Council of Neighborhoods grills Councilman Shook about stand on Lindbergh area ‘big box’ proposal

from Buckhead View
Those attending the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods August meeting Thursday evening wanted to know where Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook stands on the issue of the changing 21 acres off Piedmont Road in the Lindbergh area from high-density residential to commercial zoning for a planned ‘big box’ development.

Many walked away from the meeting not knowing if they got a commitment from Shook on how he would vote or not. But the Buckhead councilman told the audience he is in a listening mode.
City Councilman Howard Shook makes a point at BCN meeting.

The strongest statement Shook made on the issue was “I have never told anyone that I would vote for this development,” which would be in opposition to the positions that Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B) and many neighborhoods in his district have formally expressed.
That remark by Shook was directly in response to a posting by a report by the Garden Hills neighborhood’s Town Crier report earlier in the day, which said Shook and Dist. 6 Councilman Alex Wan both had committed to vote in favor of the development.
Over almost 18 months of negotiating, NPU-B repeatedly denied plans for the mixed-use development with a 150,000-square-foot big box store near Lindbergh Center that is proposed by The Sembler Co. and Fuqua Development. NPU-B denied both land-use changes in the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan and changes in zoning for the entire 21 acres from high-density residential to commercial.
Since 2001, the area surrounding Lindbergh Center has been designated a Transportation-Oriented Development (TOD) and Special Public Interest District (SPI) by the city of Atlanta, with specific zoning regulations meant to maximize transportation resources and create more pedestrian-friendly, urban development.
Shook told the group his vote has to be governed by whether or not the development plan submitted by The Sembler Co. and Fuqua Development meets the criteria laid out in the SPI-15 (Special Public Interest district 15) legislation or not. “That is what I have to look at,” he said.
He said he sees a plan that has a 3-acre park or greenspace, and less than 50 percent of retail and a little over 50 percent of residential development. And he said the parking spaces meet the SPI-15 criteria.
Early in the meeting, Howard Shook (center) and Bob
Schneider of the Garden Hills neighborhood (right) listen
to presentation from George Dusenbury, commissioner of
the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
“Tell me point by point how the final plan submitted violates SPI-15,” Shook challenged the group, which included representatives of both NPU-B and neighboring NPU-F as well as representatives of neighborhoods which are BCN members.
Shook said that, although the NPU-B full board almost unanimously denied both the land use and zoning changes for the property, the city’s Zoning Review Board approved the plans by a vote of 4-3 and the city’s Planning Department also approved the final plans. He also indicated that the Development Review Committee for SPI-15 approved the developer’s plans.
NPU-B board member
Abbie Shepherd
NPU-B board member Abbie Shepherd, who also is a member of the SPI-15 Development Review Committee, challenged Shook on that, saying the DRC “tore the plan apart during its discussion” but then decided it could not take a vote on the issue “because there had not been a change in zoning approved for the property.”
Shook said he will seek to have the zoning change from residential to commercial held in the City Council’s Zoning Committee for further study when the committee meets Aug. 20, the same day the full council was originally scheduled to discuss the issue.
That all may be moot, since the Community Development Human Resources Committee of City Council first must approve a change in land use for the plan before any zoning change can be considered by the Zoning Committee.
NPU-F Chair Jane Rawlings

Another wrinkle in the process was brought up by Jane Rawlings, chair of NPU-F which also has gone on record as opposing the proposed 21-acre development bounded by Lindbergh Avenue, Morosgo and Adina drives and is behind the Zesto;s on Piedmont Road.
Rawlings pointed out that the Atlanta Regional Commission is required to conduct a Development of Regional Impact study on the proposal because of its impact on regional transportation arteries and the additional traffic it is likely to create. She said that study was only requested on July 15 and would take some time to complete.
Both Rawlings and Shook agreed that no city action can proceed until that Development of Regional Impact study is completed and submitted to the city for review.
After several in the audience questioned that the developers would stick to their “mixed-use” site plan and turn the site into an all-commercial development, Shook said,  “I am aware that there is a back door issue that needs to be locked up to make sure that somehow this doesn’t end up being totally commercial, which I have committed to do.”
Rawlings asked Shook point blank if he would vote in opposition if he was presented with a list of how the development violates SPI-15.
“If you show me facts, I will follow you around all day long,” Shook replied.
BCN Chairman Jim King

