Redevelopment of AT&T Building near East Lake MARTA Station Moves ForwardA rendering of the proposed condo development at the AT&T building. Image obtained via the city of Decatur.
By Cathi Harris, contributor
The Thrive Group received a favorable recommendation from the Decatur Planning Commission Tuesday night for its application for a conditional use permit (CUP) allowing redevelopment of the former AT&T training center on the corner of East Lake Drive and Park Place in Oakhurst.
The developer plans to convert the building to 34 condos and apartments, with 10 percent of the units permanently designated as workforce housing for people making 80 to 120 percent of area median income (AMI).
“When we first started looking at this property, we did refer to the [East Lake Livable Centers Initiative Study], which mentions wanting to preserve the existing buildings in the area, and that is exactly what we want to do,” Thrive Operations Manager Crystal Robinson told commission members. “I think this is really such a great location being right next to the MARTA station. It will be a huge selling point with access to the MARTA line. There is also a MARTA bus stop on the south east corner of the property and we are planning to add bike racks in the landscaping strip. So those elements are going to encourage alternate modes of transportation for the people that live here.”
Built in 1937 as a telephone and telegraph exchange office, the building was most recently used as a training center for AT&T line workers, but in a limited capacity, Robinson said. The building has now been vacant for about a month.
Thrive commissioned its own traffic study to address the primary concern nearby residents expressed with the project. The results predicted lower traffic counts with the building converted to a residential use than there would if it were fully utilized under its current commercial office building use.
Additionally, they have agreed to put up an opaque security fence and landscape buffer between the existing surface parking lot and adjacent houses.
As for the building itself, Robinson indicated that Thrive intends to make the most of an “extremely well-built” structure featuring 14 to 15-foot ceilings and concrete columns on the first two floors and 10-foot ceilings in the basement, all of which would be converted to living space.
They are planning to add windows throughout the building, to add more light, and add an additional level toward the back of the building away from the front streetscape. The only addition to the existing building footprint would be the additional of an elevator at the rear of the building.
Commission members voted unanimously to recommend the project, provided Thrive did not substantially alter the plans presented and it agreed to conditions recommended by the Downtown Development Authority, including the privacy fence on the west side of the property and closing off an open alley that is also on the property.
“I think this is exactly what the LCI envisioned for this property,” commission member Lori Leland-Kirk said during discussion of the request.
Commissioners also lauded the inclusion of workforce housing without an incentive from the city. Though original plans called for all of the units to be condos, subsequent discussions with the DDA and the city made clear that the best way to preserve the 10 percent of units permanently for lower income residents would be to keep them as rental property, Robinson said.
The application will be considered for final approval at the city commission meeting next Monday.
In other business, the commission tabled a request from developer Footprint Properties, LLC for a major subdivision and special exception to street type design standards and construction of a public road for a development to be located at 258 Forkner Drive.
Attorney Laurel David of The Galloway Law Group, speaking on behalf of the developers, requested that the matter be tabled to give them time to review a recent legal memorandum received from a law firm representing residents opposed to the development and also allow them to meet again with neighborhood representatives to attempt to reach a compromise.
Commissioners voted unanimously to table the measure, adding that it would not be added back to the commission’s agenda until the developer specifically requested it.
Attorney Brian Daughdrill, speaking on behalf of assembled opponents of the development, indicated they were OK with tabling the measure.
Speaking after the meeting, Daughdrill indicated that the legal memo stipulated several “statutory and constitutional” objections to the project, but did not go into detail.
He agreed to forward a copy of the memo to Decaturish. We will update this story after we have this information.