The city of Brookhaven is set to annex about 27 acres near the intersection of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads to make way for redevelopment, despite DeKalb County attempts to intervene earlier this year.

Related Group, a Miami-based firm, applied last year to annex 6.74 acres at 2601 Briarcliff Road near the intersection of North Druid Hills Road into the city and to rezone the area to allow for the mixed-use development. Surrounding property owners, including a Target store and a QuickTrip gas station, also requested annexation into the city.

The area in yellow is set to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven. (City of Brookhaven)

DeKalb County opposed the annexation to a state arbitration panel, which does not have the power to stop the annexation but can rule on zoning changes. On Sept. 3, the panel ruled that the Related Group development could move forward with its rezoning request but the other properties cannot be rezoned for another year.

City officials considered the panel’s decision a win, but DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said it shows lack of recourse that counties have to stop annexations. Rader has criticized the city’s annexation policies for taking away money from the county’s tax base.

Rader said part of the reason Related Group wanted to be annexed into the city is because of the city’s willingness to give tax breaks. The city recently granted a tax break worth up to $13.5 million to another mixed-use development on Dresden Drive, which Rader heavily criticized for diverting funds from the county and school systems.

“Based upon my experiences, they were fishing for some tax abatements they didn’t receive from the county and must have gotten a better reception from the city,” said Rader, who said he discussed the prospect of the development with Related Group before the annexation request.

The potential development

The city Planning Commission recommended approval of the annexation and rezoning request on Oct. 7 with some conditions regarding improving the streetscape around the development. The City Council is set to vote on it Oct. 27, according to city spokesperson Burke Brennan.

Votes were originally scheduled in February, but the arbitration panel and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process.

“Now that this is behind us, we can all get down to progress,” Mayor John Ernst said in a written statement about the panel’s findings.

The arbitration panel, appointed by the state Department of Community Affairs Feb. 10, said that the Related Group’s property could use the city’s zoning rules instead of the county’s, which did not allow for the density levels proposed in the development.

The 6.74 acres at Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads is currently owned by Scarlett & Associates. It includes the 1-story Briarcliff Station center, where several restaurants are located, including Café Bombay, Lucky Thai and Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant.

The expansions of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University at the Executive Park I-85 and North Druid Hills Road interchange attracted the developer to the area.

According to documents filed with the city, the redevelopment would include a 6-story, 382-unit apartment building; a 7-story hotel with 140 rooms; 25,000 square feet of general office space; 10,000 square feet of restaurant space; 10,000 square feet of general retail space; a 7-story parking deck with 837 spaces; and a surface parking lot with 40 spaces.

DeKalb County’s regulations allow for 24 units per acre, which the developer said “seems like a lost opportunity to address an increased need for housing spurred by the development on the Emory and CHOA properties,” according to the application.

The surrounding properties that requested annexation include 2458, 2430, 2375, 2368, 2380, 2334, 2460 North Druid Hills Road and 2535 Briarcliff Road. Those properties must keep the county’s zoning guidelines for one year, according to the panel.

The entire annexation request is 27 acres and will eventually be redeveloped, according to a city press release.

The panel also recommended that the city notify nearby property owners in unincorporated DeKalb County about future annexation or zoning changes and notify the county and school district about proposed tax breaks.

Those recommendations are not binding and come after the city Development Authority approved a tax break with up to $13.5 million for another mixed-use development called Dresden Village under the codename “Project X,” which Rader said shows the city knew the tax break was controversial.

Annexation controversies

Rader has acted as a longstanding opponent of the city’s policies on tax breaks and annexations, which he considers an unnecessary drain on the county and school system.

The Related Group rezoning request says it plans to request a tax abatement from the city.

Rader said the developer and county were discussing redevelopment of the area, but because that area is in a tax allocation district, he did not want to grant a tax abatement. Tax allocation districts aim to spur redevelopment to revitalize areas using public dollars.

“We can’t do a tax abatement first because this is a locally serving project,” Rader said. “This is not Footloose. You’re serving the local market.”

Rader said city annexations also make it more difficult for the county to have land-use plans, and he hopes the city collaborates with the county on future plans for the area.

The city also annexed the LaVista Park neighborhood south of North Druid Hills Road in December 2019. That area included 601 single-family residences, two apartment complexes and eight commercial parcels across some 330 acres.

Part of the reason LaVista Park residents wanted to be annexed into the city is to have more input on the CHOA and Emory University campus developments at Executive Park, a development that was also an attraction for the current annexation request.

“Once the hospital gets up and running and Emory builds facilities there, it’s going to change infrastructure demand,” Rader said. “Whether or not Brookhaven can keep up with it is the open question.”

The city started the public input process in September to create a zoning and land-use plan to guide future development for the LaVista Park and Executive Park areas, nicknamed “Gateway South.”