To the approval of many attending the meeting, BCN Chairman Jim King challenged Shook to vote with the neighborhoods in his district and his constituents and vote to deny the rezoning for the development and the plans as proposed.
King urged Shook to work on his colleagues to get them to also vote against the development plans saying, “I would think out of respect for you and your vote they would follow your lead,” Shook said his colleagues certainly respect him and his positions, but he is not “entitled” to having them vote the way he would like.
King then said to Shook, “I have not heard you ask for help in convincing your colleagues” to vote to against these land use and zoning changes and against the development plans.
“The neighborhoods want you to vote no,” King said. “It is your district. I think they [other council members] will respect you if you represent your neighborhoods. I’ve seen you vote many times on principal before on other issues and I think this is an issue to the neighborhoods that is a matter of principal.”
“With well connected developers and their attorneys, and an administration that would love to see us start crawling out of our depression, I don’t have a monopoly on the outcome of this,” Shook said.
He went on to explain that council members are going to be told that the development meets the legal criteria as asserted by the planning department, ZRB and some neighborhood members – even ones that don’t like the project.
“They are going to listen to me, some more than others, although there will be some that, the more they become aware with Buckhead’s displeasure with the project, the more enticing it will become to vote for it,” he explained.
“It is zoned residential and they want to change it to commercial. That doesn’t seem like people are acting in good faith with whatever SPI-15 is, however weak it is,” King said. “If that is what the agreement was, that it be residential, the City is not acting in good faith on that. That is the way it comes across and i think that is what is rubbing everybody wrong.”
NPU-B Development & Transportation
Committee Chair Andrea Bennett
NPU-B Development & Transportation Committee Chair Andrea Bennett, who was attending the meeting and supported the actions of her committee and the NPU-B in denying the zoning change for the property, said she heard no real commitment of support from Shook during the meeting.
“If he votes against the zoning change and the development plans, there is at least a chance some other members of City Council will follow his vote,” Bennett said. “But if he doesn’t take a strong stand against it, there is no chance other council members will vote against it.”
Bennett said those that might follow Shook in denying the development plans could be Dist. 6 Councilman Alex Wan, Dist. 9 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, At-Large Councilman Aaron Watson and maybe Dist. 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore. That would provide five votes against. With just three more votes the controversial issue would be denied and go away.
Shook urged those at the BCN meeting to send him emails with their thoughts, but cautioned them to sign their emails. He indicated he does not pay much attention to emails from people who refuse to say who they are.

Lindbergh Rezoning Could Have ‘Profound Negative Long-term Effects’

Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association president writes a letter to the community asking for help in opposing development on Lindbergh Drive
As a resident of the City of Atlanta, I am reaching out you each of you and bring to your attention an issue that will have profound negative long-term effects on residents in our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods.
On July  12, 2012, the City’s Zoning Review Board (ZRB) heard a rezoning  application (Z-11-19) for an 18-acre property located at the  intersections of Lindbergh Drive, Morosgo Drive, and Adina Drive, all  located in the Northeast section of the City.
The applicant has  proposed developing approximately 18 acres of land to include a mixture  of commercial and residential uses.
The development would include at  least one major retail store (150,000 square feet of space).
In  addition, the applicant indicates that there will be space for a  multi-family residential building and several smaller commercial spaces  as well as a 3-acre park, an area smaller than if the current zoning  were to remain the same. The applicant requested that the property be  rezoned from a residential subarea within the Special Public Interest  (SPI-15) area to a commercial subarea.
The Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) B, in which the property is located, recommended denial of the application,  stating inconsistencies with the transit-oriented development goals  encompassed in the SPI-15 plans.
However, at the July 12 meeting and  despite clear opposition to the change by nearly 100 citizens from other  NPUs and neighborhoods, the ZRB voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the  rezoning request.
Still to come is a review by the City Council Zoning  Committee slated for August 1, 2012; its recommendation will be heard  and voted on by the full City Council on August 20, 2012. The  recommendation of Council then will be forwarded to Mayor Kassim Reed.
Issues

