Developer rejected in DeKalb considers annexing into Brookhaven

Residents who opposed a fast food restaurant and gas station planned for a busy intersection in north DeKalb got elected officials to see it their way.

DeKalb commissioners refused to sign off on the proposed Wendy’s, RaceTrac and service station at the northwest corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads.

But the developer had a Plan B, specifically Plan Brookhaven.

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Jay Gipson now wants to move the project into the nearby city. Or, more accurately, he wants Brookhaven to move to his project.

Gipson said DeKalb County’s leaders are unfriendly to progress and he feels like he has no choice.

“I don’t know what their motivations are; I don’t know what their goals and objections are,” he said recently. “They absolutely make it hard for developers.”

This action shows the rivalries and boundary disputes that have developed since the cityhood trend took off in Metro Atlanta more than a decade ago. Cities can grow without consulting the counties impacted by these changes, creating an avenue for developers looking for the easiest route for a new project.

But the residents who opposed the project say Gipson is the one who is acting in bad faith. They accuse him of seeking annexation in order to gain a more welcoming venue for a development they say asked for too many exceptions of the rules governing construction projects in unincorporated DeKalb.

“It seems this is just an attempt to circumvent what the county has already decided and see if they can force it through a different avenue,” said Myles Levelle, a resident of the Riviera Terrace condominiums adjacent to the property.

Now the question is whether the concerns from people who live in Riviera Terrace or the nearby neighborhoods of Briarcliff Woods and Sagamore Hills will have the same impact in Brookhaven that they had on DeKalb commissioners.

The first test will be a public hearing next week before the city’s Planning Commission. That body and city staffers will make recommendations, but the final decision about annexation and rezoning the property to allow Gipson’s development will fall to the City Council.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said he is aware the development failed in DeKalb before its backer turned to his city. And he knows that most of the people who are concerned about the impact of a 24-hour convenience store and drive-thru live in unincorporated DeKalb.

“I take into account all the residents in that area and will look into the concerns both with traffic and anything else, whether they are my citizens or not,” Ernst said. “Because we are all one big community.”

When DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader learned that Gibson had submitted his site plan to Brookhaven, he wrote an email to all five members of the Brookhaven City Council.

In it, he explained why DeKalb commissioners had refused to sign off and insisted that the proposal was still ill-conceived even if the deciding body had shifted.

“We hope that Brookhaven will reject a proposal that is clearly substandard and inconsistent with both DeKalb and Brookhaven’s zoning codes, that will adversely affect vested homeowners in the adjacent Riviera Terrace Condominiums, and that will impair access for which Brookhaven will be responsible to the hospital complex that the city has entitled on Briarcliff Road,” Rader wrote.

Gipson sees it differently. He is hoping that Brookhaven considers the aging buildings on the property now and welcomes his plans as progress.

“I just felt we had a good project that was cleaning up a blighted area,” Gipson said.

Gipson said he worked with DeKalb officials, including Rader and Commissioner Kathie Gannon who both represent the area, for six months to try to gain approval. He changed the site plans to add turning lanes, reduce the number of access points to the property and increase greenspace.

One of the sticking points was the impact the development would have on Riviera Terrace, whose entrance and exit driveway would have been right next to one leading to the gas station. Nearby residents also said Gipson should be forced to abide by rules requiring a 50-foot buffer zone.

Gunter Sharp, a member of the Briarcliff Woods Civic Association board, said he and others will renew their fight against the project. But he is concerned they may not get the same consideration in Brookhaven.

“In a way I consider it despicable,” he said. “But there may not be anything we can do about it.”