By John Schaffner
Developer Ben Carter and his real estate attorney Carl Westmoreland faced a packed room at the Neighborhood Planning Unit-B Zoning Committee hearing Feb. 27 and when they left, they had to have felt it was one of the easiest votes of confidence they had ever won.
The meeting room in the bottom floor of the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church on Peachtree Road was jammed mostly with people interested in what Carter’s plans were for turning the old, now mainly closed down, Buckhead Village into a new, vibrant Buckhead Avenues, which he says will be a $500 million development.
Carter didn’t disappoint those in the audience, touching on every aspect of the development—retail, residential, parking, restaurants and hotels—even though his mission before the Zoning Committee that night was to gain approval for just three special use permits for hotels in parcels A, B and C of the planned development.
Although much prior negotiating apparently had gone on between the Carter people and Sally Silver, chair of the NPU’s Development & Transportation Committee, and other members of the NPU, even Zoning & Land Use Committee Chair Anthony Nievera seemed somewhat shocked that there were few questions from the audience and committee members and no voiced opposition.
In the end, the Zoning Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the three special use permits to the board at its March 5 meeting. But the vote came only after Carter gave his 20-minute presentation and the audience had the opportunity to ask their few questions—mainly, it seemed to satisfy their curiosity about the proposed scope of the project and when it might be completed.
Carter told the audience this had been one of the most difficult land deals he had ever been involved with, negotiating with 22 property owners and convincing 23 retailers and restaurant operators they had to relocate.
But Carter told the group that this requires putting $200 million in land under contract. He said he had closed on $70 million and has another $130 million to go.
He described the development as mixed-use, having 500,000 square feet of retail and restaurants and either two hotels and three multi-family residential components or two multi-family components and three hotels. He said his group is talking to 10 restaurants for the area from casual to luxury.
Carter said that if a person is a customer of Lenox or Phipps, they will be a customer at the new Buckhead Avenues.
He wants to close Bolling Way, but plans to leave part of Buckhead Avenue available for street events. He plans an auto plaza just off Peachtree where Bolling Way is now and is talking about dedicating the funds from abandoning Bolling Way to developing turn lanes to ease traffic in and out of the area.
Silver told the audience that the Development & Transportation Committee had unanimously approved the abandonment of Bolling Way. However, Bolling Way will remain a through street between Buckhead Avenue and East Paces Ferry.
The most interesting thing presented, along with a series of site plans and photographs that showed the type of construction planned, as that the developer does not need to seek changes in the zoning. Everything planned falls within the zoning parameters in place, except there will be a special exception for parking rules. Although the overall parking will exceed the total amount required for the development, parking will not conform on a parcel-by-parcel basis.
Asked about the timing for the project—whether it would be done in phases or as a whole—Carter responded that this could happen in five phases over 10 years or one phase over 18 months. He pointed out that the financial partner, CBR Richard Ellis is requiring no pre-leasing at all.
He said demolition of the old Buckhead Village buildings would begin in August.
Asked if the library property would be part of the redevelopment, Carter said he had made a proposal to redevelop and rebuild the library, but that had not gone anywhere.
After the vote, those in the audience seemed satisfied with what they had heard, and Carter and his group appeared delighted with the vote of confidence.