Buckhead Condo Residents Riled Up Over Developer’s Plans

Huntington Arms historic condominium building in the shadow of the neighboring Arya building. Photos by Rob Knight

A group of residents living in a historic Buckhead condo complex are concerned about an apartment developer’s possible changes to the property after it bought nearly two-thirds of the units, but the company’s leader says it has no plans to demolish the buildings there.

The condo complex, Huntington Arms, is a set of brick buildings facing Peachtree Street on the south end of Buckhead. Designed by architect C. Wilmer Heery Jr., it opened as an apartment complex in 1929 and was converted into condos 50 years later. Huntington Arms is not protected from the wrecking ball by any historic preservation designation or law. The garden-style apartment buildings are sited on a valuable 1.77-acre parcel that has the potential for high-rise development.

The developer, Perennial Properties Inc., specializes in mixed-use projects that include upscale urban apartments with street-level retail space, according to its website. Perennial owns 10 apartment communities in Atlanta and is headquartered in the Arya Peachtree apartment building, which opened in 2020 and is next to Huntington Arms.

Through a set of LLCs, Perennial started buying condos at Huntington Arms in 2016 and currently owns 21 of the 36 units there. Eight people own the remaining 15 units, with some used as rental properties. According to Fulton County property sales records, the lowest Perennial has paid for a unit is $160,000 (945 square feet), in 2016, and the highest is $275,000 (963 square feet), in 2022.

Kathy Hickey, an artist who has lived at Huntington Arms since 1994, called the situation a “hostile takeover.” In July she was so depressed about it that she attempted suicide and spent four days at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, including two in a coma.

“Before I could open my eyes [each day], I have this impending sense of doom and depression,” she said. “I don’t have any other options. I don’t have any assets. I’m going to be forced out.”

Maintenance Issues No Longer Ignored

In the past two years, three Perennial employees (Craig Wasilewsky, Michael Felker and Amy Ronan) were voted onto Huntington Arms’ HOA board, and Wasilewsky is the current president. Also, Perennial employee Whit Johnson was on the board from 2016 to 2020 or 2021. The other two current board members (Helen Dennis and Frank Sasser) are unit owners.

Since then, the HOA board has made some financial decisions to address at least two decades of deferred maintenance. Huntington Arms’ buildings have had issues ranging from old boilers breaking down, leaving residents without heat, to leaky windows, pipes and walls causing flooding in their basements and units.

In 2022, the HOA board raised the monthly dues from $450 to $591 because there was hardly any reserve fund, residents said.

In the same year, the HOA board voted to require each of the Huntington Arms owners to pay an assessment of about $5,000 to replenish its HOA reserves. In 2021 or 2022, the board considered collecting a second assessment for about $3,000 per unit to repair and replace many windows, but instead it recommended each condo owner have the work done individually.

In May, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a Washington, DC-based engineering firm hired by the HOA board, issued an engineering report after its representatives visited the property the previous January. According to the report, a long list of short- and long-term repair and replacement recommendations were made for the property, with two cost options depending on how much roof repair/replacement work was done.

The total cost for all projects was $3.2 million if Option 1 for the roof work was considered, and $3.3 million if Option 2 was considered.

Some residents have blamed Perennial for the decisions to increase the dues and levy an assessment, but company CEO Tim Schrager said those choices were made solely by the HOA board.

According to the Georgia Condominium Act, which governs condos, including their HOAs, Perennial has done nothing illegal in terms of its participation in Huntington Arms’ HOA board or how it has handled the condo sales transactions.

Condo Values Debated

The interior of a condo at the Huntington Arms

Residents’ concerns also include Perennial making low offers on the remaining units and crime that some owners blame on the Arya Peachtree’s residents or guests.

Huntington Arms residents pointed to recent sales of properties on Peachtree as reasons why they feel their condos are worth as much as $400 to $500 per square feet, citing the property’s value, which some estimate is as high as $17 million to $24 million for the land, which totals 1.77 acres.

Residents also mentioned a deal a different developer nearly made in 2007 or 2008 to purchase every Huntington Arms unit for at least $400 per square foot ($17 million total), but that deal fell through, possibly due to the Great Recession’s onset.