  • This ZRB-recommended rezoning constitutes a clear change in  policy regarding the value of SPIs across City in promoting and  maintaining a vibrant urban core. The ZRB decision clearly discounts the  work and dedication of NPUs, individual neighborhoods, and the business  community to foster this new urbanism through SPIs. Approximately 10  years ago, Carter and Associates, neighborhoods, and the City engaged in  a 2-year planning process to establish the Lindbergh Transit Station  SPI. Now, we have to ask why we should continue to put the time and  energy into efforts such as SPIs if the City simply ignores the  recommendations of its citizens. NPUs clearly see this decision as a  signal to some developers that SPIs across the City are “free game.”
  • Traffic  conditions on Lindbergh Drive will deteriorate even further. As a major  east-west corridor, this state highway, which is primarily a two-lane  road, will be clogged with the additional traffic the development will  attract. For example, the development calls for 642 parking spaces!  Other major roads (e.g., Piedmont, Sidney Marcus) will be affected as  well. Citizens in neighborhoods along Lindbergh already have difficulty  entering and exiting their neighborhoods. Disabled people also use the  sidewalks to maneuver wheelchairs along this certain-to-become-more-dangerous thoroughfare.
  • Environmental  concerns are real. Currently, the property is residential, comprising  mostly apartments. If this property is developed as the applicant  describes in its plans, the 642 parking spaces will add to the amount of  impervious surface on that property and the runoff (including surface  contaminants) into the nearby South Fork of Peachtree Creek will greatly  increase. Flooding, always a concern in this area, would likely be more  severe as a result.
  • Current residents of the  apartments on the property will have to relocate. I do not know whether  these residents have been informed about what is in the offing. I do  know that the majority of them are minorities and that many of them use  public transit. Many of the children who live in these apartments  currently attend nearby Garden Hills Elementary School and middle and  high school in the area. Thus, demolishing their homes will also affect  the school system.

I am asking each of  you to please contact the Council Zoning Committee. This issue will  affect all of us in and around the neighborhoods. Please email and call  the following members to stress your concerns. The next meeting on this  very topic is August 1, 2012. The following people list below could  reverse the ZRB recommendation.

  1. Alex Wan Chair 404-330-6049 alexawan@atlantaga.gov
  2. Keisha Lance Bottoms, Vice Chair 404-330-6054 kbottoms@atlantaga.gov
  3. Howard Shook 404-330-6050 hshook@atlantaga.gov
  4. Carla Smith       404-330-6039  csmith@atlantaga.gov
  5. Aaron Watson   404-330-6302 aaronwatson@atlantaga.gov
  6. Lamar Willis      404-330-6041  lwillis@atlantaga.gov
  7. Ivory /young JR 404-330-6046 ilyoung@atantaga.gov

Thank you for helping and tell our Council Zoning Committee, how   this could change our neighborhood and surrounding areas if ZRB starts   over ruling local SPI’s.
Sincerely,
Roxanne Sullivan, President Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association

Where It All Went Wrong: If only we could undo the MARTA Compromise of 1971

Doug Monroe for Atlanta Magazine
8/1/2012

Like ghosts rising out of a Confederate cemetery, Atlanta’s past lapses in judgment haunt the region today, leaving a smoky trail of suburban decay, declining home values, clogged highways, and a vastly diminished reputation.
At the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs. It wasn’t just a one-time blunder—it was the single worst mistake in a whole cluster bomb of missteps, errors, power plays, and just plain meanness that created the region’s transportation infrastructure.

