John Schaffner

Dist. 2 DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader is excited, yet appears outwardly calm and methodical, as he talks about his vision for ways to redevelop the area on both sides of I-85 around North Druid Hills Road.

He understands that the land is far too valuable not to be redeveloped in the future with much higher density than exists today.

The single-story buildings of the Executive Park and Children’s Healthcare office parks on the south side of I-85 and the large expanses of surface parking lots in Corporate Square on the north of I-85 do not represent a logical economic future for that area bordering the south side of Brookhaven.

The two orange-colored blocks in graphic above represent the Corporate Square Business Park. The black line represents a possible parkway along a Peachtree Creek green belt. The purple block below I-85 is the former BellSouth training center site.

But Rader wants to influence what will replace those elements of the landscape. He wants reasonable visions well articulated in a well-thought-out comprehensive development plan for the area so that development projects when they come along will respond to the plan and be compatible with surrounding areas and the lifestyles of people who live and work there.

And, Rader wants to create more connectivity—between the development areas now divided by the wide barrier of I-85, between Buford Highway and the commercial and residential areas to its north and south, and between neighborhoods and the people who live, shop and work there.

On a recent Monday morning, I rode with Rader and our Managing Editor Joe Earle, who is a resident of DeKalb in Decatur, through the commercial areas just south and north of I-85 and the residential areas north of Buford Highway as Rader pointed out “areas of opportunity” for not only new, but improved potential redevelopment.

We drove off North Druid Hills Road on Tullie Road, passed the now vacant former BellSouth training center facility, an almost 20-story office tower that stands out by itself beside I-85. That stretch along I-85 and Tullie Road between North Druid Hills and Tullie Circle is prime for higher density development, Rader said. So is the adjoining Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta office park on Tullie Circle, which I didn’t know existed until that drive.

We passed under I-85 on the only connection between the north and south commercial areas between North Druid Hills and Clairmont roads, which Rader suggested existed as a cut-through because a tributary of Peachtree Creek is boxed in there. He was quick to point out there was a great need for more of those connections in that area.

Once on the north side of I-85, we entered Corporate Square Business Park, a sprawling area of a few two- to six-story office buildings surrounded by acres of blacktop surface parking lots. Only one road, Corporate Boulevard, connects the I-85 access road to Buford Highway. Otherwise, it is a drive through parking lots.

We discussed a vision for redeveloping this area of Corporate Square that included creating a lateral public access green space along both sides of Peachtree Creek as it flows through the business park and creating a boulevard connection that would run parallel to the green space on the south side and would connect the cut-through under I-85 to Corporate Boulevard and then to Buford Highway.

We talked of bike and walking trails and picnic areas that could become part of the green space experience.

Then our attention turned to the massive surface parking lots and the under-utilization and inefficient use of this very valuable real estate with a great location for much higher density development—offices, maybe a hotel and possibly even high-rise condominiums or apartment buildings, if the area became more attractive to people with active lifestyles. Put the cars in more efficient parking decks, rather than on surface parking lots.

Later on in the drive, we passed through Northeast Plaza shopping center on Buford Highway at Briarwood—a typical old-style suburban shopping center with stores ringing a massive parking lot. We envisioned how it, too, could be made so much more viable by turning the parking lot into productive development and putting the cars in a parking deck.

The ride was short, but long on visions for the future. These are the types of visions Rader wants the county’s planning staff to consider as they work on a comprehensive development plan for the area.

It is nice to know people of vision, who may be in a position to affect change.