Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s request to have 11.4 acres of unincorporated DeKalb County property annexed into the city of Brookhaven for a new office building has area residents concerned about the traffic congestion at the busy I-85 and North Druid Hills interchange that has burdened the area for years.
More than 50 people living near the proposed annexation site attended an April 20 community meeting with CHOA representatives at the CHOA office park on Tullie Circle to learn more about the requested annexation along the Northeast Expressway.
CHOA attorney Woody Galloway said the hospital “wants to be part of the solution” of the notorious traffic congestion that bleeds from the interstate and North Druid Hills Road into residential neighborhoods.
With Emory University purchasing 60 acres of Executive Park located across the street, Galloway said the two health care giants bring serious clout that could drive the improvements needed.
“We hope to be a catalyst for change,” he said.
Many residents living in the area were not optimistic. More densely-occupied development in an already busy area, they said, will only lead to more traffic. A few residents questioned CHOA’s decision to reveal incrementally its plans for the 45-acre site dubbed the North Druid Hills Campus, rather than making public its overall master plan. They also questioned why there was still no master plan.
“Isn’t it naive to expect that we should accept this incremental change?” one resident asked as several people audibly agreed.
Galloway insisted a master plan is still being developed and would include comments and information gathered at public meetings like the one on April 20. He indicated the master plan could be finished at the end of the summer or this fall.
“Children’s has to plan decades ahead to provide care for patients from across Georgia and the metro area, but does not generally comment on potential real estate acquisitions,” said Brian Brodrick of Jackson Spalding, a public relations and marketing firm representing CHOA, when asked if CHOA has future plans to annex more property in the area.
After the master plan is complete and CHOA starts the application process with Brookhaven, a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) will be triggered, Galloway said. A DRI involves a traffic impact and mitigation study through the Atlanta Regional Commission.
In November 2015, when the Brookhaven City Council approved a special land use permit for CHOA to build its 8-story Center for Advanced Pediatrics, Galloway also said a master plan was coming. He sidestepped arguments at that time by some residents that CHOA was doing piecemeal zoning to avoid the DRI.
What CHOA is sharing publicly so far is that it wants to annex the 11.4 acres of property so it can build an 8-story office tower and a 7-story parking deck. This office building would house employees now working out of one-story buildings in its office park on Tullie Road and Tullie Circle.
Plans would then be to raze the office park buildings and build a $1.3 billion hospital on that land to replace CHOA’s Egleston Hospital on Clifton Road near Emory University. A hospital takes 8 years to build, CHOA officials said.
“We’re landlocked at Egleston,” CHOA Chief Public Policy Officer David Tatum said, noting that area’s traffic is much worse than at I-85 and North Druid Hills. After the meeting Tatum added, “We have to do something and we can’t do it at Egleston.”
The 8-story Center for Advanced Pediatrics facility is under construction now and is slated to be completed next year. The Center for Advanced Pediatrics will house 457 physicians and employees and anticipates managing more than 100,000 patient visits in the first year.
The new hospital and office building are necessary for CHOA to continue to provide medical care to sick children, Galloway and Tatum said.
One fix CHOA is proposing to alleviate traffic is to add four lanes under the interstate overpass leading into the proposed new development south of Cliff Valley Way. CHOA representatives said the plan is receiving support from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
There now are only U-turns allowed under the bridge. A bike/pedestrian path leading to the Peachtree Creek Greenway would also be included and as part of the master plan, Galloway said, the area would become a more park-like setting.
CHOA also recently purchased Executive Park apartments on Briarcliff Road because the land became available and that property is also part of the master plan, Galloway said. The apartments have tenants who will soon move out and then the buildings will be demolished and replaced with an empty lot. The area could possibly be used as an access to the hospital campus, Galloway said, drawing groans from some people in attendance.
Funding for the traffic improvements is also being discussed by CHOA officials. Galloway said CHOA is looking at potentially resurrecting a tax allocation district, or TAD, for the area. A decade ago, DeKalb County formed a TAD in the area, and about $200,000 raised then remains in the bank, Galloway said. A TAD raises funds from rising property tax assessments.
CHOA also is considering trying to form a community improvement district, in which commercial landowners agree to tax themselves for improvements, Galloway said. Funding the improvements has been a concern for many residents because CHOA and Emory are nonprofit hospitals, so they do not pay property taxes.
But Galloway said CHOA would contribute to the TAD or CID. “Big dollar funds come from local jurisdictions … which [in this instance] is Brookhaven,” Galloway added.
Brodrick said in an email that CHOA is working with Brookhaven, GDOT and local governments to address road improvements and plans to undertake a DRI to “provide clarity on transportation improvements.”
“[A]s a not-for-profit we do not pay property taxes, but our employees and patients do have a tremendous economic impact on the area,” Brodrick added. “We are committed to working closely with Brookhaven and other agencies to mitigate any impact our project may have, but the specifics of how to fund transportation improvements — which will benefit not just Children’s, but local residents, businesses, and others in the area for many years — have yet to be determined.”
Tatum said a hospital development will bring other developments to the area, including hotels and restaurants. Property values will also likely go up, he said.
Another resident asked why CHOA wanted the 11.4 acres annexed into Brookhaven rather than leaving it in unincorporated DeKalb. Many of the residents attending the meeting live outside the city limits. Brookhaven has no accountability to the DeKalb residents directly impacted by CHOA’s developments, the man said.
Galloway said a business decision was made years ago to have CHOA be located inside the city limits and have its offices and hospitals in one jurisdiction.
If CHOA can get the 11.4 acres annexed, plans are to start construction on the new office building by the end of this year. The parking deck would begin going up in 2018. City Council is slated to take up the annexation proposal in June.