English Avenue residents concerned about proposed Brock development

By Maria Saporta

For more than two years, residents of the Westside hashed out a land-use vision for their community with nationally-renowned planners.

Their vision – the Westside Land Use Framework Plan – was adopted by the Atlanta City Council in December giving residents and neighborhood advocates some comfort that their community was going to be developed in a way that would enhance the area yet not overwhelm it.

Brock

Adam Brock and Wesley Defoor talking about their plans for the Echo Street Project as Rev. Howard Beckham (standing) and James Arpad (sitting) listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Now Brock Built Homes is proposing to build one of the first major projects on the Westside – Echo Street Communities – at the intersection of Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway NW and Northside Drive.

The project is envisioned to include 135,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, 302,000 square feet of office space, a 120-room hotel, 40 townhouses and 650 multifamily residences. That totals about 1.3 million square feet of space – nearly double what was envisioned in the land use plan.

Community residents of English Avenue expressed concern about the Echo Street Project at a well-attended meeting with developers and planners on May 24 at the Gathering Spot.

Concerns ranged from the project’s density, its lack of affordability – both residential and commercial and the speed of which the developers are seeking to rezone the property – before it has gone through the Neighborhood Planning Unit process.

“The land-use framework plan for English Avenue process involved a lot of neighborhood associations,” said Jesse Wiles, CEO of APD Urban Planning and Management who helped coordinate the planning effort. “It recommended that this site be developed as a medium density site except for the part along Northside Drive. This plan is inconsistent with those recommendations. It’s much higher density than what was recommended.”

Adam Brock of Brock Built Homes defended the plan’s higher density.

Echo Street

A conceptual drawing of the Echo Street project (Special: Brock Built Homes)

“Master planning evolves in time,” Brock said. “Market conditions change. I realize this plan was only approved in December. Markets have changed dramatically. I don’t want to undersell a catalyst corner.”

Mother Mamie Moore, a longtime English Avenue, was not convinced – asking why they didn’t propose a development that was in keeping with the approved land-use plan. She also was concerned about whether the developers would go before NPU-L to get neighborhood input or rush to get it rezoned without the NPU being able to vote on the project.

Because of the magnitude of the project, it is considered a Development of Regional Impact, so it has to be approved by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

A great deal of the discussion centered on the affordability – or lack thereof – of the project, which is on a 17-acre site.

“Even your affordable housing units are not affordable for me, and I work every day,” said one woman resident.  “At this point, we will be voting ourselves out of a place to live.”

Brock said the developers would follow the city’s guidelines for affordable housing, which is 15 percent at 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI) or 20 percent at 80 percent AMI.

Echo Street

An aerial view of the proposed Echo Street Project (Special: Brock Built Homes)

The market rate would be $1,800 a month rent for a two-bedroom. At 60 percent AMI that would be $1,080; and at 80 percent, that would $1,440 a month.

The disconnect is that most of the residents of English Avenue fall between 30 percent to 40 percent AMI ($540 or $720 respectively).

“I didn’t come up with those standards,” Brock said. “You need market-rate housing to create stability. The truth is that I can’t get it to a 40 percent AMI. It’s not economically possible to build a new single-family home at that level. I’m not willing to do that.”

Another resident asked whether there would be any affordable spaces for community-oriented retail and office. The developers said they would like to develop it to be similar to the retail in Krog Street, and the resident replied that Krog Street rents would not be affordable for community residents.

Wesley Defoor of Defoor Ventures, who is a partner with Brock on the development, said they are working with residents to develop a Community Benefits Agreement, and he said they might be willing to consider hiring minority subcontractors for the project as long as they were qualified.

Several residents expressed other concerns. James Arpad, who serves on the land-use committee of English Avenue, questioned whether the streets could handle the increased density. Resident Stephen Causby of English Avenue also was concerned about traffic and whether the project included any green space or parks.

Another concern among residents is that if the city approves this project – far denser than what was envisioned in the land-use plan, it will make it much harder to get developers to adhere to the plan in the future.

Brock

Another view of proposed Echo Street development (Special: Brock Built Homes)

It was Rev. Winston Taylor, who was wearing a St. Mark’s shirt, who was most passionate about urging the developers to follow the approved land-use plan.

“Most of the communities that are successful around Atlanta try to follow their development plan,” Taylor said. “A lot of time went into the development plan.”

Later, Taylor again questioned the high density and lack of affordability in the proposed development.

“You are coming to the community asking for an increase (in density), and you are giving us gentrification,” Taylor said. “What is English Avenue getting out of the increase?”

