Immediately after being elected, Mayor Ernst led the city council in instituting a 6-month moratorium on high density development to allow for a character area study driven by citizen input. This addendum to the comprehensive plan would drive the multi-year zoning code re-write. He instituted another moratorium in 2018, ensuring development along Buford Highway would follow community guidelines for increased greenspace and affordability and implemented the Buford Highway Overlay.
During his term, thousands of apartments have been requested by developers — city council has only approved 137 net new apartments mainly along corridors where infrastructure can support development such as Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, including 77 for an assisted living facility. 1,465 requested apartments have either been rejected or withdrawn mostly along busy Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive.He rejected a poorly conceived development at the MARTA Brookhaven-Oglethorpe station which did not make the necessary traffic or sewer improvements.
The Overlay and the zoning code re-write initiated by Mayor Ernst focused on livability, affordability, and connectivity. When Brookhaven lost in the Georgia Supreme court to deny the development at the former Hastings nursery, it became clear developers would be able to build what was approved by DeKalb County in 2005 along Peachtree Road. Mayor Ernst had the foresight to implement smart development with the overlay re-write. Density was curbed indirectly with tough greenspace requirements, increased setbacks near residential properties, unit size minimums and 10% affordable units, and requiring paths and sidewalks where necessary.
He stood up to powerful interests such as Children’s Healthcare, negotiating a community investment agreement providing $46 million in benefits to the community. The previous administration could only manage $342,500. Traffic will be improved when CHOA pays $12 million for I-85 bridge improvements (no funding provided by Brookhaven). Sewer lines will be upgraded for the entire area by CHOA. CHOA has paid $11 million towards the construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway as well as a path to it from their campus for the residents of Brookhaven.
He also held fast to the city’s commitment to affordable housing and refused to incentivize affordable housing unless it provided real affordability to Buford Highway residents rather than using the Atlanta average for the Bramblewood development. The mayor has focused his efforts to ensure re-zonings were not approved without substantial investments in the community such as usable neighborhood parks, intersection improvements to improve traffic, sewer infrastructure (sewers are controlled by DeKalb County) and affordability.