Tuesday, April 3, 2018

[UPDATE] DeKalb Pumps The Brakes on Proposed RaceTrac & Wendy's Development

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners met March 27 to discuss the proposed redevelopment of the southwest corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff Roads. As proposed, the development, would include a RaceTrac fuel center  & convenience store, Wendy's with a drive-thru, and a relocated Express Oil Change.  Brookhaven resident and real estate developer Jay Gipson of The Gipson Company has the roughly 3.85 acre parcel under contract, but needs  approval of his requested SLUPs (Special Land Use Permits) for the project to go forward.

As we reported earlier this month, The DeKalb County Planning Commission met Tuesday March 6 and recommended denial of the proposed development.    ToNeTo Atlanta first reported on the planned redevelopment this past December.  The project, comprised of eight parcels, would replace abandoned and neglected dilapidated buildings and an auto repair shop with the three aforementioned new businesses.

The March 27 meeting included commentary by Gipson as well as Michael Mullen, engineering project manager at RaceTrac.  Abdul Amer, of A&R Engineering, a firm hired by Gipson to study the potential traffic implications of the project, also spoke.      

Michael Mullen spoke to the positive impact that a second fuel station had on competition in the area, adding that a third would only help to ensure competitive pricing for all customers.  Mullen also noted that efforts were made to ease concerns of residents and that all proper protocols and regulations were followed as it relates to the distance the new RaceTrac is from nearby schools and places of worship.  

Abdul Amer presented a number of slides highlighting what he found to be minimal added traffic that the development would bring, compared to what it might bring under current zoning.  He stated "the site's redevelopment will not result in a significant difference in trips compared to the site's current zoning."   Amer also noted that the current combined property has a total of 14 curb cuts: eight on Briarcliff and six on Clairmont.  The new development would have just four: two on each road optimally located to maximize efficiency and minimize congestion.  

A number of neighbors spoke out in opposition to the development while one spoke out in favor, but with "major modifications."  

The one neighbor who spoke in favor, a female resident of North Druid Hills, asked the board to "look at this as an opportunity to do something that Buckhead does." The resident claimed that Peachtree at Lenox Road in Buckhead carries 42,500 vehicles per day, whereas Clairmont at Briarcliff Road carries 47,400 vehicles per day.  She claimed that the reason it "works" in Buckhead but doesn't "work" on Clairmont is that in Buckhead, new developers are asked to donate land for medians and turn lanes.  [While a developer might have the land to supply a turn lane or right of way, a median is rarely if ever something a developer can provide as its not their land to donate.]  

The four neighbors who spoke out against were from Sagamore Hills, Oak Grove and the Riviera Terrace condos.  The neighbors voiced largely the same concerns: increased "trips," noise, and added traffic.  The neighbors also said that the development "fails" on several counts and that "we can do better."  The group was unified in wishing for change and not wanting this development to progress, with one resident saying "send a message that we expect better, higher quality development," but no one offered a preferred alternative.  

An increase to the area's tax base was one way in which Gipson defended his project.  Gipson also noted that he was approached multiple times by neighbors at some of last year's community meetings where requests were made for him to redevelop Williamsburg Village.  Gipson mused that the development of perhaps a Sprouts [Farmers Market] or a Whole Foods [Market] would bring tremendous traffic to the area, far and above what his proposed project would generate.      

After residents were given the opportunity to speak and Gipson and his collaborators were given the opportunity to defend their project, the staff recommendation was for a deferral of 14 days, but no longer than 30 days.  Staff indicated that they need this time to further evaluate  transportation improvements and ensure compliance with the "neighborhood center character area."  Staff indicated that while they were originally seeking a full-cycle deferral, a recently recently received revised site-plan had them hopeful that a resolution would be reached in short order.  

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously for a full-cycle deferral for the project, meaning that it can not be presented again until at least May 22.

DeKalb County defines a full-cycle deferral as:

"Delaying an application for further review to the next cycle, sending it back to be re-heard again by the Community Council, Planning Commission, and ultimately, the Board of Commissioners. Full-cycle deferrals are usually a result of incomplete or complicated site plans or a need to allow additional public input."

Given that re-purposing the property as a public park is not only unrealistic but would also be rather unsafe, and the idea of a limited service hotel is likely not feasible, it seems as though the project, as presented, is a good, albeit not perfect, use of the space. 

Gipson has not returned ToNeTo Atlanta's calls over the past few days seeking comment on the project.  

What would you like to see happen to this property?  Do you think the Board of Commissioners made the right decision in deferring the decision? 

Please share your thoughts below 


Anonymous said...

Having been born and raised in that area, believe me, this proposal will be the best thing for that area. It has looked like crap for at least 25 years.

Anonymous said...

Me too - same as above except stretch that 25 to 40 years.

Anonymous said...

The spot where the Volvo repair place is was originally a Pure Oil gas station, and I don't think it's had a new coat of paint since the 1960s.
It's a disgrace that it has been allowed to turn into such an eyesore.

Anonymous said...

Make that 38 years in the neighborhood just 1/2 a mile away. Almost anything would be better that this eyesore.

Anonymous said...

It is pathetic that this development is not moving forward. The people who voiced concern are morons and the fact that the planning commission took their side over a very clear and beneficial explanation by Gipson is concerning.

CloseOTP said...

It boggles the mind that people are so against a development like this a stone's throw from I-85. I'm not sure what people want there instead. Based on your article, the opposition isn't sure what they want either! It's interested what the developer said about Williamsburg Village. And while it's conjecture, it's accurate. People in that area would be thrilled with a specialty grocery store, but that would bring definite increased traffic. People do alter their trips to go to a store like that whereas people don't alter trips to go to a Racetrac or a Wendy's. I don't live in the area anymore so it doesn't impact me, but I just find it so interesting that people seem so virulently against this project but have no realistic alternatives. One question - the article mentions a park - have people really suggested this? In this location? Fools!