As we look at the future of Atlanta, there’s no question that battling our notorious traffic and sprawl is key to the metro area’s potential vitality. What if there were a Back to the Future–type option, where we could take a mystical DeLorean (heck, we’d settle for a Buick), ride back in time, and fix something? What event would benefit most from the use of a hypothetical “undo” key?
The transit compromise of 1971.
Before we get into the story of what happened in 1971, we need to back up a few years. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA, the mass transit system for the City of Atlanta and the five core metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. Cobb voters rejected MARTA, while it got approval from the city and the four other counties. Although, as it turned out, the state never contributed any dedicated funds for MARTA’s operations, in 1966 Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the state to fund 10 percent of the total cost of a rapid rail system in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1968, voters in Atlanta and MARTA’s core counties rejected a plan to finance MARTA through property taxes. In 1971—when the issue was presented to voters again—Clayton and Gwinnett voters dropped their support, and MARTA ended up being backed by only DeKalb, Fulton, and the City of Atlanta.
In 1971, given the lack of support for MARTA by the five core counties, then Mayor Sam Massell came back with a new plan: to provide an ongoing subsidy for MARTA through a sales tax levied in Fulton, DeKalb, and the City of Atlanta. No other jurisdiction in Georgia had a local option sales tax, so the General Assembly had to approve the idea. When the notoriously anti-Atlanta legislators gave the go-ahead, Massell called a press conference that featured a flatbed truck pulling up in front of city hall, facing the Capitol, with a large billboard that said, “Thank You, Georgia Lawmakers!” Massell then dug a hole in the city hall lawn and buried a hatchet to symbolize his appreciation for the state’s rare support of the city.
In a promotional stunt worthy of Mad Men, Massell sent a bevy of young women to the Capitol in pink hot pants with little keys to the city, a proclamation expressing the city’s gratitude, and invitations to city hall for a lunch featuring fried chicken (for Lieutenant Governor Lester Maddox), peanuts (for Governor Jimmy Carter), and, of course, Coca-Cola. “We got a four-column picture—the biggest exposure we ever got from the Atlanta newspapers,” recalls Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition.
After getting the legislative approval for the sales-tax option, Massell had to persuade voters to pass the sales tax. “We were going to buy the existing bus company, which was then charging sixty cents and a nickel transfer each way—$1.30 a day—and they were about to go out of business. I promised the community we would drop that fare to fifteen cents each way immediately,” Massell says. The daily fare would plunge from $1.30 to thirty cents. Not everyone believed him. City Councilman Henry Dodson cruised the city in a Volkswagen with a PA system that blared, “It’s a trick! If they can’t do it for sixty cents, how are they going to do it for fifteen?”
Massell countered the VW with higher visibility, chartering a helicopter to hover over the Downtown Connector, congested even then, while he called through a bullhorn, “If you want out of this mess, vote yes!”
“This being the Bible Belt, they thought God was telling them what to do,” Massell quips today. Still, to make sure Atlantans voted his way, he rode buses throughout the city, passing out brochures to riders, and he visited community groups with a blackboard and chalk to do the math on the sales tax. Voters approved the plan by just a few hundred votes.
Another of the blunders that crippled MARTA at the outset—and haunts it to this day—was engineered behind closed doors by the segregationist Lester Maddox, according to Massell, who believes Maddox’s intervention was even more devastating than the vote not to extend MARTA into the suburbs.
After the Georgia House of Representatives approved funding MARTA through the sales tax, Massell had to approach the Georgia State Senate, where Maddox held sway. Maddox told the mayor he would block the vote in the senate unless MARTA agreed that no more than 50 percent of the sales tax revenue would go to operating costs, Massell recalls. “He called me into his office and told me that was it. Either I swallowed that or he was going to kill it and it would not pass.”
That has meant that whenever MARTA needed more money for operating expenses, it had to cut elsewhere or raise fares. As a result, MARTA has raised the fare over the years to today’s $2.50, making it one of the priciest transit systems in the country.
Although the 50 percent limit has resulted in higher fares, few people realized the ramifications of the so-called “Maddox amendment” at the time, Massell says. In fact, it actually was viewed favorably by DeKalb legislators because they were afraid MARTA would spend all its money in Atlanta before extending rail service to DeKalb, according to a thirty-six-page history of MARTA written by former State Treasurer Thomas D. Hills.
Hills’s MARTA history also illuminates why the state never contributed funds for MARTA, despite that 1966 vote that would have allowed it to. One early plan was for the MARTA sales tax to be three-quarters of a penny, with the state chipping in up to 10 percent of the cost of the system as approved by Georgia voters. But early in his administration, according to Hills’s history, then Governor Carter called MARTA attorney Stell Huie—who was on a quail-hunting trip—and said the state couldn’t afford its $25 million share for MARTA. Carter offered to raise the sales tax to a full penny if the state didn’t have to pay, and Huie agreed. The lawyer said the 1 percent sales tax plan came out of the House Committee on Ways and Means and “there was a tag end, not even part of the act, that just said the state won’t put any money in.”
Hills wrote that the events help to “explain why some representatives of state government and others in the community understand that the state’s support in allowing the local option sales tax for MARTA was a bargain in exchange for a reprieve for the state from future funding for MARTA.”
