Tuesday, February 23, 2021

[HELP!] High Density Housing Development Threatens Beloved Intown Nature Preserve

An Atlanta-based developer is seeking to rezone more than seven acres on one north Buckhead street into what community leaders fear would "forever alter the character of the street and set a disturbing precedent for other area neighborhoods."  Monte Hewett Homes would like to construct a total of ten (potentially eleven) homes at 1 Emma Lane, just off Lakemoore Drive, adjacent to the popular Blue Heron Nature Preserve, not far from Chastain Park.  

To accomplish their redevelopment plan, Monte Hewett is seeking to have the parcel - currently home to a single home - rezoned from R3 residential to PD-H high-density.  The rezoning request will be heard March 15 by the North Buckhead Civic Association (NBCA).  

ToNeTo Atlanta's founder and publisher has been a homeowner in the Chastain Park area for more than eight years and Blue Heron Nature Preserve has become a respite from not only our work to deliver news to our readers but also from the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We share the sentiment of our neighbors, friends and others in the community that if this development is allowed to proceed, it would dramatically alter the idyllic nature of the preserve and the community at large, and also set a dangerous precedent moving forward.   

City of Atlanta property records indicate that the Nicholson family home - 1 Emma Lane - is nearly 4,000 square feet, was built in 1939 and features five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and two half baths, and is currently owned by "The Nicholson Joint Revocable Trust." 

Real estate sites indicate the property was "pending sale" in November 2019 for $6.2 million.  It's unclear why the sale never went through, but the price for the property has been lowered several times since 2019, with the most recent published offering price $3.995 million as of September 29, 2020.  It is believed that Monte Hewett has the property under contract [pending the results of the rezoning request] for between $3.5 and $4 million.  

The developer's rezoning request was originally scheduled to be heard in January, but was at the last minute tabled until February.  The developer reportedly delayed the request in an effort to hear from residents and address their concerns.  (Many believe the delay was due only to the fact that neighbors sounded the alarm on the proposed rezoning and that it was not allowed to be quietly approved as the developer had likely hoped it would be.)  After hearing from the community, the request was pushed again to its current March hearing date.  

Likely the most significant element of the developer's efforts to appease residents is the "conservation concession" that is mentioned but not explained.  The "concession"  suggests that the developer wants to allocate about 60% of the parcel, roughly 4.4 acres, for Blue Heron Nature Preserve (BHNP).  

"Additionally, should the City Council of Atlanta approve this Rezoning, the Applicant plans to sell one of the lots, totaling approximately 4.43 acres of the Property, to a non-profit nature conservancy fund with the aim that it remain undeveloped and, ultimately, that it be incorporated into the adjacent Blue Heron Nature Preserve"

The developer does not explicitly indicate how this "concession" would work but later indicated in meetings with neighbors that it intends to SELL the parcel to BHNP, not donate it, as many had originally understood he would do.  For its part, BHNP has not and will not take a stance on the redevelopment proposal and is also a 501(c)(3) without the resources to pay the likely multi-million dollar asking price for the "conserved land."  

Representatives of the developer indicated that the deal hinged on a payment from the Conservation Fund but refused to elaborate on what the purchase price for the total land was or what amount the company is seeking from the nonprofit. Make no mistake, despite the fact the the BHNP is used in the marketing of the site and the developer claims he cares about saving the trees, there seems to be no intention to donate or even sell the property at a discount to add to the preserve.  

In an almost comical comment, the developer's attorney and representative said on a recent call with community members that they want the community to be "as excited about the development as we are!" Trust us when we say that ain't gonna happen.  

A similarly humorous tidbit from the developer: "the proposal will have a beneficial effect on the character of the surrounding neighborhood."

Questions from the community regarding runoff, ecosystem disruption and where animals like the deer that frequent the property in question will go were not addressed.  Additionally, the "minutes" from the initial community meeting took almost 4 weeks to be provided to representatives and none of the dozen questions raised by the Emma Lane Community Action Group were answered.

Plans call for the homes to be constructed as 4 bedroom, 4.5 baths with an average selling price of $1.2 million.   (Monte Hewett is also the developer of the new and slow to sell, high density, cluster home development  "Enclave at Chastain" on Lakemoore Drive, around the corner from Emma Lane.) 

Concerned neighbors mobilized shortly after the development became known and started the Emma Lane Community Action Group to mobilize community opposition.  We encourage everyone to get involved in opposing in incompatible infill redevelopment. 

Have you ever been to Blue Heron Nature Preserve?  Do you think this redevelopment makes sense for the community?  What is your favorite park or greenspace in metro Atlanta? 

Please share your thoughts below and join the action group! 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

We are losing our green spaces at a rapid pace. It seems that worrying about greenhouse gases and global warming goes out the door when high den$ity development$ are mentioned.

