Atlanta-based Branch Capital Partners asked for a re-zoning to develop Jonquil Village, an 11-acre site at the corner of Atlanta Road and Spring Street in the downtown area.
The development was first introduced in 2006 and was intended to be a $181 million mixed-use project, 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 has changed hands several times since the first proposal.
That plan has evolved into one that includes 288 apartment units and 25,000 square feet of retail space to be distributed through two free-standing buildings and on the first floor of apartment buildings. It was ultimately expected to cost $40 million.
Councilmembers Ron Fennel, Melleny Pritchett and Teri Anulewicz voted in favor of the rezoning.
Councilman Wade Lnenicka — who, along with Councilmembers Andrea Blustein, Charles Welch and Susan Wilkinson, voted against the development — was on the council when the first proposal was considered. He said he can’t support the new project.
“I’m disappointed in the specific proposal that is the opportunity,” Lnenicka said.
Some critics say the city doesn’t need more renters after the millions of dollars Smyrna spent to buy and raze troublesome and aging apartments.
Members of Smyrna’s planning commission unanimously recommended denial for the project, but city staff said it should be approved.
The gated community’s one-bedroom apartments would rent for about $1,000 each month and the development targets young professionals making between $75,000 and $125,000 annually.
If market conditions shift toward sales, the apartments could be sold as condos without significant renovations, the developers said.
Residents don’t want more apartments
Residents packed the City Council’s meeting chambers on Monday night to voice mostly opposition to the project.
Most residents said they approved of the original plan because it would bring more retail to Smyrna, even if it meant also gaining new apartments.
But some argued the project discussed on Tuesday is just an apartment complex with a few shops masquerading as a mixed-use development and a catalyst for growth.
Branch officials said they’ve reached out to large retailers, including grocery stores like Publix which once occupied the site, but they aren’t interested. The development has no big box anchor store.
“The fact is they are not coming here. They do their own research. These are sophisticated companies,” said Jesse Shannon, director of acquisitions for Branch, at Monday’s meeting.
Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz, who represents the area, said Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market did express interest in the site but after research she thought the store wasn’t the right fit.
“That was not the kind of fit that we thought the community would want to see there,” Anulewicz said.
Garvis Sams, attorney for Branch, told the council the development will be “new urbanistic,” “upscale” and the “kind of thing you want to see.”
“Everyone is going to bemoan the fact that you don’t have the retail that you’d like to see, but we have a developer who recognizes the kind of retail that works and the kind that doesn’t,” said Sams of the Marietta firm Sams, Larkin and Huff.
Mayor Max Bacon said numerous studies have showed that the city needs more residents to support retail shopping.
Some residents take issue with that and say there is no quality retail in the city.
“There’s definite need for retail shopping. … I think you’re going to lower all of our property values by putting in more apartments,” said Sherry Klein, a Smyrna resident.
Others said they don’t want to see Smyrna become nothing more than the city between Atlanta and Marietta on Interstate 75 with a high transient population.
Liz Davis said the project would “forever condemn my city to a bedroom community to Atlanta and Marietta.”
Lemuel Ward, a Smyrna resident, agreed.
“If we want to be another Cumberland Boulevard … if we want to be a bedroom community for the city of Atlanta, so be it,” Ward said. “It’s the council’s choice.”
He also argued the gated community would be cut off from the heart of Smyrna. He says the residents won’t have a vested interest in the city and will see the complex as “their space.”
“I don’t think people are here protesting apartments,” Ward agreed. “I think people are here protesting a gated community in the heart of Smyrna.”
Robert Harrison is the closet residential property owner to the development. He was impressed with the high-class amenities, like a swimming pool and fitness center, that the apartments would offer.
“I was thinking ‘Wow, that sounds like a great place to hang out.’ Then I remember, I can’t. there’s a gate. I’m not allowed in,” Harrison said.
Casey Rutherford said she moved out of a similar apartment complex two years ago.
“About two years ago when we were married, we were drawn to the granite counter tops and the high ceilings,” Rutherford said.
Her experience turned sour despite her high rent. She said she could smell marijuana in her neighbor’s apartment and urine in the complex’s parking garage and urged the Council not bring those residents to the city.
Supporters say apartments are the future
A small group of residents said mixed-use developments are the future of metropolitan cities.
Corey Williams is a 33-year-old Smyrna resident who moved to the city, rented an apartment and then decided to build a house and make the city his permanent home.
“We do exist,” Williams said.
Brian Bober lived in an apartment in Vinings and then purchased a home in Smyrna.
“I wanted to remind the Council that more people will speak up against than will speak up for,” Bober said. “The people for probably didn’t come to the meeting in most cases.”