Today, however, Perennial is offering the remaining owners about $250 or lower per square foot for their units. Schrager pointed to the recent sales of units at the Collier Condominiums, built in 1925 and located nearby at 28 Collier Road. According to the board of assessors’ website, since 2021, condos there have sold for between $255,000 and $300,000 and range from 756 to 960 square feet.

Schrager said Perennial’s handling of the situation of purchasing Huntington Arms units and making offers on others has been anything but a hostile takeover.

“I would strongly disagree with that classification of how it’s been described. I think if you talk to the sellers who have sold their units, they would tell you we offered very competitive market-rate prices for every single unit we purchased,” he said, then adding that the other developer’s offer has given the remaining owners an unrealistic expectation of how much their units are worth.

Schrager said Perennial’s only current plan for Huntington Arms “is to maintain the property in a quality manner and operate the units as rental units” and not buy them all at once.

“We’re not interested in acquiring the entire property for redevelopment, so there was no reason to try to corral all the owners together to purchase the entire thing,” he said. “We just saw the opportunity to buy individual units that would make good rental units, so we started acquiring them as owners decided they wanted to sell.”

Also, during a tour of Perennial’s office and the Arya Peachtree building, Schrager showed a reporter the fourth-floor patio, which has south-facing views of the midtown and downtown Atlanta skylines. He said one of the reasons why the company has no plans to build a high-rise on the lot where Huntington Arms is located is it would eliminate the views Arya’s residents currently have.

Residents Cite Rise in Crime

Regarding the crime issue, Huntington Arms residents have complained that it’s increased recently, and although some blame the rise on the Arya Peachtree’s opening, in the past two years there’s no evidence that any gun-related crimes originated there.

According to the Atlanta Police Department’s online Open Data Portal, which tracks police reports made regarding crimes at locations all over the city, there were 18 reported crimes at Arya Peachtree’s address in 2022 and 2023 combined, and none had reports of gunfire, according to the portal.

Though crime report information related to Huntington Arms’ address was not available via the portal, according to information obtained from the police through an open records request, based on the addresses they originated from, at Huntington Arms there were 10 911 calls reporting crimes in 2022 and 11 last year. Hickey said she and her neighbors at Huntington Arms have reported, via 911 calls, at least six incidents of nearby gunfire since 2022, with the most recent one happening in February.

Remaining Owners Speak Out

Hickey said Perennial recently offered her $200,000 for her unit, and she declined because she felt that wouldn’t be enough to buy another condo nearby. Hickey added that as a senior citizen on a fixed income, she struggles financially.

Other Huntington Arms residents interviewed for this article said they would like to live there as long as possible, unless the conditions worsen.

Huntington Arms resident Frank Sasser

Sasser, a retired IRS clerk, has lived at Huntington Arms for 44 years. He said he was offered $232,000 for his unit two years ago and declined, arguing it’s worth more.

“It’s sort of galling to think that I and other people who have lived here for so long would not reap a large benefit, but then they would buy at a reduced rate and make a large benefit for owning only a short period of time,” Sasser said.

He said he wishes Perennial had offered to buy all of the units at once, like the previous developer did before that deal fizzled out.

“So, I think that was a better way to go about it than to go through this gradual prolonging the death of the place by chopping off one person at a time,” he said. “It’s made some people … feel like they can’t talk to certain people or can’t say certain things. It’s just made it a less enjoyable place to live.”

Betsy Dorminey, a lawyer, said she fell in love with Huntington Arms as a high school student.

“I remember driving past it on Peachtree Street. I thought, ‘That’s a lovely building, I would love to live there some day,’” said Dorminey, who bought her unit nearly 30 years ago.

Today she and her husband split time between their Buckhead condo and another home in Athens. She said she hasn’t yet been offered to sell her unit to Perennial.

“I’m not looking to sell, for one thing,” Dorminey said. “My husband [Blair] and I are repeat offenders in historic preservation, so I really have a soft spot for any old buildings in general, and the Huntington in particular.”

One homeowner who hasn’t yet sold their unit to Perennial agreed to be interviewed only under the condition of anonymity. Like the other holdouts interviewed, they hoped a developer could come in and buy all the units at once for a higher price than what Perennial is offering.