Echo Street Brock

Rev. Winston Taylor question the Echo Street developers about why they didn’t adhere to the land-use plan (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

13 replies
  1. Haye says:

    Any development in that area is a plus, especially if it’s going to bring in more tax dollars for an area that should be thriving due its proximity to the city. New development will also help remove the heroin junkies that panhandle on that corner everyday.

    The truth of the matter is that people are afraid of change, particularly legacy renters. They get stuck in their bubble, accept things for what they are, and get frustrated or mad once change comes, which might make their life a little more difficult, i.e rent prices increasing, illicit mom and pop stores closing, etc. most don’t understand AMI, and many think that affordable housing is the same as low income housing. There are 2 distinct differences.Report

    Reply
    • Carter says:

      Honestly, the majority if not all the people in attendance are home owners and property owners. They are very much in support of the development. Their upmost concern is making sure that the development is done in a fair and equitable way that respects the current longstanding and contributing businesses and home owners that have kept this neighborhood a float and attractive to business that now want to move in. One way of doing this is sticking as close to possible to the aforementioned Framework Plan that the community approved and the city adopted. Their second concern is more about the dramatic increase in property taxes that this development would place on the surrounding area. Both are concerns educated citizens would have when development comes to an area.Report

      Reply
  2. Alma says:

    This is sad that our poor Leadership just to make a dollar for his self will continue going behind residents back with false input and approve these sites. Its shameful that the ones low Income vote in will quickly turn their backs. But I wouldn’t put nothing pass our Lead when he flew to England and sold Property, nothing pass the Boards. When they continue spending Community money paying rent for a Church you can not use 1,200-1,500 monthly building a Project that suppose to be for Elderly which the AMI is high. These people are having meetings behind the Community’s back and still they lie and say they helped someone. How is this going to make the Mercedes-Benz Stadium when it get out that everyone think its because of them that they became Homeless. You have Vine City Civic Board and NPU-L that received all this money put in false paperwork and still they have Nevers to say you dont qualify we have our great City Council that care less cause he brought Property out of the Community’s but said he could not afford his water bill are mortgage last year. How can he afford property???? You have the lead of VCCA Board that failed and miss used money the first time now after some years he get awarded 15 million for an apartment building that he calm said for Elderly which they want be able to afford. You have the Board that spending habits are out of control they have 2 events and the rest go towards their bills. Look at NPU-L most of the Board members got houses for a dollar and now trying to get money to fix them up Community money. Not a dime from West side future fund ,Invest Atlanta helped nobody. Families have became Homeless cause of greed from the Leads in these Community’s then they lie like they have no ideal what’s going on. If they investegate these Boards and our Councils they will find all evidence that will point towards the right people fraud ,false paperwork, conflict of interest, corruption this is sad that people are suffering cause of greed. And the big surprise is they sit on all the Boards Westside Future Fund, Invest Atlanta these people lied and all need to be held accountable. How can they let these crooks blackball anybody when their the ones taking???? This is sad when we have Youths living on the streets children going to School.homeless and we have one lady running in the neighborhood lieing and the first thing they say is Where their at?? When will we get our investergation going which was asked ???? When will these people see???/ If nobody open their mouth nobody will know wake up people and join the movement let the ones know that the money they invested for housing their using it for Projects every meeting they set Low Income Housing back another 3-5years. And now their wondering about crime greed brought it back. The only time our Council come out to meetings is to pass projects sad. Shame on y’all getting paid to hurt people shame y’all but God sit high and look low. When will people get out stop being scared and speak up and loud from the house to the streets. Wake Up these people spending habits are out of control new cars and houses to make people homeless. A trail for Education ,a Park for a Roof . And still they named the new Park out of a slave driver name our Leader said he is going to get status with our great Leader Dr.Martin Luther King shaking a slave driver hand. How would people feel about that??? When the only ones that was happy with the Park was business owners false surveys again miss lead the Community’s. Shame on them.
    These same Board members being on the Board for over 10 years all the money came in these Community’s being miss used and mostly used on their selves brought homes ,helped family and friends this is sad. Look at these Community’s will all the millions came through here and they look like this . And still they use the same people help sell out when nobody attend their meetings they go and take pictures somewhere like it was theirs sad. Then in order for them to stay on the Boards when their term is up they change the by- laws shame on them wanting to continue living off Community’s money while they sit and wait for their next pay day people are being Homeless shame on them.Report

    Reply
  3. Jackye Mumphrey, The Real Estate Maven says:

