Brookhaven’s booming new medical area has a new name — Briar Hills Innovation District — and is joining newly annexed LaVista Park under the protection of development standards intended to preserve their unique characters.

On Jan. 26, the City Council adopted the “Gateway South” character area study for both areas. The Innovation District, at North Druid Hills Road and I-85, includes Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s hospital center and Emory Healthcare’s massive mixed-use redevelopment of Executive Park.

A map of the city’s new Briar Hills Innovation District and LaVista Park character areas.

The neighborhood of LaVista Park, just to the south, requested annexation into Brookhaven in late 2019, mainly in response to the Children’s Healthcare and Emory developments and expansions. The community was annexed in December of that same year, adding around 601 single-family residences to the city.

The Gateway South project team asked community members to help name the two areas. The community supported keeping the name LaVista Park. “Briar Hills Innovation District” was put for as an option and ultimately decided on after online discussion showed disagreement around using the words “healthcare” or “medical” in the name.

Public engagement meetings were held, starting last summer, to get a sense of what residents’ needs were and what sort of development they were looking for in the community.

Allison Stewart-Harris, community planning manager for the civil engineering company VHB, presented the council with the character area study, which featured development recommendations and proposed visions.

The analysis recommended LaVista Park maintain its residential, community feel, consisting mainly of single-family homes and parks with some commercial buildings in transitional areas only.

“People love the trees, the quietness, the nature, the greenery, the convenience,” she said. “Wanting to protect that character seemed like the top priority.”

The study included implementation strategies for the city to help maintain LaVista Park’s residential vision. These included ensuring proper zoning protections are in place, such as buffers to non-residential uses, light reduction and sensitive noise controls. Other strategies included considering creative solutions to reduce cut-through traffic, making sure the area has plenty of trees, and making the area bike-friendly.

The study also suggested the city work closely with the LaVista Park Civic Association and Brookhaven Police Department to mitigate safety concerns.

For Briar Hills Innovation District, the main concerns stemmed from traffic congestion and finding a sense of community, Stewart-Harris said. The analysis recommended a mixed-use destination for working and living that could serve as a welcoming southern entrypoint into the city.

“There’s excitement about the development happening there, but concerns about congestion,” Stewart-Harris said. “There were a couple of folks who were very adamant about [saying], ‘This is all great, but we really need an identity. We need a sense of place here.’”

The study included implementation strategies, such as removing the area from the Buford Highway Overlay and adding a new overlay more in line with the area’s desired character. Other strategies included talking with Children’s Healthcare and Emory regarding development plans, improving pedestrian walkways that connect to neighboring areas, encouraging workforce housing in the new development, and integrating public art into the design.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia, whose District 4 includes LaVista Park, thanked the Gateway South team for their work and stressed the importance of character area analysis in protecting neighborhoods from unwanted development.

“We originally established the whole concept of the neighborhood character area analysis to send a clear message to developers about what they could do when they wanted to come in and do development,” Gebbia said. “I applaud you for this effort. Good work.”

Neither of the new areas includes the most recently annexed part of the city, a group of Briarcliff Road commercial properties just across the street from the Innovation District.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.