Just what is Brookhaven?
Businesses clustered on Dresden Drive or Peachtree Road? A neighborhood of well-kept homes surrounding an exclusive golf club? Large subdivisions with active homeowners groups and busy PTAs?
Opinions vary widely on what constitutes this diverse community.
When residents conjure images of the center of Brookhaven, some see the Brookhaven MARTA station on Peachtree Road while others consider it Oglethorpe University, said Kerry Witt, president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, who admits his neighborhood is “a ways” from what many people would consider the center of things.
“That point changes every day,” Witt said.
Advocates of creating a city called Brookhaven have drawn borders around the area to be included in the new town, making an effort to define where Brookhaven is.
Under the proposal, which goes to the voters July 31, the city would be divided into four city council districts.
• District 1, the largest geographically, borders Dunwoody at Perimeter Mall to the north.
• District 2 borders Clairmont Road to the east and takes in new mixed-use developments on Dresden Drive and several established neighborhoods.
• District 3 runs from Peachtree Road to the city of Atlanta, including the Capital City Country Club and Oglethorpe University.
• District 4, on the southern end of the proposed city, borders I-85 and includes several residential areas and the Buford Highway business district.
Brookhaven would be the latest in a string of cities in metro Atlanta to incorporate. Witt, who supports the new city, recognizes that Brookhaven is different from other new cities.
“I’m not familiar with the Johns Creek area or the Peachtree Corners area, but I’m going to say we’re probably going to be a lot more eclectic than those two cities that just went in. We’ve been developed and redeveloped for 100 years now,” Witt said.
“There’s quite a bit of diversity in the size of lots, the size of houses and the size of businesses.”
To the east of Pine Hills, in the proposed District 4, lies the Buford Highway corridor, a scrappy commercial stretch revered by food lovers for its numerous ethnic restaurants. While many will make a special trip for authentic Mexican tacos or Vietnamese pho, the road is also well-worn by DeKalb County police officers due to its high crime rate. The level of police services has been a major concern of some during the course of the cityhood debate.
The third district is arguably the proposed city’s most genteel. Straddling the border of DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta is the prestigious Capital City Club. Surrounding the country club is the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood.
The shady streets are a popular place for joggers, and the neighborhood’s elegant homes have been used as a backdrop for several movies filmed in metro Atlanta.
Also nearby is Oglethorpe University, a small liberal arts college established in 1835. The school’s picturesque stone towers give it the appearance of a castle backing up to Peachtree Road.
“We’re a long-standing pillar of the Brookhaven neighborhood,” said J. Todd Bennett, executive director of university communications. “We see ourselves as a vital part of the community and the community is a vital part of us. Though our campus is surrounded by stone walls, we welcome the community in.”
Oglethorpe is the home of the Georgia Shakespeare Company, an art museum, and hosts special events such as the recent celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee.
Oglethorpe has also found itself at the center of the Brookhaven cityhood debate. Though university President Larry Schall has said he’s opposed to creating a city of Brookhaven, Bennett said the university has not officially declared a position on cityhood.
“We have been a gathering place for people on both sides of the issue, which is one reason it’s important for us to maintain an air of neutrality,” he said. “We’re open to everyone.”
Bennett said Oglethorpe has watched the Brookhaven community grow and change over the past few years as new developments, such as Town Brookhaven on Peachtree Road and Village Place on Dresden Drive, have taken root.
The mixed use developments have attracted several independent restaurants and shops. Wide sidewalks allow people to meander and window shop.
“It’s great that we’re in Atlanta. We have strong ties to Atlanta. But it’s great to have that community feel, with local shopping and local restaurants for our students to enjoy,” Bennett said. “It’s really been a boost to campus life and something that I really think attracts students from outside the area.”
Much of that business growth is in the proposed second district, in the center of the potential city.
Aside from trendy restaurants and shops, there are also some very well established neighborhoods, such as Ashford Park.
Lynwood Park, historically an African American neighborhood, has changed somewhat as Brookhaven’s popularity has risen over the past few years.
New residents have moved in and torn down older homes in favor of building larger ones, meaning big “in-fill” homes now stand next to more modest ones.
Darreius Moore, pastor of China Grove Missionary First Baptist Church, said his Lynwood Park church is more than 90 years old.
“There’s been a recent migration where some have moved out of the area, but there’re generations and generations of people who have lived in that area,” he said. “We have a long standing history of residents who live in that area.”
Moore views his community as part of the heart of Brookhaven.
“Even in the business sector, from other races and nationalities, we have a melting pot,” Moore said. “Some of us all have common values we look at and common goals.”
Though he takes pride in the unique character of Brookhaven, Moore said he and most members of his congregation are staunchly opposed to creating a new city in the area.
He worries that a new government will lead to more taxes.
“I know the people in my congregation would suffer,” Moore said. “Why would there be a need to have new services if what you have is sufficient for the needs of the community and the people?
“My members would really be hit hard with any more taxation and having another level of government like that.”
The cityhood movement has strong support among residents in the northern portion of the proposed borders.
Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-DeKalb, who authored the bill allowing for the creation of the city of Brookhaven lives in the northern area.
The largely residential area is also home to one of DeKalb County’s largest parks, Murphey Candler Park. More than 1,000 children play baseball, softball and football at the recreational complex.
Gary Viersen, executive vice president of the board for Murphey Candler Baseball, said the Little League program at the park ranks as the 31st largest in the world.
“Murphey Candler has been around for over 50 years,” Viersen said. “It’s been kind of an institution.”
Boys aged 5 to 12 sign up each year for a spot on a T-ball or baseball team at Murphey Candler. Most come from the Brookhaven community, but others from the surrounding areas of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Buckhead are also attracted to Murphey Candler Little League, Viersen said.
“You play with the same kids generally in the same age group and you get to know a lot of folks,” he said.
Viersen said he thinks Little League is an important part of growing up.
“We really stress the aspect of being on a team and playing together. You learn a lot of life lessons on the field about living and losing, and doing your best and playing hard,” he said.
And for parents, coming to Murphey Candler for baseball games gives them a chance to spend time with other families from the area.
“That’s what we really focus on,” Viersen said. “It’s a community.”