MARTA has canceled plans for a $200 million development at its Brookhaven station, a blow to the transit agency’s broader efforts to build up communities around its rail lines.
The move appears to scuttle a project that advocates hoped would create a new downtown for Brookhaven and boost MARTA’s plans for commercial and residential developments around its stations. But the city and MARTA advocates downplayed the decision Friday, saying something may eventually be built on the 15-acre site.
The decision Thursday to cancel the project ended months of disagreement between the city and the developers about its cost and appearance. Developers had envisioned transforming several parking lots into Brookhaven’s city center near Oglethorpe University with shops, offices, a hotel, condos, apartments and a food market.
Last week, Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst announced the city would suspend all work on a request for millions of dollars in tax incentives submitted to the Brookhaven Development Authority. He also sought to delay the rezoning of the 15-acre site.
In a written statement, MARTA said those actions led to the project’s cancellation.The need for public financing has been made clear since the project’s inception, it stated, also citing the city’s repeated delays in rezoning the property.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to advance this project to implementation,” the statement said. “MARTA staff will now shift focus to implementing (transit-oriented development) projects at stations where greater readiness exists.”
Ernst said the city is “sorry we had to stop negotiations on the financing of this project.”
“The developer’s (costs) kept growing and the guarantees on delivery kept shrinking,” the mayor said in a statement. “But we look forward to a public/private partnership that has more private dollars than public.”
Developers made every effort to meet goals for the project, said Art Lomenick, president of The Integral Group’s real estate development division. Integral and Transwestern Development Co. were the developers on the project under the name Brookhaven City Center Partners.
“What was challenging was the magnitude of the amount of public infrastructure that needed to be fixed,” Lomenick said. “We weren’t asking for any tax abatement or incentive for the private part of the project.”
About $22 million in property tax breaks was needed to pay for a central park, sidewalks, replacement parking spaces, sewer improvements and other infrastructure, he said.
Ernst said the figure sought by the developers was more like $40 million or $50 million.
Public opinion of the plans also played a factor in the project’s demise. Residents who objected to the project said it would bring too much traffic and density while relying on millions of dollars of public investment for site improvements.
Ernst said Friday the project also looked too similar to many other mixed-use developments.
“We just wanted a project that had something that was distinctive in that area. Everything seemed to be pulled from different developments around the country,” Ernst said. “I’ve had four developers email me already. There’s a demand from developers to look at this.”
Thomas Porter, a Brookhaven architect and interior designer, said residents weren’t satisfied that the development fit their vision for the area.
“We should stick to our guns and get the best possible development we can have. It was simply too dense,” he said. “This really wasn’t city center development. It wasn’t iconic enough. I just don’t think it’s something that warranted city investment.”
But Lomenick said developers worked hard to mitigate traffic, and cars would have flowed more smoothly onto Peachtree Road after making intersection improvements.
The Brookhaven project was part of MARTA’s larger plan to create “transit-oriented development” around several of its stations. The agency envisions projects like the mix of apartments, condos and retail and office space at its Lindbergh station.
MARTA will break ground on a Chamblee station development in coming weeks. More than 220 apartments are under construction at the Edgewood/Candler Park station. And an Avondale station development is expected to be finished late next year.
Lee Biola, president of the advocacy group Citizens for Progressive Transit, said the Brookhaven decision is not a major setback for MARTA’s development plans.
“Any time you try something new, you have to assume some things are not going to work out,” he said. “But some things seem to be working out well.”
Biola said Thursday’s decision may not spell the end of plans in Brookhaven.
“Something else could come along at the Brookhaven station that works out for residents, for MARTA and the market,” he said.