The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
The 1960 census counted approximately 300,000 white residents in Atlanta. From 1960 to 1980, around 160,000 whites left the city—Atlanta’s white population was cut in half over two decades, says Kevin M. Kruse, the Princeton professor who wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Kruse notes that skeptics suggested Atlanta’s slogan should have been “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.” “Racial concerns trumped everything else,” Kruse says. “The more you think about it, Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure was designed as much to keep people apart as to bring people together.”
In the early 1970s, Morehouse College professor Abraham Davis observed, “The real problem is that whites have created a transportation problem for themselves by moving farther away from the central city rather than living in an integrated neighborhood.”
The votes against MARTA were not the only evidence of the role of race in Atlanta’s transportation plans. The interstate highways were designed to gouge their way through black neighborhoods. Georgia Tech history professor Ronald H. Bayor, author of Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, says the failure of the 1971 MARTA referendum in Gwinnett and Clayton was the beginning of the region’s transportation problems because of the lack of mass transit in the suburbs. Yet his research goes back to the racial reckoning behind the route of the interstate highway system that began construction in the 1950s.
The highway now called the Downtown Connector, the stretch where I-75 and I-85 run conjoined through the city, gutted black neighborhoods by forcing the removal of many working-class blacks from the central business district. It could have been worse. The highway was first designed to run smack through the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the city’s major black-owned business. “The original intention was to destroy that black business,” Bayor says. A protest by the black community saved the structure and moved the highway route a few blocks east, where it still managed to cut through the black community’s main street, Auburn Avenue.
Interstate 20 on the west side of town is a particularly egregious example of race-based road-building. Bayor wrote: “In a 1960 report on the transitional westside neighborhood of Adamsville . . . the Atlanta Bureau of Planning noted that ‘approximately two to three years ago, there was an “understanding” that the proposed route of the West Expressway [I-20 West] would be the boundary between the white and Negro communities.’”
The strategy didn’t work, of course, as whites fled by the tens of thousands. One of the unintended consequences of the race-based road-building is today’s traffic jams. “What happened didn’t change the racial makeup of the metro area but led to congestion within the metro area,” Bayor says.
Aside from political vengeance and racial politics, another enormous factor was at play in transportation policies of the 1960s and 1970s: Atlanta’s love affair with the automobile. The great migration out of the city started in the late 1950s—just as workers at General Motors’ vast Lakewood assembly plant in southeast Atlanta put the finishing touches on one of the most iconic cars in history: the 1957 Chevy.
The allure of roaring around Atlanta in cool cars took over and never let go. Once MARTA started running, who would ride a bus or subway when they could drive a sleek, powerful car and fill it with cheap gas? Only the people who couldn’t afford the car. MARTA became an isolated castaway, used primarily by poor and working-class blacks. Racist suburbanites brayed that the system’s acronym stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
While MARTA was struggling to crank up the bus and rail system, the State of Georgia and its powerful highway department had other, bigger ideas.
David Goldberg, a former transportation reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the road-building binge that led to the gigantic highways that course through metro Atlanta—some of the widest in the world—diminished MARTA’s potential. “It’s not a single mistake but a bunch of decisions that add up to one big mistake—the failure to capitalize on the incredible success we had in winning funding for MARTA by undermining it with the incredible success we had in getting funding for the interstate highways,” says Goldberg, now communications director for Washington-based Transportation for America. “We were too damn successful—it was an embarrassment of success. Like a lot of nouveau riche, we blew it before we knew what to do with it.”
As metro Atlanta’s geographic expansion grew white-hot, developers had to move homebuyers—those fleeing the city and others moving South from the Rust Belt—in and out of the new subdivisions they were carving from the pine forests and red clay. Georgia started “building highways expressly to enrich developers,” Goldberg says. “A whole lot of land owners and developers who knew how to do suburban development had the ear of state government and the money to buy influence. They took all that money we had and put it into developing interchanges way out from town. A lot of what was new suburban development back then is now underused, decaying, and part of an eroding tax base in the older suburban areas.”
The vast highway system sucked up billions of federal dollars while the state refused to put a penny into MARTA—until the past fifteen years, during which it helped buy some buses. “The sick joke of it all is that we built the place to be auto-oriented and designed it about as bad as we could to function for auto use,” Goldberg says. “The highway network we did build was designed in a way almost guaranteed to produce congestion—the land use around all that development put the nail in the coffin.” He refers to the neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs that force cars onto crowded arterial roads lined with commercial activity, then force them to merge onto the freeways, which eventually funnel down to one highway through the heart of Atlanta.