“I think they have an opportunity to be a win-win for everybody by letting us sell to an outside developer, where everyone including themselves could make a great deal of money,” the homeowner said. “Though, I am very disappointed that they have approached this the way that they have. … People have found their low-ball offers extremely insulting.”

“I am taking a wait-and-see approach. My hope is they’ll do the right thing. I would like to make this a win-win situation for everyone. We all know what a hostile takeover is, and we all know that people will manipulate homeowners to sell for a low price. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Kathy Hinckey in front of the Huntington Arms and the neighboring Arya complex.

‘Perennial Was Cordial, Businesslike’

When reached by phone, two residents who sold their units in the past two years declined to comment, saying they couldn’t because they signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as part of the transaction.

William Weathers, who with his wife Helen sold their condo for $275,000 in 2023, said they sold their unit “because of the many years of bad leadership in the [HOA] board.” Helen Weathers bought it in 1979, but after she and William got married about a year later, they lived there only another year before having a baby, buying a home in Vinings and renting out the condo. Helen Weathers said she had fond memories of living at Huntington Arms.

“When I bought that place, I was 30 years old; I’m 75 now,” she said. “I paid $32,000 for it. Back then I could barely make that. I lived alone. When I moved over there, everybody was all about the same age, and we were all poor and we didn’t have any money after we bought those places. We all had full-time jobs, and we would fix up our condos ourselves on the weekends, when we would get together and buy pizza and drink beer before going back to painting. We had a wonderful time. Nobody’s place was air-conditioned, and we all purchased [our units] in the summer. We were miserable but still had a good time.”

Of the situation with the remaining homeowners, Helen Weathers added, “It’s unfortunate. It’s a beautiful piece of property. It’s now time to go.”

William and Helen Weathers said they did not sign a NDA as part of the transaction and were not aware that some other sellers did.

While this is the first situation in which Perennial has bought condos with the plan to refurbish and rent them out, the company has decades of experience with other deals regarding its apartment buildings. When asked why some residents signed NDAs as part of their sales transactions, Perennial Vice President Jay McGinnity said, “It’s standard operating procedure. Whenever we buy a property, we come with a non-disclosure agreement, especially in a situation where it’s a commodity and there’s other buyers.”

When asked about how Perennial’s staff handled he and his wife’s condo sale, William Weathers said they were tough but fair.

“But I was in no great rush to sell, and between my price in mind and what they’d be willing to buy it for, they came up to my price,” William Weathers said. “Along with that, I understand the situation and that the buildings and the complex were going to continue to deteriorate, and the buildings needed to be torn down.

“I don’t think the remaining owners are willing to step up and do what’s required because at this juncture, the buildings are not worth as much as the maintenance needed would require. My experience with Perennial was cordial, businesslike, just that. I’m used to dealing with businesspeople, and they acted in a very proper way with me. But their motive is just that, profit.”

Center Hopes Condos Are Preserved

David Mitchell, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, a nonprofit that aims to protect and promote the city’s historic properties, said that when and if any owner decides to demolish Huntington Arms, the center would do what it could to save it. He was interviewed before Schrager was.

“I would like to see the buildings preserved,” Mitchell said. “But you have to navigate all these things with zoning, particularly with a space like North Atlanta that doesn’t have the same level of protection as there are in cities south of Atlanta. We would be very open and very excited to speak with the management about alternatives to demolition.”

Mitchell pointed to The Roosevelt as an Atlanta historic preservation success story. The Grant Park building opened in 1924 as Roosevelt High School and today is a set of historic loft apartments. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, in 2021 TriBridge Residential, an Atlanta-based company that invests, develops, builds and manages apartment properties, bought The Roosevelt and 16 other properties from Aderhold Properties, an Atlanta-based property management company, for a total of $140 million.

“There are phenomenal [historic properties] in Buckhead like Huntington Arms,” Mitchell said. “It really keeps you connected to that part of Atlanta.”

Dorminey said while she could afford to pay for another assessment to cover the costs outlined in the engineering report, some of the remaining homeowners would have a hard time doing so.

“On the other hand, I see the engineering report could be used as a pretext for demolition later,” Dorminey said. “Because, gosh darn it, it’s not feasible to do all the things that need to be done, so it makes better economic sense to knock it down, which would be a pity.”

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