “Let’s stick with the short-term plan, wait for the PTOP planned fiber optic’s traffic program to get in to gear.”
Alton Conway from the W. Nancy Creek area told Councilmembers, “I’m waiting for the promise that if you like your neighborhood, you get to keep your neighborhood.” He told the Council that he does not want to see Brookhaven be a through City with a major artery dividing it.
Conway said he has been in commercial real estate for over 40 years, and offered feedback on the long-term vision for the traffic patterns around the shopping centers in the Visioning Report. “If I were sitting around with some friends and came up with this idea, they would call me a buffoon,” he said. “The folks that designed it are some good traffic engineers and there’s a lot of good thoughts…but this shows they do not have a background in retail location analysis.”
Conway said over the last few weeks, he has timed his travel from Windsor Parkway to the Cowart Family YMCA, and from the YMCA back to Pure some 15 times between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 PM – rush hour. “Tonight it was 3 minutes and 40 some odd seconds. It’s very rarely is over 5 minutes, most of the time 4 minutes,” he said. Conway said the intersection is actually working better than people think.
John Lundeen with Coro Realty Advisors who owns the Publix Shopping Center as well as the Brookleigh Retail told Council, “The biggest frustration I have with this is the engineers did not contact us, or nobody contacted us the owners and say ‘maybe we ought to sit down and talk about what is planned.'” He said the study is impacting his properties as well as Regency, (who owns the Cambridge Square Center which has Kroger as the anchor tenant), and neither of them were called and asked to sit down and talk about the plan.
“I’ve been involved with shopping centers for the last 40 years. I’ve never seen a entry of a shopping center on behind the shopping center,” Lundeen said. “I know maybe this is y’alls saying we really want this area redeveloped. That can only be the conclusions I can have. If you basically approve this plan, it is like telling our anchor tenant, all of our tenants, that we don’t want you here.”
Eugenie Viener, daughter of Laurenthia Mesh who spoke earlier, said that she has received over 1,000 physical signatures and more than 300 signatures asking the City to not remove the Donaldson traffic light and to not change the access to right-in and right-out only. She said she was told the City is planning to do that, as well as a solid median in front of her family’s businesses at a previous meeting.
After it was explained the Donaldson Dr. light would not be going away and there would not be a solid median in front of the Johnson Ferry Rd. businesses, Viener said she was still concerned that people who eat at restaurants at Mesh Corners, would not be able to turn left off of Donaldson Dr. onto Johnson Ferry Rd. “Any concept that removes the Donaldson light is not one that I can support,” she said.
Confusion about the origin of a “proposed change” to the Donaldson Drive and Johnson Ferry Road intersection has led some area residents and businesses to voice their concerns to the City because they think it’s part of the Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Study.
In reality, the proposed restricting of Donaldson Dr. access isn’t part of the City’s plan at all. It’s a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) study requirement approved by DeKalb County Commissioners in 2007 as part of a DeKalb County zoning and development deal for the Brookleigh mixed-use development (a.k.a. Johnson Ferry East). It is also a condition the Georgia Regional Transportation Administration required in order to get their approval of the DRI.
The City says they have been notified the Brookleigh developer has already received funding for the required changes to the Donaldson Dr. access. According to the City, those changes will be happening by the end of the year. The City says the developer has been notified and is working through the engineering process to complete the State’s requirements.
Meehan further explained that the traffic light at Donaldson Dr. will remain. He said motorists will still be able to make a left turn onto Donaldson Dr. from Johnson Ferry Rd. (if you’re headed toward Peachtree), and you will also be able to go straight through to Donaldson if you are traveling from Ashford Dunwoody Rd.
“The only restriction is if you are coming on Donaldson Dr. to Johnson Ferry Rd., you won’t be able to make a left onto Johnson Ferry Rd. going toward Peachtree Rd. or to go straight on to Ashford Dunwoody Rd.,” Meehan told Council.
William McLain said he disagrees with some of the traffic engineers who say the I-285/400 interchange project won’t have an impact on Brookhaven’s traffic. He said it will only improve traffic flow there, and dump more traffic into the Brookhaven Area. He spoke of the projected traffic from the new State Farm headquarters projects across 285 and he expects it to “dribble down to our area.”
“We really don’t have the option of doing nothing,” said McLain. “We can’t say let’s not take that stop sign up because it’s the only stop sign in Hotterville. And they won’t stop at the General Hardware Store if we remove that stop sign. We have got to improve the traffic pattern, we have got to do something drastic.” He said one of the biggest problems with the Ashford Dunwoody / Johnson Ferry Rd. intersection, is that two businesses are “sticking out in to this horrible intersection.”
Gomez and the City pointed out the Visioning Report delivered Tuesday is just the beginning of a process. The next step, once and if Council approves any plan, is to move in to the design phase where there would be more opportunity for input.
Mayor John Ernst explained that while the plan may seem broad, in order for the City to go after State and Federal funds to help pay for any improvements or plan the City adopts, the City must present a complete plan to those entities. He said that is one driving force behind the study in the first place, as well as the obvious reasons, to reduce traffic and congestion.
City leaders are continuing to request public input on the entire Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Study via email at ADCorridorStudy@BrookhavenGA.gov.