Published on November 25th, 2015 |0
Brand Properties project passes 1st NPU-B zoning review; vote 9-4-1
But the mixed vote of the Neighborhood Planning Unit-B joint Zoning and Transportation & Development committees—9 in favor, 4 opposed and 1 recusal—came after much discussion of
mainly traffic issues from a room filled with observers and those opposed to project.
Because the approval vote was not unanimous by the joint committees, the Brand Properties application will not be on the consent agenda and will be reviewed by the full NPU-B board at its meeting Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. in Childs Hall of The Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road.
Brand’s attorney Pete Hendricks pointed out that the zoning application had been originally filed in May of this year and that Brand Properties had been deferring its scheduled appearances before the NPU-B committees since that time in order to completely negotiate with neighboring groups to gain consensus and approval for the development.
Over the period of those many months, Brand Properties has completely changed the design of the building, repositioned the main building to along the Peachtree Road sidewalk, reduced the height of the office building by 20 feet, reduced the number of parking spaces and agreed to a long list of concessions requested by the Garden Hills neighborhood and other surrounding neighbors.
Hendricks described the Brand Properties proposed development as a “low density commercial” development surrounded by “high density residential on all sides” referring to the high-rise condo towers along both sides of Peachtree Road within a block or two.
Hendricks pointed out that the city’s Bureau of Planning staff had recommended that Brand apply for the new zoning designation for the property
from C-1-C to MRC-2 in accordance with the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan recommended uses for the area of Peachtree.
What Brand is now proposing—after many changes to the original plan—is a building that will have 5 stories of office space above two levels of retail space and four levels of parking, two levels of parking being behind the Peachtree fronting retail spaces. Much of the parking would be below Peachtree Road grade, with only 7 total stories above Peachtree Road grade.
Among the concessions Brand has made on the project have been reducing the square footage of the project from 135,000 to 134,500, reducing the height of the building from 167 feet to 135 feet, reducing the number of office floors from 6 to 5, reducing the number of parking levels from 6 to 4 and the number of parking spaces from 425 to 348.
Brand also has agreed to reduce the Peachtree Road curb cuts from 2 to 1, remove a drive-thru bank teller operation and a host of other concessions that are part of a private conditions agreement (contract) with the Garden Hills neighborhood.
It was pointed out that Brand had finally received—in just the past week—an 18-2-2 vote approval from the Garden Hills Civic Association board,
a verbal approval from the neighbors at the Rumson Court townhomes and written support from Clay Harper, one of the owners of adjacent Fellini’s Pizza and La Fonda restaurants.
While negotiations can result in winning agreements with some parties, “there usually one that loses” Brand Properties President Michael Hoath told the committee members and audience. He acknowledged that loser in this case, with the revised building plans, was the Alhambra condominiums and their association president Ben Howard.
Hoath pointed out the Brand Properties has had five meetings with the Alhambra people, four with Rumson Court residents, three or more with the Gallery condominiums and other surrounding condos and 10 meetings with Garden Hills neighborhood groups over 6 months.
Howard, who is a resident of Alhambra and also president of the Buckhead Condo Alliance, has fought with Brand Properties over planned curb cuts on Peachtree Road for the entrance to the new development and most recently over the issue of a transitional height plane between the new building and the Alhambra.
Where the original building design provided a traditional transitional height plane between the Alhambra and the office tower, the new building plan does not provide that transitional height plane. With the new plan, six Alhambra condo units are 40 feet away from the side of the 7-story building.
“That produces a considerable value problem for our property,” Howard stated. “We originally saw a plan with a transitional height plane and we expected that.”
Howard had negotiated with Brand early on to remove the drive-thru bank teller operation and to not have two curb cuts on Peachtree Road. Now
Howard wants Brand to remove the one 24-foot-wide, two-way curb cut and driveway off of Peachtree Road into the development. “Getting across it could be very dangerous for pedestrians,” he argued at the meeting Tuesday night.