Always ITP said...

This project actually does have several issues that need to be addressed before it should be considered for approval. The developer didn't leave room for a required buffer between the open until 2am and 24/7 businesses on his property and the residential property that adjoins it. Until the plans are adjusted to allow for that required buffer, I don't see how this can go forward.

Left turns into and out of the project are also a major issue. Somebody's going to get killed unless a way is found to restrict the idiot drivers. They aren't going away and DeKalb County isn't going to hire cops just to patrol that intersection and hand out tickets.

By the way, this project goes from several unused curb cuts and a couple of very lightly used curb cuts on Clairmont (the lube joint and the auto repair at the far end) to two curb cuts on Clairmont that would be very heavily used. Vol-Repair doesn't use its opening on Clairmont and there's very little use of its curb cuts on Briarcliff. This plan calls for two heavily-used Briarcliff curb cuts.

I've lived in the area for 30 years and like everyone else, would like to see that piece of land cleaned up. A couple more months of scrutiny won't hurt. We'll get one chance to redevelop that site for the next 30 years. It's important to get it right so we don't have regrets later. What's the hurry that this has to be rammed through? There's a process for a reason.

As for suggestions: you need businesses that encourage people to park & get out of their cars and spend some time rather than screaming in and out of a glorified gas station and a fast food joint. Instead of the Wendy's, I'd try to lure one of the well-established sit down breakfast/brunch/lunch chains. Traffic southbound on Clairmont isn't nearly as heavy in the morning (most traffic is headed north to I-85 and beyond) and that kind of restaurant would be closed for the day by the time the horrendous southbound afternoon/evening rush traffic begins.

And yes, I'm going to go there -- a Starbucks instead of the grab-and-go RaceTrac. The neighborhoods around there have been begging for a Starbucks for years. Most of Starbucks business is inside -- not the drive-through. Look how meager the drive-through is at the new Northlake Starbucks). People linger at Starbucks. People do business on their laptops at Starbucks. They sit, they stay. Most go home before the afternoon rush. I can't imagine anyone objecting to Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds like the developer thought he was going to get all smiles and backslaps from a bunch of desperate rubes. Good for the commissioners for taking a little extra time to vet this. If the proposal is really all that good, it will stand up to scrutiny. Gosh, maybe DeKalb County is starting to turn around, after all.

CloseOTP said...

@Always ITP - I think the issue with Starbucks is that they don't want to be there. If they did, they'd already have a location there...

Anonymous said...

Starbucks?! They are the biggest traffic creator there is for its size!
There is one near my office in Vinings and the drive thru line pours out to Cumberland Parkway every morning with 20+ cars in it.

No sit down restaurant is ever going in that location - and even if one wanted to, they would require full access on both roads. Go try to find a sit down restaurant with limited right in right out access. Let's not kid ourselves - that location is just a convenient highway exit. The business interested in that type of location are what you are seeing proposed - gas stations, fast food, auto repair. The only thing missing is a low rent motel. I'm sure the residents would be delighted about that one. Hey - at least people would be getting out of their cars and staying a while!

I'm no fan of Jay Gipson, but let's not act like this deal was just signed last week and he's trying to ram it through the commission. Eli first reported on in in December and plans has already been completed at that point. So this has been in the works for more than 6 months already because developers don't even start civils until they complete title, survey, environmental, etc.

Anonymous said...

Had not seen any mention of a buffer requirement before. Is this something that had been overlooked or ignored?

Anonymous said...

I live in the area, and I honestly don't see why a RaceTrac and a Wendy's are a problem. They are not going to draw traffic - people that are already driving will stop there. I would love a TJ's at the Williamsburg shopping center.

Anonymous said...

Let’s build a church - so that the DeKalb commissioners can have a come to Jesus moment!

ImAndy said...

There is no extra scrutiny happening they are going to approve this they just delayed approval so the developer and GDOT can finalize right of way aquisition for a turn lane that came at the last minute

Anonymous said...

And once again, DeKalb picks the low road of development. Enjoy your new outlet stores and string of drive-thrus across the street. You can’t have nice things.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a longer list of issues the commissioners want addressed before this comes before them again. It's a full-cycle deferral.

And yes, this was on a speedy track. The developer held a hastily-called meeting with the public in the dead center of the December holidays (December 28). It was the first anyone had been told of this proposed project. Just because the developer was working on it for six months doesn't mean the public knew about it. Eli didn't report on it until after the December meeting.

Go check out the development that replaced the Wells Fargo on LaVista Road at Northlake. Three businesses with side road access only. Starbucks, Willy's and Aspen Dental. One way in. One way out. No access on LaVista. Works quite well, actually. I go to that Starbucks all the time.

Anonymous said...

I disagree - please don't build anymore places like the LaVista Rd Starbucks, Willy's and Aspen Dental. I was so looking forward to the Starbucks and Willy's but the lack of parking and extremely tight Starbucks drive thru keep me away.

Anonymous said...

I'd really like to see a more upscale fast food type place like Five Guys Burgers or Flying Biscuit. Heck, even a Dairy Queen would be better than a Wendy's!

Anonymous said...

Let's face it. Fact is that no upscale business wants to be in that particular area. Until those scuzzy Williamsburg apartments and those low-brow businesses like Benchwarmers, etc., get out, that area is NOT going to draw anything better than a oil change place and a Wendy's.

Anonymous said...

That's a much smaller piece of real estate than at C&B. I think the poster used it to counter the argument that full access on both roads is necessary. At least, that's how I read it. Apparently, companies will indeed build on lots without full access on a very crowded road... as long as the visibility is there. I guess it's the "Field of Dreams" theory.