A controversial redevelopment plan for the Brookhaven Boys & Girls Club on North Druid Hills Road could be headed to court after the Zoning Board of Appeals denied variances developers say they need to build the project, which was already approved by the City Council.

The ZBA on April 18 voted to deny two variances requested by Ashton Woods seeking to reduce front yard setbacks along street frontages and between single-family detached lots despite recommendations to approve by the city’s Community Development Department. Two other variances were withdrawn and one variance, to delete the transitional buffer zone, was approved.

A rendering of the townhome and single-family development on the former Boys & Girls Club property as seen from Sylvan Circle. (Special)

The ZBA vote follows the City Council’s vote in December to rezone the 6 acres of the former Boys & Girls Club site from R-75 (single-family residential) to RM-100 (multi-family residential) to make way for the redevelopment.

“We’re looking at options, but more than likely we will appeal to DeKalb Superior Court,” said Carl Westmoreland, the attorney representing Ashton Woods. “The plan the City Council approved can’t be built.”

The project at 1330 North Druid Hills Road includes 54 townhomes, eight detached single-family lots and 10 “manor home” units.

Westmoreland said in an interview that the original site plan Ashton Woods submitted to the city had no variances. But after months of meetings and redrawing plans trying to gain support by residents, the final plan that was approved by the council to meet their requests needed several variances.

“We had a plan with no variances, but the neighbors did not like it,” Westmoreland said. “We pushed and pulled to try to get what everyone wanted.
“The irony of the whole thing is that we are being punished for being cooperative,” he said.

The original site plan submitted to the city in July included 74 townhomes before being modified after community meetings to 64 townhomes. Within the 64 units were a five-unit “manor house,” or condo building. The condo units would range in size from 900 to 1,400 square feet and cost approximately $300,000, to accommodate Mayor John Ernst’s request for more affordable housing.

The main entrance for the development was also moved off Sylvan Road to Briarwood Road with the fire access road located on Sylvan Road.

In October, however, the Planning Commission recommended denying approval of the project because of the density and concerns it did not fit in with the character area of the Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields neighborhoods.

After receiving a deferral from the council, the developer went back to the drawing board and came up with the final plan in December that did get approval — a development including 54 townhomes, eight detached single-family lots and 10 “manor home” units.

Westmoreland said a “quirk” of Brookhaven’s zoning process is that a developer must first get a rezoning request approved by the City Council, but the City Council cannot approve variances.

The site plan approved by the council in December included variances, Westmoreland said, but due the city’s current bifurcated zoning process — where the council can only approve rezonings and the ZBA can only approve variances — can result in such a zoning clash.

“It’s an odd system,” Westmoreland said. “And if we modified the plan, we would have to come back to the City Council because it would not be the plan they approved.”

The City Council vote in December was not a popular one with residents, with many from Brookhaven Heights and Brookhaven Fields packing City Hall to argue the development did not fit in with the character of the area that calls for protecting, preserving and maintaining single-family neighborhoods.

Several people also spoke out against the variances as well as emailed the Community Development Department and ZBA members to voice their opposition.

Erin Halka, president of the Brookhaven Fields Civic Association, stated in a Jan. 16 email to the ZBA that the organization opposed approving the variances.

“This property has already been given exceptional consideration by rezoning it from R-75 to RM-100 and the request for these variances is purely a financial desire to add more units to the property, not a hardship,” she stated.

Fred Leo put his thoughts more bluntly, also in a Jan. 16 email.

“If you approve [the variances] for a project that was already railroaded against huge opposition, most will conclude that there is no point to having zoning regulations at all,” he stated.

The Boys & Girls Club closed its Brookhaven site, where it had been located for 40 years, in December and relocated to a larger space in Chamblee.

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