Anonymous said...

the only reason they would even consider the "conservation element" is b/c they cannot build so close to the nature preserve.
And if they are planning to pay for the entire estate less than $4 million and then try to recoup that cost by selling the undevelopable parcel to a non-profit then what risk are they even taking?
Neighbors need to take a page from the Briarlake Forest and Frazier Rowe parks in DeKalb County: get the county to use greenspace funds to purchase the land and raise some private money to supplemnent.
And of course fight like crazy to stop the plan. Monte Hewett will probably be limited to build "only" 5-6 homes and get a huge tax writeoff for the land they can't build on - they'll probably value the deducition higher than the entire cost of the parcel. UNLESS they can be stopped! Rally Lakemoore residents!!

Anonymous said...

Monte Hewett is a long-time resident of the North Buckhead neighborhood and generally supports the NBCA. When I was involved with the NBCA Land Use and Zoning Committee, I got the impression from longstanding members of NBCA leadership that he has always been very reasonable and respectful of the wishes and common interests of his neighbors. Fortunately, and unlike most neighborhoods in Atlanta, there is a very active and organized civic association in place to manage real community feedback. I would expect with a high degree of certainty that the net outcome here will be beneficial to the community. He is not trying to do something truly detrimental, like rezone for more unnecessary and unsupportable retail or other commercial use.

Anonymous said...

Buckhead has worked very hard over the past ten years to increase its green space and has a strong plan in place to continue this effort. https://livablebuckhead.com/programs/greenspace/

Anonymous said...

Eli - not sure how many regular readers you currently have, but I think you just lost one here... maybe in the future, stick to what you know and don’t try to venture outside of retail. Disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the "threat" to Blue Heron Nature Preserve is when the developer isn't touching any of that land. They are simply converting a plot that has a SFH to a plot with 10-11 homes. We need more density all across Atlanta, so this is great news.

Anonymous said...

In a city with an emerging housing crisis like Atlanta, I can't fathom fighting more housing development, especially when its well-scaled permanent homes like this (as opposed to all the "luxury" apartment boxes sprouting all over the region). This doesn't propose any outlandish use for the land -- it's someone wanting to subdivide a massive intown plot into more homes, while even protecting some of the land as a buffer! I think the fight should be for an architectural review and perhaps added trees at the edge of the property to shield the view of new construction from the BHNP. I'm sorry, but you chose to live near the heart of a rapidly growing city; if you don't want to see the development I think it may be time to move out to some of the 'burbs. Otherwise, let's focus on maintaining and preserving the public greenspace we do have, and less with what homeowners do on their private property.

Anonymous said...

Eli, I hope you and your neighbors can win a better outcome for this.

Atlanta and the metro area used to be a nice place to live. Thanks to decades of poor planning, zoning and environmental destruction, from this kind of development and so many others, not much anymore.

The sole goal of developers is to make money. Not wrong. But critical to keep in mind. They tear down, build and leave. They have zero incentive to care whatsoever about the impact of anything they build. Then for the next 50-100+ years, we all have to live with the results.

This looks to me like a trophy property as-is for an individual owner to buy and renovate. Hard to believe it wouldn't sell that way if properly marketed as such.

And for those trying to apply the urban planning concept of "density" in relation to neighborhoods with large single family home lots, forested areas and nature preserves - that's just comical. Just because something is inside a city limit doesn't automatically make it a candidate for "density".

Mrs. Alberico said...

We moved to Atlanta and specifically to this neighborhood due to the proximity of the natural environment of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve.
Notwithstanding the environmental impact this will have on the fora and fauna of the area, it will also negatively affect the wellbeing of the residents and visitors who walk and enjoy the trails of the Blue Heron if the space becomes zoned higher density.

I do believe there is a way to develop the land in a more limited way that supports the desires of the developer as well as the neighborhood in keeping a pristine and natural environment that supports the wildlife that find their homes within the city limits of Atlanta like the deer for which this area was named after.

An interesting solution would be for the Blue Heron or other entity to purchase a parcel of the land that borders the Blue Heron and build a substantial enough buffer (with advisement from the proper folks who know these things about nature) so as not to weaken the ecosystem.

The rest of the land could be developed by the developer, although it may limit development to 4ish houses.

Another option would be for the developer to simply renovate the home and resell. Then, have the Blue Heron, or other entity purchase the surrounding parcel/area and preserve as additional trail and park.

Buckhead is starved of green space in general and this could also be a good solution that supports the developer's financial interest and the forward movement of organizations like Liveable Buckhead working for continuous improvement of desirability and livability within our area.

I believe that there is a way to solve this in a way that supports land value, live ability, financial interests, and overall neighborhood wellbeing.

Anonymous said...

For the first time I’ve read a sincere post from you. You may need to a voice for all of your community. Fight the right fights. I wish you the best of luck’

Anonymous said...

Contrary to another anonymous comment, I really appreciate all real estate and land use news, not just retail. Keep up the good work!
-RE Professional.

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