    Lots of good points being made in these posts.. I pray that all works out well for EVERYONE involved. Not everything should be about money when it comes to building a sense of community. it’s great that money is pouring into these communities but at the same time, the old guard who put up with the blight for years should not be pushed out either.Report

    Reply
  4. Tony Chen says:

    Are the numbers for the inclusionary zoning law accurate? I’ve read that it’s 15% new housing at 80% AMI or 10% at 60%. Are the numbers in the article a special promise from Brock Built or is that the current law?Report

    Reply
    • Chris Johnston says:

      Like everything with the City, the numbers are flexible, depending on who you are and how much you give. Just like Slick Willie’s famous excuse, “It just depends on what “is” is.”Report

      Reply
  5. Elizabeth Melissa Thompson says:

    Any development in that area is a plus, especially if it’s going to bring in more tax dollars for an area that should be thriving due its proximity to the city. New development will also help remove the heroin junkies that panhandle on that corner everyday.

    The truth of the matter is that people are afraid of change, particularly legacy renters. We cannot grow if we refuse to accept change. This development can bring life to a dying community. All we have to do is tell them what WE want and demand that we get it. It is potentially a win, win situation for everyone!Report

    Reply
  6. Patricia Campbell says:

    @Elizabeth Melissa Thompson, I find your comments very offensive. As the daughter of a woman who lived her entire life in this area, and I now live in her house, it is not the legacy renters who are protesting, though they should be. Sadly enough, most don’t even understand what is about to happen to them, but as the daughter of a longtime renter turned HOMEOWNER in the area, I stand to for those who don’t know they need to stand or who are so tired from working their hard labor, low paying jobs (which I also am among the low paying) that they don’t have the energy to come to the meetings. That is the problem for all of our lives, people like you have always “demanded” and “get (got) it”. You and yours have always done that and it has always worked, I pray to God that it does not work this time. I pray that Mayor Bottoms truly understand what is happening and, as she has said, will stand for those of us who have no money, therefore no voice to stand for ourselves.

    Though this project is being built on a site that has very few homes, it is still apart of the English Avenue. If these developers are allowed to just come into the neighborhood and build without thought to the neighborhood that it is apart of, it will set the tone for future developers. We spent years working with professional planners and developers (funded in part by the Blank Foundation) to determine what we wanted this area to look like in the future, what affordable housing looked like, what green space looked like and how it benefited the neighborhood, so that people like you would not just come in and “demand what they wanted and get it”. We know we can’t stop change and we don’t want to stop change because we are tired of the dilapidated buildings and overgrown lots and drugs as well, but what we do want are developers who care and respect us as residents enough to work with the neighborhood and honor or at least try to honor our previous plans and desires for our neighborhood. One is very basic, that we have people from the neighborhood actually be able to afford to continue to live in a couple of the units they are building.

    Ms. Thompson, how would you like it if a developer came into your neighborhood and just started building without acknowledging that you even live there and that you just may have some ideas? Don’t think you would like it, but then again, you are apart of the HAVES and has never had to deal with people, as you said just coming into your neighborhood and “demanding” and getting what they want. As a homeowner, my property value will increase, but my income will not. Do I sell and then go somewhere further out and try to buy a house? Will I have to pay more for a new house than I got for the one I sold? Will I now have to move out to the surburbs that YOU wanted so bad until you didn’t, and now I have to pay more for wear and tear on my car, more for gas, headaches from the long commute to my downtown job? Do you freaking people EVER think about the hard working people in these neighborhoods that you force out? Where will they/we now go? Atlanta is quickly becoming the city for the elites. Those privileged ones who knows some or knows someone who knows someone. I have worked in the public sector all my life. Went back to school for that degree that everyone says is supposed to help, presently work at an educational institution that says if you get that degree, you will make more money (can’t prove it by me) live a better life,….but we do what YA’LL say and we still come out on the short end of the stick. Yes ma’am massa Elizabeth Melissa Thompson come on in and “DEMAND” WHAT YOU WANT AND “GET IT”. You have done it to us all our life and I guess you still rule. I guess I can only take a bit of pride that money may talk a little so there will hopefully be a spot or two still left in the city because some are making the money to be able to afford, the property you have, once again, “Demanded”.Report

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] is the first major development to be proposed since the land use plan was adopted. But Brock’s initial proposal  called for nearly double the density as was recommended in the land use framework […]Report

  2. […] She was asked about the so-called Brock Built homes project, a big proposal that’s got some English Avenue residents very anxious about gentrification. […]Report

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