Branch Capital Partners will file an appeal in Cobb Superior Court against the city following the contentious denial of its proposed 288-unit apartment complex containing 25,000 square feet of retail space, said Garvis Sams, an attorney with Marietta-based Sams, Larkin and Huff who represents the company.
The development was intended for the corner of Atlanta Road and Spring Street where Jonquil Plaza once stood.
In 2006, a $181 million mixed-use development was planned for the site including 20,000 square feet of office space, 160,000 square feet of retail space, 300 luxury condominiums and an underground parking deck. The property changed hands several times since the first proposal.
The city’s denial of a site plan amendment that would have allowed the project to move forward was done in violation of constitutional rights, Sams said. That’s because under the current zoning, Sams said, a developer is required to follow the original plans that called for a project more than four times the size of Branch’s development.
Residents and some council members expressed support for the original plan and were opposed to Branch’s plan because it included less retail space.
“In light of the current market, the retail market, it’s a constitutional prohibition in that the property owner and applicant are suffering what the law calls significant economic detriment because there’s no way in this market that anyone would develop 180,000 square feet of retail,” Sams said.
Sams said that kind of project would “self destruct” and maintains the opposition surrounding the project was born from a misunderstanding about the kind of apartments that would be built. Some residents were concerned about more rental units after the city spent millions of dollars to tear down aging and dilapidated apartments officials said were a drain on the city’s law enforcement and code enforcement resources.
Once Branch files its appeal, the city will have 30 days to respond. A judge will decide if the city’s current zoning is constitutional or unconstitutional and could order city officials to allow the development to move forward, but a judge would not be able to arbitrarily change the city’s zoning code.
Council split on support for project
It was a 4-3 vote on Dec. 2 that stopped Branch’s development in its tracks. Following hours of public comment and discussion among council members, Council members Ron Fennel, Melleny Pritchett and Teri Anulewicz voted in favor of the project.
Council members Wade Lnenicka, Andrea Blustein, Charles Welch and Susan Wilkinson voted against the development.
Blustein says it wasn’t just one issue but a number of factors that led to her vote. Those factors include limited parking space and changing conditions in the area following the news the Atlanta Braves plan to move to a new site in 2017 just a few miles away from the proposed development.
“As the gateway to our city there, I think a lot of people had concerns about it,” Blustein said.
She said she was also worried developers wouldn’t be able to rent the units with a price tag high enough to maintain the luxury amenities it promised. Developers touted the apartments as a breath of fresh air following the city’s problems with aging and crime-ridden apartments. It was to be “Class A” apartments with a large gym and swimming pool, wireless printers at every level and stainless-steel appliances renting for about $1,200 per month on average.
“There’s a huge development down at West Village, there’s some apartments being done off of Windy Hill, there are apartments behind or down the street from Cumberland Mall … it’s just like everywhere you look around there’s more and more apartments,” Blustein said.
Anulewicz supported the project and said there is a need for “high-quality” multi-family housing in Smyrna.
Young professionals are not buying homes at the rate they once were, she said, and need somewhere to live before they become confident in a community and make the jump into home ownership.
“They do get tired of living in their parent’s basement and they need somewhere to live,” Anulewicz said.
Smyrna faces a long-term problem, she maintains, with its lack of rental housing. Though many residents opposed the project and feared the apartments would deteriorate into slums, Anulewicz says that’s not true of the high-priced units proposed.
“If the lowest rent goes for $1,200 a month, well that’s not what people who make meth tend to gravitate toward,” Anulewicz said.