The three main things Howard told the committees the Alhambra board wants from Brand are: (1) No curb cuts on Peachtree Road, (2) the original transitional height plane reinstated and (3) a guarantee Brand will support its original agreement to monitor Alhambra’s structural integrity during construction to ensure the building is not damaged.
Hoath pointed out to the committee members and audience that the curb cut is not part of the zoning process. It only comes up during the SAP (Special Administrative Permit) process later on. He added that the 24-foot-wide curb cut is standard.
In response to a question from the committee, Hoath explained that the Peachree Road entry to the building will sit back 20 feet from the curb line. He said there would be a five-foot clear zone with trees along Peachtree, then 10 feet of sidewalk and an additional 5 feet of outdoor area in front of the proposed restaurant retail areas.
Matthew Queen, one of the audience speakers who voiced concerns about pedestrians safety trying to cross a 24-foot-wide driveway, said he has lived for six months in the Aramore condos south on Peachtree Road below Peachtree Battle, where Restaurant Eugene and other restaurants and ground-level retail is located.
He said pedestrian safety is a real problem there, especially with southbound autos turning left into the Aramore and retail parking. He added that those pedestrian issues also cause accidents.
However, one of the committee members pointed out that the distance from the curb to the building—and the driveway entrance—is only about 10 feet, not 20 feet as Brand is proposing. Also, there is a great deal more restaurants and retail stores on both sides of Peachtree Road at the location of Aramore.
Hoath also brought the results of a traffic study Brand had done, which concluded that the project would have low impact on traffic on Peachtree and Rumson roads and Vivian Lane and saw no reasons for major changes to the infrastructure.
Joel Lobel, president of the Gallery condominiums homeowners association, was the first speaker from the audience and started by saying most of
the residents he had talked to had preferred the original design for the building over the new design. Gallery, however, did not poll its owners of the 203 condo units.
Stating that he personally is in favor of the project, Lobel pointed out that he believes it is an asset that a family-owned group (Brand Properties) is developing the property and plans to make it their home and that most of the tenants are expected to be small businesses.
Gallery is directly across Rumson Road from the proposed development and all of the units on the north side of the building will be looking directly at the new building and its parking, part of which will be surface parking under the new plan.
Another speaker from the audience was Michael Horowitz, a board member of the 2828 condos, who said he had 20-some letters from condo owners in his building expressing concerns about traffic—especially turning left onto Peachtree out of their driveways. There are 79 condo units at 2828.
Horowitz saw the primary problem being cars stacking up to turn left at the light at Rumson to enter the new development parking off of Rumson. “If I had an opportunity to turn left at the traffic light I would do that” rather than try to make the turn mid-block, he said.
A woman who lives at Alhambra, pointed out that her building is on the Historic Registry—as she said the former Garden Hills shopping center was before it burned and was destroyed. She wants the block to remain the way it was planned in the 1920s with one level of shops.
Bill Bozarth, who served as the spokesperson for the Garden Hills Civic Association, told the committee and audience the neighborhood was being told a denial of the zoning change would not be supported politically at city hall. Therefore, the neighborhood has negotiated long and hard with the developer to gain the concessions it has received.
He said the 135,000 square feet Brand is proposing to build is not far below the allowable square footage of MRC-2. But the neighborhood felt that 135,000 square feet used as intended by the Brand project was less impactful than a robust retail build-out at 108,000 square feet allowed with the present C-1 zoning.
Bozarth said that although the traffic study shows an additional 2,353 trips per day in the area of the development, it showed only 187 morning peak hour car trips and 237 afternoon peak hour car trips.
He said the traffic study anticipated one car per minute using the Peachtree Road driveway during the highest volume hour during the day. For all the other hours of the day, the predicted number per hour would be lower.
Another plus, Bozarth pointed to is that Brand will require all office employees and employees of restaurant and retail tenants to park within the parking decks and not on Rumson Road or Vivian Lane.
Three of the four NPU-B representatives who opposed the zoning change were Transportation and Development Committee chair Jason Kendall and member France Campbell and Zoning Committee member Nancy Bliwise.