More than forty years later, what does the failure to create MARTA as a regional system mean for Atlanta? Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and professor at George Washington University, has been watching Atlanta’s growth—and decline—for decades. In January he declared, “Atlanta is no longer Hotlanta.” He cited the free fall from the number eighty-ninespot on the list of the world’s 200 fastest-growing metro areas to ranking at 189 in just five years. Not to mention the plunge of 29 percent in average housing price per square foot between 2000 and 2010. Not to mention that Atlanta has the eleventh-most-congested traffic of 101 metro areas in the country.
“The big mistake was not taking advantage of MARTA,” Leinberger says. “Atlanta was given by the federal taxpayers a tremendous gift that they squandered as far as MARTA. It’s not just that Atlanta did not take advantage of it. They didn’t expand it and they didn’t recognize that it could allow them to build a balanced way of developing.”
Leinberger agrees that part of the region’s blindness toward MARTA’s potential was the belief “that the car was the be-all and end-all forever. The other part was the basic racism that still molds how Atlanta is built.”
The most maddening realization is that the once virtually all-white suburbs that voted against MARTA years ago are today quite diverse and reflect Atlanta’s evolution from a biracial city to a multiracial, multiethnic one. Today’s suburbs are not only home to African Americans, but also Latino, Asian, and Eastern European immigrants. The city’s diversity is projected to increase over the coming decades (see page 68). Many of the people who voted against MARTA decades ago are dead or retired. The suburban lifestyle they were so eager to defend has lost much of its cachet as gas prices soar and houses don’t sell. Smart young people up to their necks in college debt don’t want to spend their money and time driving cars back and forth; they want to live in town. Atlanta’s only neighborhoods to gain inflation-adjusted housing value in the past decade, Leinberger notes, were Virginia-Highland, Grant Park, and East Lake.
The Georgia Sierra Club’s opposition to the July 31 referendum on a regional transportation sales tax—on the grounds that the plan, despite including a majority for transit, was a sprawl-inducing road expansion—troubled Leinberger. “That’s a dangerous strategy. From what everybody tells me, this is a one-off.” He says the state legislature has traditionally treated Atlanta like a child, and is saying, “Finally, one time only, children, are we going to let you decide for yourself. This is it.”
The July 31 vote is “an Olympic moment,” he says. “If the vote fails, you have to accept the fact that Atlanta will continue to decline as a metro area.” Forty years from now, will we look back at failure to pass the referendum as a mistake as devastating as the 1971 MARTA compromise?
Atlanta faces a classic problem. It boomed in the go-go decades at the end of the twentieth century when everyone zoomed alone in their cars from home to office to store. Now it must move beyond what worked in the past to a new era that demands a new way of building, with up to 70 percent of new development oriented around transit, Leinberger says. “Atlanta has a lot of catching up to do, but it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks.”
The never-ending ramifications of a race-based transportation infrastructure, built to accommodate a suburban driving lifestyle that has started to die off in a state that has traditionally refused to embrace mass transit, could doom Atlanta to a future as a newer, sunnier Detroit.
“It only takes a generation-plus of yinning when you should have yanged to wake up and say, ‘Oh my God! How did it happen?’” says outgoing MARTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, who watched from afar the decline of her hometown, Cleveland.
Atlanta’s failure to build out MARTA looks even more shameful when compared with what happened with similar transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which started at the same time as MARTA, she says. “The reality is, this region got stuck. We have about half the build-out of what it was planned to be.” But San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”
MARTA was born out of Atlanta’s giant ego in the days when the city was entering the major leagues across the board—baseball, football, international airport—bolstered by a racially harmonious reputation unmatched in the South, deserved or not. “You said to yourself, ‘We’re top-notch. Everybody’s got to have a rail system,’” Scott says. “But it was built as a manifestation of ‘we have arrived’ without a bigger vision of ‘what do we want to do for our region?’ You built it like a trophy.” Indeed, some of the Downtown MARTA stations were built on a scale that would please a pharaoh.
Yet Scott says she is no doomsayer. During her tenure at MARTA, she has seen marked progress in forging the civic- political infrastructure necessary to build an integrated transportation network. Her concern is that the region is at a critically urgent juncture in the process and can’t afford to lose focus or momentum.“There’s still much work to be done,” she says.
Word about Atlanta’s transportation muddle has gotten around. Scott says she’s been privy to meetings during which corporate relocation experts tell Chamber of Commerce members: “Hey, Atlanta is not only not at the top tier anymore, we’ve got companies saying, ‘Don’t put the Atlanta region on the list.’” It’s not just the congestion and pollution—“they’re not seeing leadership or plans to get yourself out of the fix.”
Atlanta’s leaderless transportation fix is the ultimate example of the admonition, “Be careful what you pray for.”
“This is the irony: The majority of whites in Atlanta wanted to be isolated when they thought about public transportation,” says historian Kevin Kruse. “As a result, they have been in their cars on 75 and 85. They got what they wanted. They are safe in their own space. They’re just not moving anywhere.”

Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative Announces Locally Preferred Alternative

by Jane P. Rawlings, LLCC Transportation Coordinator
 

MARTA Planning staff has completed the review of community feedback and technical analysis and have finalized a recommended locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Clifton Corridor. The LPA is the alternative that, based on technical analysis and stakeholder input, would most effectively address the needs of the corridor and goals and objectives of the project.
The recommended LPA includes 8.8 miles of new light rail transit (LRT) service connecting the Lindbergh MARTA Station to the Emory/Clifton Corridor and beyond to the Avondale MARTA Station. The recommendation for the locally preferred alternative includes several tunnels and one of those tunnels extends from an area west of Lenox Road to an area just west of Briarcliff Road.
MARTA Planning staff will present the LPA recommendation to the MARTA Planning and External Relations Committee on March 26 at 10:00 a.m. and to the MARTA Board on April 9 at 1:30 p.m.  There will be a public comment period prior to the Board meeting only.  Both meetings will be held at:
MARTA Headquarters, 6th Floor Board Room, 2424 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30324.
Upon MARTA Board approval, the agency will present the LPA to the Atlanta Regional Commission for adoption and incorporation into the long-range transportation plan. Afterwards, the LPA will be advanced through the next step in the federal project development process which is the completion of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This study will go into much more detailed level of analysis as compared to the Alternatives Analysis (AA).
The Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition (LLCC) in conjunction with the Morningside Lenox Park Association (MLPA), and the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association (WHNA) hired Heather Alhadeff, Senior Transportation Planner with Perkins + Will, to assist us in disseminating information to the public, collecting this input, and preparing a formal document for inclusion in the AA. This document which includes a summary along with all results and comments from our surveys is included. To view this report click HERE. Inclusion in the report best positions our communities in the federal process moving forward.
The Fact Sheet recently released by MARTA has concerned some in our community as it did not mention tunneling of the project or a Morningside station. The purpose of a Fact Sheet is to comment ONLY on the alignment and technology preferences for the project. It is not intended to address the project in great detail. For this type of information one will have to review the study document. I have reached out to Jason Morgan, Project Manager, for the CCTI requesting additional summary details regarding the second segment (from Cheshire Bridge to Briarcliff) as I have received emails with questions. I share below his comments in an effort to address some of these matters and provide clarity to the public.
Email correspondence from Jason Morgan, Project Manager MARTA:
The fact sheet that has been distributed does not preclude the tunnel.  The tunnel is part of the proposal. In fact, there are three tunnels that are included with the proposal. The second and third tunnels are further east along the alignment. The fact sheet is not intended to go into the details regarding where every tunnel or elevated structure is located.  We have other materials which illustrate the specific station concepts and tunnel proposals. We have done our best to balance the comments from members of the community throughout the entire project corridor with our best technical analysis. The LLCC report has provided valuable insight into the perspective of residents in this section of the corridor, but the project team must consider cost and potential construction issues as well.
With that said:

  • A bored light rail tunnel is proposed to run parallel to and beneath the northside of CSX  right-of-way.
  • The tunnel depth will be a  minimum of 55 feet.  The specifics of the tunnel design will be  determined during the Environmental Impact Study which has been targeted to begin later this year.
  • Specific impacts and compensation are quantified during the Environmental Impact Study and in accordance with guidelines identified within the National Environmental Policy Act. Keep in mind, this corridor is 8.8 miles long and most of the potential impacts or displacements we can estimate at this stage are in areas where the alignment is above ground.
  • While a station at Lenox Road was requested to be examined, ultimately many residents expressed trepidation about having a station close to their homes.  In addition, there was a significant additional estimated cost associated with building a subway station at this location.  The suggestion from attendees at the October 25 meeting as well via many comments was to add a walking trail that would connect Lenox Road to the station at Cheshire Bridge.  This trail could be integrated with the South Fork of Peachtree Creek trail as well as others.

