Thwarted by DeKalb authority, developer eyes tax break from Brookhaven

Related Group planning $155M project near North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads

A few months after withdrawing its request for a $15 million tax abatement from one local development authority, the firm behind a “transformational” project in northern DeKalb County is seeking similar incentives elsewhere.

The proposal could be discussed by the Brookhaven Development Authority as soon as Tuesday morning.

The Related Group LLC has plans to replace an aging strip mall near the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads with a complex that would include medical office space, a 140-room hotel and nearly 400 apartments. Such offerings will likely be in high demand as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory Healthcare both complete billion-dollar expansion projects nearby.

The developer initially sought incentives from the Decide DeKalb Development Authority, which seemed inclined to provide them. But concerted pushback from county commissioners and school board members — who among other things questioned the necessity of tax breaks in a such a sought-after area — helped delay any action by the development authority.

By mid-April, the Related Group had notified officials that it would be withdrawing its application.

Some county officials assumed the incentives deal would eventually resurface with another development authority — and Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst confirmed as much late last week.

In a letter dated Friday, Ernst wrote that the Brookhaven Development Authority had been asked to consider a 10-year arrangement that would deliver up to $15 million in incentives for the project. The letter was addressed to the school board, the county commission and county CEO Michael Thurmond.

Few other details about the parameters of the potential deal were provided.

While Ernst wrote that the development authority could take action on the matter “in coming weeks,” the city’s website listed a special called meeting of the Brookhaven Development Authority at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

An agenda posted online Monday afternoon — less than 24 hours before the meeting — included an item for “consideration and approval of an inducement resolution for potential economic incentives” for the project. The development authority could also issue up to $160 million in bonds to fund the project.

Related Group, meanwhile, provided the AJC with a press release touting the project. It said a partnership with the development authority was necessary “to ensure a successful development that maximizes the full spectrum of quality of life services.”

About 20% of the 382-unit apartment complex will be dedicated to workforce housing. The developer’s press release said incentives would also help offset the cost of road improvements and increased connectivity in the busy corridor, including “significant pedestrian-centered improvements such as new sidewalks along Briarcliff.”

“Right now, there is very little housing available in the immediate area and very few options for hotel accommodations,” Ed Allen, Related Group’s senior vice president for development, said in the press release. “The residential component will provide a much-needed walk-to-work option for medical personnel, and the hotel will offer accommodations to families with children being treated at the hospital.”

In previous discussions, representatives from the Related Group and Decide DeKalb have said the new project would ultimately bring in far more tax revenue than the $87,000 per year produced by Briarcliff Station, the struggling strip center that’s currently on the site.

But county commissioners and school board members have questioned the need to offer incentives and forego collecting much of that additional revenue for several years.

Vickie Turner, chair of the DeKalb school board, said her stance hasn’t changed. She said the school district is not anti-development but is opposed to “unilateral development incentives.”

“That is a progressive, booming area and it will continue to be so,” she said. “You don’t even have to have the abatements.”

County commissioner Ted Terry, whose district includes the area in question, reiterated that other nearby developments have not requested incentives.

“I would hope that before they move forward on this vote,” Terry said, “that there would be a little more engagement with the county and the school board, and the residents of Brookhaven and unincorporated DeKalb.”