February brought the final days of business at Way Back When Antiques, Margolis’s shop in downtown Chamblee. The property, housed in an olive-green building on Peachtree Road, has been sold to real estate developer Selig Enterprises.
As Margolis prepared to close at the end of the month, his shop had only a smattering of furniture, books, and knickknacks remaining.
“I’m sure the rent will go up enough that I couldn’t afford to run my antique business,” Margolis says, adding that Chamblee has changed significantly in the 31 years he’s operated in the area.
Price hikes in what’s traditionally been a bastion of relative ITP affordability stretch beyond downtown Chamblee’s Antique Row, a longstanding concentration of antique stores.
Development of potentially regional impact has spread into neighboring Doraville, with the most visible example being Assembly Yards, a 165-acre mixed-use project on the site of the former General Motors plant.
Though communities as disparate as Hapeville, Scottdale, and Whittier Mill Village are also relatively affordable and ITP, Chamblee and Doraville have greater transit connectivity than most of metro Atlanta. Both lie on MARTA’s gold rail line, in addition to having MARTA bus transit.
With desirability comes cost, and concerns abound over rising prices—an issue echoed around the country and indeed the world in recent, post-recession years. But in Chamblee and Doraville, the changes of today and tomorrow could be particularly drastic.
At the end of World War II, the cities looked to industry. Doraville’s GM plant opened in 1947, spawning population and housing growth in the city.
In the 1980s, Chamblee’s plants downsized or closed. Doraville’s GM plant, the project that had sparked progress for both cities, shuttered in 2009.Today, Chamblee and Doraville have higher percentages of Hispanic and Asian people than Atlanta’s average, and this manifests in the local stores, services, and restaurants.
As it did a century ago, large-scale development has come to Chamblee first. This time, instead of a military installation, it’s upscale housing and retail.
The flipside to all of that is the new Chamblee.
In recent years, Chamblee development has exploded. In addition to hundreds of high-end apartments, condos, townhomes, and office space that is finished or planned, there’s now a Whole Foods. The Peachtree Creek Greenway, a walk and bike path and another selling point, is planned to eventually connect Chamblee and Doraville to the Beltline.
“Within the built environment, you’re seeing a lot of changes that are taking shape based on plans that have been in the works for over 20 years,” says Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson, who has lived in the city since the mid-1990s.
Clarkson says planning began in the early 2000s to tie land use to transportation.
“Chamblee is still relatively affordable,” he says. “But with all the development that’s coming and with folks wanting to be in a very walkable environment, the rents and the outright purchase of housing continually goes up at a pretty rapid pace.”
Over the past two years, average rents in Chamblee have jumped 16 percent, double the rate of Atlanta. Median home prices have climbed 8 percent in the past year.
“You’d rather have real estate appreciation than going down,” Clarkson says. “Heck, I lived through the Great Recession. I think most folks around here did. We don’t want our property values going down.
Amy Holmes, a Chamblee resident since 2002, enjoys living in a small city in a large metro. She’s impressed by the city’s planning—and how adding social activities such as summer concerts has helped Chamblee develop an identity.
At the same time, Holmes says she and her neighbors can’t help but notice surging prices.
“We’re just all stunned by the sudden rise in housing prices, both cost of people’s houses but then the impact of that on rent,” she says.
Holmes is president-elect of the Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools, an organization of DeKalb public school parents. She says people at Huntley Hills Elementary School, where two-thirds of kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, are shocked by rising rents.
“I feel a real panic around in the air about just what is our future in terms of affordability of housing,” she says. “I know that for people who are thinking, ‘I’m going to retire and sell my house and it’ll be worth a lot,’ that’s true that that’s a good thing for you.
Losing proximity to Chamblee’s MARTA line has been particularly detrimental for middle- and working-class families, observes Mary Hall, who works in Chamblee and lives nearby.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s been a shift in the kinds of folks that can afford to live within walking distance of Chamblee MARTA Station,” Hall says.
Welcome to Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz’s de facto office.
“What really makes this area unique is that it’s kind of been preserved, and it hasn’t been gentrified yet,” says Koontz, a longtime Doraville resident.” We have the opportunity to set the tone of what the development here will look like.”
In addition to Assembly Yards and the Peachtree Creek Greenway, there are talks in city council to develop a city center around Doraville MARTA Station.
Following Chamblee’s lead, Doraville is trying to update its image by dropping the word “industrial” from Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, though most people still refer to the road by its original name.It’s a symbol for how changes from Chamblee could spill north into Doraville.
