A developer’s plan to replace an 80-year-old townhome project in Buckhead’s Garden Hills with a luxurious new version is moving ahead after a court battle ended in an unusual and expensive deal to preserve a single unit for an owner who refused to sell. Even more unusual was a last-minute purchase of that unit by the adjacent Atlanta International School — which once sought to buy the entire townhome complex — for plans that no one involved would explain.

The site everyone is so interested in is the 22-unit Delmont Townhomes at Delmont and Sheridan drives, across the street from AIS and Garden Hills Elementary School. Buckhead-based Silver Creek Redevelopment and Hedgewood Homes, the owner and developer, aim to demolish the complex and replace it with 37 new townhomes. 

Part of the Delmont Townhomes complex on Delmont Drive, with Nellyn Van Os’s garden in the foreground and large trees in the rear. (John Ruch)

At the center of the controversy is Nellyn Van Os, a retired schoolteacher who has lived at 67 Delmont for 35 years. She says she refused the developer’s offers because the plan would destroy solid homes, trees, wildlife, and an affordable and diverse community. “I’ve lived here since 1985 and planned to age in place here because not only [do] I love my home, but it’s a wonderful community and it’s convenient. I mean, it’s a perfect place,” she said.

Yet Van Os now plans to move anyway after selling to AIS, who is now her landlord. Van Os said she agreed to sell to the school because it has a plan for the property that she likes. She said AIS asked her not to talk about the plan, but that it “would retain some of the dwellings as well as not destroy the neighborhood… It’s a long-term plan. Their plan is healthier for this community.”

AIS did not respond to questions about the sale and the property. Hedgewood Homes co-owner Don Donnelly and Laurel David, an attorney representing Hedgewood and Silver Creek, declined to comment while a rezoning application for the property is pending. The request for a higher-density zoning designation reportedly was discussed at a late March meeting of the Garden Hills Civic Association, which did not respond to questions.

A row of large trees lines a driveway in the complex’s interior lawn. (John Ruch)

The brick-faced Delmont Townhomes are arranged in a U shape with a central yard. The complex was built around 1940 as the Delmont Sheridan Apartments, according to John Beach of the Buckhead Heritage Society, and sometime later converted to condos. The complex’s architect was Burge and Stevens, a firm that designed some prominent Buckhead buildings. But, Beach said, “this doesn’t appear to be a significant work by them” and it is not listed as contributing to the Garden Hills Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. 

A recent tour of the complex with Van Os showed that the interiors retain many of the original, Colonial-style fittings. The central yard and other common areas are studded with many large trees, a few of them appearing to be well over a century old. The units have front yards and rear patios, and most have rear additions that were customized to suit the owners; Van Os’s includes a fireplace. She is also unique in having turned her front yard into a fenced garden.

The developer’s plan would demolish the complex and replace it with townhomes in the style of Hedgewood, whose website calls it a “boutique homebuilder” that also offers “bespoke fittings” and short-term monthly rentals of high-end homes. The plan calls for 37 units on the 2.5-acre site, most with two- to four-car garages. The new complex would have a central pool and a bathhouse with a rooftop terrace. “With a coveted location in the heart of Buckhead, Delmont homeowners will live within walking distance to Atlanta’s renowned shopping district and restaurants as well as offices, parks, schools and historic churches,” says the website.

Hedgewood Homes’ site plan for the redevelopment of the Delmont townhomes site, as shown on its website.

Around 2016, Silver Creek began buying out individual townhome owners and now owns 21 of the 22 units. But Van Os said no. In July 2018, Silver Creek took her to Fulton County Superior Court, seeking an order forcing her to sell or for a court-ordered partition of the property. The complaint said the facts of the case “are definitely peculiar in nature” and created “the need for flexibility and creativity” to address the ownership interests.

According to court records, Silver Creek says it made several offers to Van Os, all of which she refused: a $650,000 purchase of her unit; a free new townhome in the new development; a purchase of a new home for up to $650,000 plus $144,000 to offset any increase in property taxes; or to physically separate her townhome from the others and provide her with a garden area. 

AIS appeared on the scene around June 2018, Silver Creek said in court filings, and offered to buy the entire townhome complex. The negotiations “ultimately broke down,” the company said in the filings.

The case was headed to a bench trial scheduled for Sept. 28, 2020. Ten days before the trial, the court records say, Van Os announced that AIS had bought her townhome and her 1/22 interest in the complex’s common property. Silver Creek said in the documents that the sale terms were unknown to it, but believed to include “AIS’ promise to employ Van Os and provide Van Os amenities and benefits at the school, including a gym membership.”

The townhome at 67 Delmont once owned by Nellyn Van Os and now by Atlanta International School. The townhome is now a separate property and Silver Creek Redevelopment will preserve the other unit in the building to spare both from demolition. (John Ruch)

The legal complaint was changed to replace Van Os with AIS as defendant. The matter was closed about two months later with a deal to partition the property and save Van Os’s unit. 

The final court order issued in December 2020 granted the partition of the property to separate Van Os’s unit at 67 Delmont. But to preserve that building, Silver Creek also is required to preserve the unit it owns at 69 Delmont because they are in the same building. That townhome “shall remain fully intact,” the order says. Silver Creek also agreed to pay for a wide variety of improvements to 67 Delmont that all appear related to Van Os’s continued tenancy and give no hint of AIS’s plans. 

The requirements include major structural improvements, such as reinforcing the walls, replacing the roof and building an internal firewall; shifting a driveway and removing a 40-foot-tall pine tree; designating two parking spaces; planting evergreens as screeners; building a new garden shed; and rerouting utility lines so they remain accessible to the property. 

Silver Creek also agreed to pay for Van Os to move temporarily during repairs, demolition and construction. The order also grants AIS the right to join the new development’s property owners association if it chooses.

With that order in place, the developer filed a rezoning application on Jan. 7.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.