(Editor's note: The writer is a resident of the 335 West Ponce condo building, which is adjacent to the proposed building site.)
People living next to a proposed mixed-use development in downtown Decatur are trying to convince the developer to tweak or scale back plans to build 235 apartments, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a traffic circle and a seven-story parking garage.
Residents complained about traffic and parking, with some saying the sheer size of the 315 West Ponce project would alter the neighborhood's character. Four-and-five-story apartment buildings would look down on single-family homes.
"There's going to be four stories of balconies overlooking my private space," said Lindsay Averett, who lives in a single-family home on Fairview Drive.
About 50 people attended a sometimes testy session Wednesday night with Conor McNally, a Decatur resident and chief development officer for the developer, Carter, and city Planning Director Amanda Thompson.
Most people at the meeting seem to accept that the project is going to happen because zoning is in place and the wide-open asphalt parking lot is being underused.
The project goes before the Decatur Downtown Development Authority at 8 a.m. Friday, March 22, and if the authority gives the green light, Carter could apply for building permits. The developer wants to start work this summer.
Kathie Gannon, who spoke for residents of the 335 West Ponce condo building, said the city needs to put on the brakes.
"There are issues the city has not looked at closely enough," said Gannon, also a DeKalb County Commissioner.
She said those issues should be addressed before the DDA meeting. McNally said Carter will move ahead but keep communicating with residents. "This is the approach we're going to take," he said.
Carter scaled down the project slightly after an earlier meeting with residents.
- Number of apartment units. Now 235 total, down from 242. There will be 119 one-bedroom, 106 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom. McNally said rents will be $1,100-$1,200 for one-bedrooms and around $2,000 for two-bedrooms.
- Size of parking garage. Now 527 parking spaces, down from 548. There will be 484 spaces in the deck and 43 surface spaces. The corner of the garage was notched to preserve some existing trees.
Carter also tiered the nine units facing Montgomery Street, so that only three stories directly face the street, and removed balcony lights.
The developer agreed to paint the parking garage to match the colors of the apartments. But Gannon said that's not enough and that facades and trellises need to be installed on the deck's upper levels.
David Heimbuch, an architect who lives in the 335 West Ponce building, said the 65-foot-tall parking deck will dominate the view of Decatur as people drive down West Ponce de Leon Avenue.
"The deck will be extremely visible coming down the hill," he said. "It's going to be a building we look at every day."
McNally didn't make any promises. For example, when asked if some the number of apartment units could be reduced, he said, "At the end of the day, this has to make economic sense."
Carter expects to spend about $40 million on Decatur's first downtown apartment project since the Atlantic Star Ice House Lofts in 1999. The apartments will be marketed to the 25-40 age group and fulfill a goal of the city's strategic plan to diversify housing.
Traffic flow is a worry for current residents. There will be an entrance on West Ponce and an entrance/exit on Ponce de Leon Place, just like now.
"I don't think it takes a traffic engineer to say there's going to be a lot more traffic on Ponce Place," Leonard Thibadeau said.
People in the neighborhood also questioned the project's "shared parking," concept, which envisions residents parking there at night and shoppers taking the spaces during the daytime.
The neighborhood residents worry people will live in the apartments but park on the street.
One parking space will be allotted to one-bedroom units, two spaces to larger units. If two adults living in a one-bedroom unit both have cars, one of them wouldn't receive a parking pass, McNally said.
"They won't be able to park," he said.
"Legally," quipped a resident.