A wildly ambitious, $400 million retail, residential and office development proposal by Sembler Co. for a 50-acre site in Brookhaven will likely need to undergo significant change in order to earn zoning approval, says DeKalb County Commissioner Kathie Gannon.
"Sembler's just getting started at the beginning of the process, as far as we're concerned," Gannon says of the rezoning bid by the prolific St. Petersburg, Fla.-based developer.
"They are just trying to take a cookie-cutter version of their Perimeter plan and plop it down here," says Gannon, referring to Sembler's 42-acre Perimeter Place, which opened earlier this year in Dunwoody. The company, however, wants to make its proposed Brookhaven Place even larger. Located on the north side of Peachtree Road a mile northwest of Lenox Square, it would be a mixed-used mega-complex, with 600,000 square feet of retail space, 1,700 apartments and condos, and a 150,000-square-foot office building. The project would easily be the biggest of many the company has developed in Atlanta over the past couple of decades, including last year's mammoth Edgewood Retail District.
But the proposed scale of the development isn't the only sticking point. Even before it reached the county, the project had come under fire from local neighborhood groups because it would replace the 524-unit Peachtree Gardens Apartments, the largest remaining bloc of affordable housing in tony Brookhaven.
Although the county can't require Sembler to help relocate the more than 3,000 apartment-dwellers, some of whom have lived there more than 40 years, the company has been trying to work out a deal to appease the Brookhaven Homeowners and Neighborhood Business Alliance.
"It's become a public relations issue for Sembler," says Alliance president Kevin Hughley. According to Hughley, the developer offered to pay residents $500 and find them new housing in the suburbs. Instead, he says, his group wants Sembler to provide $5,000 per resident and find them homes in Brookhaven. He isn't hopeful that, when the two sides meet next to discuss a new offer by Sembler, a middle ground will be reached.
But even if the relocation issue is settled, that doesn't mean neighbors will support a proposed project whose size far exceeds the recommendations in a study commissioned by the Atlanta Regional Commission just last year.
"Sembler didn't do their homework," Hughley says. "They thought they could just announce a $400 million project, and that would be the end of it."
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