With new complex planned, familiar worries arise: ‘Traffic, traffic, traffic’

It has become a common tale in metro Atlanta: Developers want to turn an old, partially vacant shopping center into a multistory, mixed-use complex.

But in this DeKalb County neighborhood, some residents are anxious about bringing more cars and people to an area already strained by traffic on what seems like a never-ending basis. The new project is proposed on the east side of the busy corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads.

“It’s already bad,” nearby resident Greg Wagner said, describing the traffic in the area. “They need to take that into consideration before they come in.”

The development would replace the old shopping center known as Briarcliff Station, currently home to popular Indian eatery Cafe Bombay, Tex-Mex restaurant Tin Roof Cantina, a closed car wash and a shuttered auto shop. In its place, developers from Miami-based firm the Related Group envision an apartment building with about 380 units, a seven-story hotel, a seven-story parking deck and another building with four floors of retail, restaurant and office space.

The neighborhood, just south of I-85 in the North Druid Hills area, is home to several other strip malls with shops and restaurants, surrounded by quiet residential neighborhoods.

William "Woody" Galloway, an attorney representing the developers, said the proposed project could help address a need for new housing in the area. Nearby land owned by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University will continue to be developed over the next several years, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the area. Galloway told about 40 residents at a community meeting Thursday that the new mixed-use development would help "reinvigorate" the neighborhood and "certainly enhance the viability and vitality of your area."

Ed Allen, a senior vice president at the Related Group, said it would have the “quality and luxury” the company is known for producing, describing the old strip shopping center as an eyesore.

But neighbors have another concern.

“My point: Traffic, traffic, traffic, traffic,” said Bill Bernardini, sitting in the front row of the meeting. He later acknowledged, however, that “you can’t stop progress.”

Neighbors were quick to point out that they are supportive of new commercial development. But they worry about how much more traffic the interchange can take. Cars on North Druid Hills and Briarcliff already sit bumper-to-bumper during rush hour on most days, they said, burdened by traffic off of I-85 and Buford Highway.

Credit: The Related Group / City of Brookhaven

Credit: The Related Group / City of Brookhaven

A study estimated the new development would generate nearly 5,800 car trips every day, according to documents filed with the city of Brookhaven.

Galloway told residents that a new road planned through the site would alleviate some traffic at the corner. He also said the intended market for the apartments are people who have jobs nearby and can walk to work.

The property currently sits in unincorporated DeKalb County, just south of Brookhaven city limits. But along with the rezoning of the property, developers are simultaneously asking to become part of Brookhaven, along with several surrounding properties that include a Target, Chick-fil-A and QuikTrip.

Brookhaven has annexed several neighborhoods south of Brookhaven over the last several years, most recently adding about 2,000 residents in the LaVista Park area. Galloway said multiple property owners at the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills have been discussing joining Brookhaven, and decided it made sense to apply together. He cited Brookhaven’s police force as an advantage for joining the city, and said the Related Group may seek a tax abatement for constructing the new road through the property.

Residents at Thursday’s meeting were also anxious about the affordability of the new apartments; developers estimated monthly rent for studios would be around $1,290. Ten percent of the units would be affordable “workforce housing,” per a city of Brookhaven requirement. Those studio apartments would rent for about $800 a month, Allen told residents.

“How does this benefit us?” said Netania Cortell, lamenting the traffic that already chokes North Druid Hills. “There’s too much already going on.”

Wagner, who lives off Briarcliff Road, said the developers need to make more traffic improvements before construction such a large-scale project. Another resident suggested a shuttle or expanded transit services in the area.

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

“I just think there are a lot of open questions,” Wagner said.

The rezoning and annexation proposal is set to go before Brookhaven’s Planning Commission on Feb. 5, and could be voted on by the City Council by the end of the February. Construction could start in the second half of 2020.

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