‘We are an urban city’: Chamblee’s development boom continues

This is a rendering of an office building that could be part of Chamblee's new town center.

Credit: City of Chamblee

Credit: City of Chamblee

This is a rendering of an office building that could be part of Chamblee's new town center.

Government officials recently stood outside Chamblee’s new public safety building, admiring the 50,000-square foot structure and surrounding acres of city-owned parkland.

Across the street from multiple used car dealerships, the two-story Chamblee building is the first to be located near Buford Highway, which city leaders said represents the city’s dedication to investing in the community and stimulating growth.

“Our community deserves this. Our police department deserves this,” Mayor Eric Clarkson said Friday at a ribbon cutting. “This makes a huge investment into an area that we recently annexed in 2013 ... this puts about $24 million or so of investment into this area of Buford Highway.”

The public safety building is the most recent example of Chamblee capitalizing on its recent population boom by pursuing redevelopment projects. The city, which had its population triple over the past decade, has plans that include a new town center, several mixed-use projects and new office developments.

Chamblee was known as an industrial suburb of Atlanta decades ago. Clarkston said that identity is a thing of the past.

“This is not a little sleepy bedroom suburb.” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are an urban city.”

‘Planes, trains and automobiles’

Chamblee has been a city since 1908, when it was primarily known as a railroad stop. The transit system fueled the city’s robust textile and dairy farm industries before World War II brought Fort Gordon to town, further changing the city’s identity.

Coupled with Peachtree-DeKalb Airport and two nearby interstates, the small city became a transportation hub that continued to expand when MARTA came to town in 1987, Clarkson said.

“We are planes, trains and automobiles,” he said. “We are geographically ideal for folks that want to be able to be mobile and get around in the metro Atlanta area.”

Sally Harrell, a state Senator, has represented Chamblee since the early 2000s when she was a state House member. The Democrat said the city’s identity has always revolved around public transport and industrial work, but that image has changed as the city has grown larger, attracted mixed-use developments and become more densely populated.

She said you only need to look at street signs to see how times have changed.

“At some point fairly quietly, the word ‘industrial’ was removed, and now it’s Peachtree Boulevard,” she said. “That’s significant, because the city doesn’t have an industrial feel anymore.”

Chamblee annexed several neighborhoods in 2014, adding roughly 12,000 people to its population. The city’s southernmost regions are roughly 74% non-white, with a large portion of the minority communities being concentrated around Buford Highway — known as a hub for immigrants with a diverse food scene.

“Somehow they’ve managed this growth in development without totally running out the immigrant community,” Harrell said. “... Going forward, I think the city needs to be careful in terms of development that happens along the Buford Highway corridor in order to protect that community.”

Buford Highway investment

Clarkson said city leaders are making a concentrated effort to invest more in the corridor, starting with the new public safety building. The 17-acre property now houses the Chamblee Police Department, a municipal courthouse and a large community room that overlooks undeveloped greenspace.

The mayor added that development along Buford Highway has taken years to plan since the annexation took place.

“One of the things that I did hear from the people who were annexed in was, ‘You’re spending all your capital improvement funds in what was already Chamblee. How about showing us some love,’ Clarkson said. “What you have to understand is those plans that you see and those shovels in the dirt were planned four or five years ago. We need to start planning for those things.”

The City of Chamblee held a socially distant Ribbon Cutting for its Public Safety Building for a small number of...

Posted by City of Chamblee, GA on Friday, March 19, 2021

North of Buford Highway, Chamblee has several ongoing development plans for its mid-city district along Peachtree Boulevard, including its ambitious “town center” project.

At-large Councilman Brian Mock, who lives in that area, said its population has boomed over the past few years. He said more than 1,000 apartments have been added in the past two years, with several other projects in the works.

Mock said Chamblee has outgrown its current City Hall, which is roughly 20 years old. Developed by Seven Oaks Company and The Worthing Companies, the new 7.3-acre town center will include a new City Hall, parking deck, offices, greenspace plaza and hundreds of new multifamily apartments.

“The city is just being totally rebuilt,” Harrell said. “It feels like almost every inch of it there’s something new on it compared to what it was years ago. It’s a different place.”

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