The Brookhaven Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously May 17 to approve a buffer variance that will allow Atlanta-based Ardent Companies to tear down the Park Villa Apartment Homes near Buford Highway and build townhomes. But before the vote, a tearful Park Villa resident and mother spoke out against the new development, asking where were she and her daughter going to live after her home was demolished.

“I’m sorry you’re having to go through this,” ZBA member Hope Bawcom said before stepping down from the dais to embrace Ward.

“If the apartment is not fit to live in, why would I live there with my child?” Melinda Ward said, her voice cracking with emotion and visibly upset developers called the apartments “deplorable.”

“If they put me out, where am I going with my child?” Ward asked.

Ward said her daughter attended Woodward Elementary School and is now an eighth grader attending Sequoyah Middle School. They have lived in the apartment since she was in the third grade.

“These people are not trying to help us,” Ward said tearfully. “All the apartments that are being knocked down are filled with undocumented people … that’s why they don’t speak out, because they don’t know their rights.”

Bawcom said she visited the complex and saw children playing and that it was not lost on her that families were going to be displaced because of the new development.

“That said, property owners have rights and it’s not our place to judge” how the property is used, Bawcom said.

A Google Map showing the location of Park Villa Apartments.

The Park Villa Apartments are located on approximately six acres of property located at 2069 Coosawattee Drive. The complex is made up of 12 three-story buildings with 92 rental apartments. Coosawattee Drive is at the intersection of North Cliff Valley Way and just north of Buford Highway.

Attorney Dennis Webb, representing Ardent Companies, told the board during his presentation prior to public comment that the apartments are in “deplorable condition.”

“There is trash everywhere, there is no stormwater management, there are a number of units that are boarded up,” due to a fire, he said. “This is not a property that is in any reasonable state of repair.”

Webber said Ardent Companies has been working for several months on the plans with Brookhaven city staff, which recommended approval of the variance request. The variance request reduces the 50-foot transitional buffer to zero feet to remove asphalt to allow for a driveway from Pine Cone Lane.

The proposed new townhome development would have three-story units, each with a two-car garage. The units would range in size from 2,200 square feet to 2,800 square feet. The development would also have a pool.

Neville Allison, director of Ardent Companies, addressed the ZBA before public comment and said he is a longtime resident of Brookhaven and his company has two other development projects in the area. Ardent Companies has the Park Villa property under contract.

“These are similar projects — they were rundown Class C apartments … that were demolished and we are currently developing,” Allison said of the other developments on Coosawattee Drive. “We think this will be high quality and an attribute to Brookhaven.”

ZBA board member JD Clockadale expressed his disappointment to Allison how Ardent Companies handled the application process by not informing residents of the apartments what was taking place. Developers are only required to send letters to property owners of any kind of zoning applications. The current owner of the Park Villa property is a Connecticut company.

“In light of the sensitivity that people are getting displaced, I’m pretty disappointed you went straight business and did not acknowledge the people,” Clockadale said. “It’s a little bit heartless. I know you’re a resident of Brookhaven but I expect a lot more out of an applicant.”

ZBA Chair Jeb Beardsley said he shared Clockadale’s concerns. “Don’t forget your social responsibilities,” he said.

Brookhaven has an Affordable Housing Task Force that was created out of concern of apartment complexes being torn down and displacing families. Recommendations from the task force could be presented to the City Council next month.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.