“There’s people that would like to see this area get gentrified, the prices of everything go up and basically what happened in Decatur,” Koontz says. “When I talk to people that moved to Decatur 10 years ago, they moved there because there was a mix of ethnicity.
Hundreds of new apartments have been built in the core of Decatur in the past few years, but Koontz says Doraville, as is, doesn’t have enough rental properties to accommodate everyone.
“We’re being affected by other parts of metro Atlanta destroying their affordable housing,” she says, before referencing Beltline areas in particular. “As old-stock apartments are torn down in metro Atlanta and replaced with $3,000-a-month luxury apartments, those people are being displaced, and they’re coming here.”
Sandy Chavarria has lived in Doraville since 1998, when she was a child. As a teenager, she worked in the cafeteria at the Buford Highway Farmers Market.
Nonetheless, Chavarria feels that development could benefit Doraville, in terms of making a physical and infrastructural statement. But having rented in Doraville since moving out of her parents’ house, she says finding somewhere affordable has become tougher.
“Being raised here in Doraville, I want to continue living in Doraville, but until I can afford to buy a house…it’s really hard to stay within the Buford Highway corridor,” she says.
Though some apartments are renovated and have improved living conditions, landlords sometimes charge higher prices without making needed repairs, says Rebekah Cohen Morris, an English literature teacher living in Doraville and housing equity director at Los Vecinos de Buford Highway advocacy organization.
Meanwhile, other housing is being redeveloped. A new elementary school will replace Shallowford Gardens apartment complex. Carver Hills, a black neighborhood created by GM, is slated to be redeveloped into single-family houses and townhomes. (Residents were in unanimous support of selling their properties and moving.)
Cohen Morris says displacement issues are both obvious and not.
“We’re seeing a lot more people just kind of open their homes and their apartments and allow [in] families that lost their homes due to it being torn down for a new condo or townhome,” she says.
Developed by the nonprofit Mercy Housing Southeast, Senior Residences at Mercy Park, a 79-unit apartment complex, rents one-bedrooms for $550 to $681 monthly to people at least 62 years old.
“If it’s a transportation-oriented development, if it’s right next to MARTA, then the idea is you don’t necessarily need a car, which is good for low-income folks,” says Hoffer. “Chamblee’s got a lot going, and we’re sort of getting in on it on the ground floor.”
But to make affordability work, Chamblee needs density, Clarkson says.
Councilmember Koontz also wants density for Doraville. She says the city should look at how to incentivize mixed-income housing that’s a combination of high-end larger units and more basic smaller units, with uniform exteriors.
Koontz says the city council is beginning to explore how to attract these housing options, discussing measures such as bonuses for developers and reduced parking requirements near the MARTA station.
“If we displace the current residents that live here and lose the diversity and the population that live in this area, not only is that going to change the whole housing market, it’s going to cause all the businesses up and down this corridor to fail,” Koontz says. “If we wait five years, it’s going to be too late.”
Chamblee resident Holmes says she worries about her neighbors being forced to move because of cost.
“Part of the reason that all of us have liked our neighborhoods in Doraville and Chamblee is because there’s a wide variety of people. When I moved into Huntley Hills, there’s plumbers and electricians and there’s also lawyers, etcetera,” she says. “That’s a normal cross-section of American society to live in, which is a cool thing.”
Hall feels that planners need to study and take things slowly in order to avoid unintended consequences.
“Growth is necessary and important,” she says. “But it shouldn’t come to the detriment of the cultural mix that makes this a really strong area and the families that have raised their kids.”
Cohen Morris, who is running for Doraville City Council in November, says the city needs to preserve affordable housing and develop mixed-income housing in high-density areas, especially near the MARTA station.
“We need to be really intentional so that we don’t overlook people and so that everyone gets to share in the new successes that the cities are experiencing,” she says.
At Way Back When Antiques, a faint smell of wood in the air, Margolis reflected on the changes he’s seen in Chamblee over the decades.
“If it goes like the city wants it to, I think it’ll be really neat. It’ll be a walkable city,” he says. “The properties that antique shops are sitting on become too valuable to the owners to just rent out to an antique shop, and if they need to raise the rent, antique dealers can’t do high-end retail. And that’s what Chamblee is becoming—high-end retail.”
Outside, a MARTA train pulled out of the Chamblee station and passed an increasing number of upscale stores and homes. Traveling on an elevated track behind Way Back When Antiques, the train bent into the distance and out of sight.
Source: Adina Solomon