Sandy Springs rejects zoning to convert hotel into low-priced apartments

City Council members disagreed on how to address the deteriorating Hawthorn Suites property located on Barfield Road that’s in the neighborhood of $400,000 homes at Autumn Chace.  CITY OF SANDY SPRINGS
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City Council members disagreed on how to address the deteriorating Hawthorn Suites property located on Barfield Road that’s in the neighborhood of $400,000 homes at Autumn Chace. CITY OF SANDY SPRINGS

Sandy Springs denied a rezoning this week that would’ve turned an extended stay hotel into affordable housing.

City Council members disagreed on how to address the deteriorating Hawthorn Suites property located on Barfield Road that’s in the neighborhood of $400,000 homes at Autumn Chace.

City Council rejected the rezoning from office mixed use to perimeter residential in a split vote Tuesday. Rezoning was needed for real estate developer PEG Companies to convert Hawthorn Suites into apartments renting from $1,000 to $1,200.

A Sandy Springs housing study conducted last year by HR&A Advisors showed the city is losing residents due to the high cost of housing. The study found rent prices have increased three times faster than incomes over the last couple of years. An 800-square-foot apartment renting for $800 per month in 2011 was $1,050 in 2020, Senior Analyst Matthew Bedsole reported in November.

Sandy Springs officials have said the study would help figure out a new policy that includes housing teachers, landscapers and people from a wide range of income levels can afford.

PEG was seeking to repurpose 128 hotel rooms on Barfield Road into apartments with new flooring, paint and updated kitchen cabinets and lighting. The company said it also planned to paint the exterior of the 17 buildings on the 5-acre property and freshen up the landscape.

The hotel is known by officials for its disrepair. PEG Photos of the property show discarded furniture pieces piled outside and a staircase steps covered in dirt.

Councilman Andy Bauman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that while there is a real need for workforce housing he wants to see better quality projects for the site that incorporate the affordable housing component.

“I thought this was a faulty use of rezoning to try to correct a property that is clearly distressed,” Bauman said of his vote against rezoning.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Tibby DeJulio also opposed rezoning and questioned whether the proposed apartments would be resold after the hotel was redeveloped.

Utah-based PEG Companies reports $1.2 billion in real estate and owns multi-family housing, some of which the firm built from the ground up, as well as hotels and office buildings, PEG Senior Associate Alex Murphy told City Council. Over the last four years PEG has acquired Residence Inn locations, Hawthorn Suites and similar properties to redevelop into Class B apartments that could draw workforce tenants.

In the metro area, PEG has been granted the zoning needed to redevelop a Buckhead hotel into apartments, a questionnaire for Sandy Springs Autumn Chace residents says. PEG will seek rezoning on a Smryna property within a few years.

Councilman Chris Burnett, who was in favor of rezoning, told Council members the redevelopment would be a good 10-year solution, considering post-pandemic economic uncertainty. He recommended approval with no changes allowed in the project site plan for 10 years.

“This property is in need of repair. ... There’s uncertainty in the office market. Hotels are hurting. This addresses near-term consistency for the neighborhood and creates opportunity for higher and better use for the land,” Burnett said.

Autumn Chace neighbors and Rhonda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, supported the redevelopment during comments to the Planning Commission in May, and to City Council on Tuesday. Their support came with a requirement that the development be limited to the 128 units and access gates to the proposed apartment community be installed.

Melanie Couchman, of Sandy Springs Together and an advocate for housing that’s affordable said she’s disappointed by City Council’s vote to deny rezoning.

“(It) seems like a good opportunity to put into action all of the words that we have been hearing about the need for and desire of council to provide housing that is affordable for workers of all income levels in Sandy Springs,” Couchman said via email. “We need affordable housing and we have an opportunity to provide it.”