Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Notes from Phase II community meeting: Fuqua's "Decatur Crossing" development

The meeting was held on March 2 at the North Decatur United Methodist Church to share information about Phase II of Fuqua's proposed development.

View from Medlock Park / Scott Blvd side. The structure in the middle is the proposed natural grocery store and associated parking. Phase I (approved) appears towards the bottom right-hand corner. The proposed green space / park is located between Phase I and the grocery store. Note the crosswalk at Blackmon Drive (with a matching one at the Suburban Plaza side); a new two-lane road connects them. Click to enlarge.
Phase I has been approved and Fuqua expects demolition of the old Scott Bldvd Baptist Church and houses on Barton Way to begin shortly. Details on Phase I, approved in April 2014, are available here. Phase II plans had been vague because there was no certainty about Fuqua's ability to purchase homes on Blackmon and extend the development; those plans had included owner-occupied town homes as a buffer between the new development and existing Blackmon homes. With the Blackmon houses under contract, Fuqua has decided to reshape Phase II to remove the town homes and include additional rental apartments built to specifications that, should the market later demand it, will allow conversion to condos. The developer acknowledged feedback from the Cross-Neighborhoods Committee.

Again, to clarify: Phase I is approved, Phase II is currently under consideration and in the public feedback phase.

Bird's eye view, now from a North Decatur Rd perspective. Note proposed "future connections" to Church Street.
Click to enlarge.
Key elements  [describing Phase I and Phase II combined]
  • 80,000 sq ft retail
  • 15,000 sq ft business space
  • 450 1-2 bedroom units in Phase II. Phase I includes 250+ units, which brings the total for the both phases at 700+ units
  • Rent is proposed at $1.65/sq ft; a 2-bedroom apt would be around 900 sq ft therefore, $1,500/month rent range
  • Includes a ~1 acre park open to the public
  • Parking for the residential units will be gated, in multi-level structures; parking assigned at same level where the tenant lives
  • Most parking will be hidden from view from N Decatur Rd. and Scott Blvd (some of the grocery/business parking will be visible). ~1.5 per apartment in addition to guest and employee parking 
  • Power lines will be buried
  • Includes a "natural groceries store" that has open parking (a requirement from the business to come to this location) 
  • Five-story apartment buildings
  • Interior sidewalks connect Scott Blvd to N Decatur Rd; sidewalks facing N Decatur Rd and Scott Blvd are 8' wide, and have 6' buffers separating them from the buildings and roadways
- 3 entrance/exits and "right turn in / right turn out" on Scott Blvd. side
- a 2-lane road will transect the development, connecting North Decatur Rd. and Scott Blvd. It will align to proposed light at Suburban Plaza. Another light and crosswalk will align with the Blackmon Drive entrance into the Medlock neighborhood
- Fuqua will conduct a traffic study. The audience highlighted the extremely high traffic at Blackmon as commuters cut through the neighborhood (a Blackmon resident noted that he has counted 400 cars/hours during peak traffic). Fuqua seemed amenable to adding Blackmon to their traffic study. 

- proposed light at Blackmon; Fuqua is contributing to other improvements at the 6-point intersection (as negotiated by the Cross-Neighborhoods Committee as part of Phase I)
- this development will not interfere with other potential improvements to the area (e.g. light rail, bus service)
- should the DOT decide to widen N Decatur Rd., Fuqua would adjust its footprint to allow sidewalks as described earlier
- audience member insisted Fuqua can do better in enhancing walkability by limiting surface parking. Interesting turn in conversation that certain population groups are averse to decked parking when shopping for groceries  and that millenials would rather park in deck and have nicer surroundings (instead of open parking). Noted that many grocery stores have parking requirements that must be met before they agree to sign contract. Fuqua also noted that millenials are not his target audience. Others noted that parking is not overwhelming and seemed in proportion.
- new ~1 acre park; grocery/business parking is not overly large; Fuqua will provide a comparison to other area shopping spaces that have a similar building to parking ratio.
- no interest in the idea that the grocery store share parking space in the decks (to eliminate ground-level parking)

- Fuqua stated they build to sustainable standards, use green practices but do not pursue LEED certifications
- will try to use natives in landscaping, not too far along in planning that
- County has stated that it has the capacity to support the proposed 700+ units in this development (County has capacity "at level of line and plant")
- asked if there would be a "Phase III", a chuckle and "yes, all the way to Church Street!" (with clarification that the BMW and Tesla car dealerships abut Phase II).
- asked "why build new retail space when there are so many empty shopping spaces around," Fuqua replied that development is now different and new buildings attract different types of retailers
- no plan for rooftop plaza or gardens
- delivery trucks for grocer, dumpsters for residents will all be out of sight 
- no big neon signs proposed, likely monument signage

- currently being developed in DeKalb Co.; if annexed to Decatur, current zoning would be grandfathered in
- Phase II would seek to
* rezone to OCR (Office-Commercial-Residential) designation [defined by DeKalb Co as "A district for establishing new mixed use developments of medium intensity which consist of a combination of office, commercial, and residential uses."]
* would need two SLUP (Special Land Use Permits): one to allow 5-story construction, and one for a drive-through [a bank, a restaurant]
* similar to Phase I, would seek to amend land use to town center
* no changes regarding parking
- the concern of "what if the grocery store fails, what if we end up with a strip club there?" was answered by saying that would require special zoning and the community would have input; the decision to not allow such a thing can also be done by the property owner

- pedestrian traffic; young adults and empty nesters
- in response to how this development will age relative to the area, Fuqua said that the Atlanta metro area can expect to grow by 2.5 million over the next 15 years. Single-family homes will be less available and there will be demand for apartments
- there are no plans for  senior or low-income housing

- zoning will begin to review Phase II plans in mid-March 2015
- summertime would be the earliest time for approvals
- construction would take ~18 months for Phase I. Phase II would take longer but assuming they can start building soon, it would go up concurrently with Phase I and would look "finished" while interiors are completed over a ~7 month period.
- Phase I: plan is approved, demolition of homes and church is approved and project should take 15-18 months to completion
- Phase II (focus of this meeting): just getting started with zoning
What the development may look from: street view of landscaping, sidewalks and building finishes.
Thoughts, ideas, worries? Send them to the