Kensington station development proceeds despite Avondale protests

By Sonam Vashi

Plans for an affordable, 240-unit residential development across the street from the Kensington MARTA station are moving ahead after receiving unanimous rezoning approval from the DeKalb planning commission—though objections continue from the neighboring city of Avondale Estates.

The complex, Phoenix Station, will sit just outside Avondale’s city limits and will be a “100 percent affordable” building, according to the developer, Louisville-based LDG Development. All rents will be at 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) or below—like a three-person family that makes $54,000—with an average of rents around 60 percent of AMI. (That will look like about $900 for a three-bedroom, or $650 for a one-bedroom.)

Phoenix Station, right across from the Kensington MARTA stop, will be “100 percent affordable housing.” (Courtesy of LDG Development)

When the project was announced early this year, it faced pushback from the Avondale Estates community and government concerning the developer’s mixed track record in other cities and the complex’s low-income target. A letter sent by Avondale Estates’s board—its governing body, made up of Mayor Jonathan Elmore and four commissioners—to the DeKalb planning commission in July outlined its opposition to the development: Avondale Estates prefers a mixed-income development, not a low-income development and wants the building to have a mixed-use component including office space and retail.

Some residents in Avondale Estates went so far as to organize through a group called Friends of Kensington, starting a petition to protest the development. Through a lawyer, Friends of Kensington sent a letter in July to the DeKalb commission, arguing that Phoenix Station was not consistent with a DeKalb County comprehensive plan. Among the requested changes: that the development should set aside 10 percent of its units to be market-rate or luxury.

“My cynical side says their concerns were affordable housing,” said Chris Byrd, development coordinator for LDG. He added that the land in question is one of the last pieces of property around Kensington Station where a project like Phoenix Station could be built.

The DeKalb commission had tabled the rezoning request since March at LDG’s request: The developer wanted time to see if it could purchase land directly adjacent to the property full of parking lots owned by MARTA—a deal that never happened. The rezoning for Phoenix Station—a $46 million project, funded partially through the federal low-income housing tax credit program—was approved at a meeting in late August.

Panke Miller, member of advocacy group Diverse DeKalb and a former Atlanta councilwoman, celebrated the project’s approval.

“We don’t have enough developers with the experience and the inclination to build affordable housing,” she said. “If you build affordable housing next to transit, you’re meeting the direct need for affordable housing, and you’re helping increase MARTA ridership.” Miller added that the parcel of land owned by MARTA next to Phoenix Station could potentially still be turned into mixed-use retail and office space.

Byrd expects Phoenix Station to be complete by early 2021.

Sonam is a freelance reporter in Atlanta who is contributing coverage of affordable housing for Saporta Report. Her reporting, which usually focuses on criminal justice, equity, and the South, has also appeared with CNN, the Washington Post, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. Previously, she was a data reporter and a researcher at CNN. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she grew up in Gwinnett County.

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