By John Schaffner

A proposal by a Texas company to develop a 280-unit luxury apartment complex on Downwood Circle off Howell Mill Road in northwest Buckhead has raised the fighting spirit of the residents of some neighboring developments, especially over the amount of additional traffic problems they anticipate from the project.

Those concerns, along with anger from surrounding neighborhood groups over feeling the developer, Grayco Partners LLC of Houston, Texas, was trying to keep them in the dark about their plans, came to a boiling point at a Sept. 24 meeting at the Atlanta Speech School on Northside Parkway.

Fifty or more representatives of existing single family home, townhome and condominium developments neighboring the approximately 5.5-acre site for the proposed apartment development attended the meeting to hear specifics for the proposed development and provide input.

Also present was Eric Ranney, chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit C, which will eventually rule on a site plan amendment to allow the project to be built. Consideration of the project at the Oct. 2 meetings of both NPU-C, as well as neighboring NPU-A, was deferred until November. NPU-A does not have a binding vote on the project, but NPU-C does.

The Grayco development team came prepared to present every aspect of proposed development—site plan, architecture, hydrology of the site and surveys of traffic impact during the hour-and-a-half meeting, with experts on hand to answer any questions or concerns.

Attorney Pete Hendricks began the presentation for Gayco by explaining that the company is not seeking any zoning changes for the property, which has had zoning approval since 1990s for 300,000 square feet of office/commercial space and 300,000 square feet of residential development.

He said Grayco is simply seeking a site plan amendment because the company does not plan to build any office/commercial space and only plans residential development of 300,000 to 400,000 square feet.

Hendricks also pointed out that the original zoning allowed building heights up to nine stories and the proposed new residential development would only have building heights of four to five stories.

It was pointed out the development team had already been before NPU-C and NPU-A, as well as some neighborhood groups and had responded to comments by reducing the original plan for 350 apartment units to a present plan for 280 larger, luxury apartments and had changed the site plan to move the parking deck away from neighboring homes and adjacent to the parking deck of the Palisades office building next door.

That immediately brought comments from the audience that several of the neighboring communities, such as Huntington Park Townhomes, had not been informed of any of the developer’s plans. Among those most vocal in claiming they had purposely been kept in the dark about the proposed apartment complex that will abut their community where Annelly Deets, president of the Huntington Park homeowners association and her husband Dick Deets, who rallied many of the people to attend the meeting. .

Although Grayco Partners principal Jeff Gray said his company had not yet prepared elevation drawings for the buildings and site, he and other members of the development team were prepared to discuss all aspects of the proposed development and answer any and all questions from those attending the meeting.

The size of the units in the complex will average around 1,050 square feet, with a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, with a few three-bedroom units, according to the development team. Gray said the one-bedroom units will rent for $1.60 per square foot, with average renters paying around $1,600 per month. That would require an income level of about $80,000 per year the audience was told.

He said the number of units were decreased and the size of units increased after consulting with neighbors in the Howell Mill Plantation and West Paces Condominiums, who were concerned that the high number of small units would change the character of the neighborhood and open the door to inferior housing at other nearby tracts.

In answer to audience questions, the storm water and utility design expert on the team, Mike Twiner, explained that several adjustments would be made to the site to alleviate even present water runoff problems during heavy storms. One such measure will be a massive vault that will be built under the parking deck to hold storm water.

The developers even plan to take water from a pond on the neighboring Paces West property and put it into a new pond. Twiner said the plan is to not only control the amount of water detained and the flow out, but also the water quality.

But by far the hottest discussion of the evening revolved around the traffic study done by the Kimerly Horn consultants and projections of new traffic volumes and problems the development might cause, specifically along Howell Mill Road and at the intersection of Downwood Circle and Howell Mill Road.

Kimerly Horn did its traffic survey during the last week in August in order that school traffic in the area would be taken into account.

While reporting that the traffic counts anticipated by the new proposed development are much lower than the development approved for the site with the 1988 zoning the consultants did say there are intersection egress problems at Downwood Circle caused by a sharp curve on Howell Mill Road and traffic flow through the intersection of Howell Mill and Moores Mill roads.

It was pointed out, however, there have only been five accidents at the Downwood Circle intersection in the past four years.

The consultants said several options had been checked out for better controlling traffic problems through the area, such as an all-way stop or traffic signal at Downwood Circle and Howell Mill Road and even a round-about at the intersection of Howell Mill and Moores Mill roads.

The consultants seemed to feel the best option would be a traffic signal at Downwood Circle and Howell Mill, timed to allow more through traffic on Howell Mill throughout the day. Ranney said NPU-C would not approve a traffic signal at that intersection.

But most of the residents attending just felt the additional cars that would be generated by the apartment complex on Downwood Circle and Howell Mill Road would be overwhelming and would change the entire traffic in the neighborhood.

The apartment proposal now is scheduled to be on the agendas of both NPU-C and NPU-A the first Tuesday of November, Nov. 6, at which time there may be a vote to approve or deny the site plan amendment.