Revised station concepts and alignment concepts are currently being updated to the project website (www.itsmarta.com/clifton-corr.aspx). MARTA hopes to have everything activated by later this week.

DeKalb County Addresses North Druid Hills Road Construction

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid HIlls – Briarcliff Patch

The widening project along North Druid Hills Road will cost $2.6 million and last about 15 months
A number of people have emailed me over the last few days about this construction on North Druid Hills Road. I got a response today from DeKalb County spokesman Burke Brennan, and, before I write a more detailed story, I figured I would pass his email along to you guys who want to know more about it.
Here is Brennan’s email to me:

The project will widen North Druid Hills Road from Briarcliff Road to Woodcliff Drive in order to extend the left-turn lane to Briarcliff Road southbound. North Druid Hills Road will also be widened from Briarcliff Road to the west, toward Interstate 85, in order to provide a third westbound receiving lane for the double left turn lane from Briarcliff Road northbound. Briarcliff Road will also be widened to provide an additional southbound through lane from North Druid Hills Rd to Sheridan Drive.
The project is expected to ease traffic congestion and reduce delays for drivers who use this intersection every day.  In addition, new ADA compliant sidewalks, upgraded traffic signals, and crosswalks will enhance the safety of pedestrians who pass through the area.

Funding for the project comes from revenue from the 2005 bond referendum for infrastructure projects. Construction is estimated to take approximately 15 months at a cost of approximately $2.6 million. The contractor for the project is Desmear Systems, Inc.

Now, does that mean motorists on that road can expect the same kind of delays for the next 15 months? I’m not sure. Either way, I doubt it’s going to be pretty considering how awfully congested that road is most of the time anyway. (It’s a primary reason I grocery shop at 1 in the morning.) It’s going to be split into phases, and Brennan is currently looking into that for me now. Like I said, I’ll have a more detailed story on it for you guys once I get all the information. This is for those of you wondering what the heck is going on out there.
UPDATE: Brennan just emailed me back regarding the phases.
Here’s his response:

It will be up to the contractor to decide how to phase his work.   However, he is not going to be working in the road all of the time, so  his impacts to traffic are going to be variable during the life of the  project.

Long-awaited Buckhead interchange revamp starts

Barrier walls were due to go up Tuesday at the interchange of Interstate 85 and Georgia 400 in Buckhead, marking the start of a long-anticipated reconstruction project.
Contractors working for the Georgia Department of Transportation will build ramps that will let southbound motorists on 400 connect with northbound I-85 and southbound drivers on I-85 connect to 400 northbound.
Those ramps were not included when the interchange was built in the early 1990s.
“We are excited to get this project under way,” DOT District Engineer Bryant Poole said. “When it is completed, I think the public will be very pleased with the final product, as we get some congestion relief for the arterial roads in the area.”
No lane closures will be necessary in the early stages of the work. Later, lane closures will be permitted only during evenings and weekends.
The DOT awarded a $21.5 million contract for the project last year to Atlanta-based Archer Western Contractors Ltd. The project is due to be completed by the end of next year.

Staff Writer – Atlanta Business Chronicle

SR-400/I-85 Connector Ramps Update

This project, which will reconstruct the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-85 by providing connector ramps from Ga. 400 southbound to I-85 northbound and from I-85 southbound to Ga. 400 northbound, is scheduled to begin in late February, Georgia DOT spokesman Mark McKinnon told Q&A on the News in an email. The project will cost $21.5 million and is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 31, 2013. Archer Western Contractors is the contractor. Also, a pedestrian trail, which will include a bridge across North Fork Peachtree Creek, will be constructed from Cheshire Bridge Road to Lenox Road.
To see an animation of the new interchange, use the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbi_jVclZLM

Residents to get say on Brookhaven at Capitol

By  April Hunt
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Both opponents and supporters of carving a new city out of north-central DeKalb County will argue time is on their side when residents get their say for two hours under the Gold Dome on Tuesday.
A state House committee that must recommend whether the Legislature allows a vote this year on Brookhaven is holding its first of two hearings, to get general input on the idea.
Supporters, who want lower property taxes, will argue that the time is right for a vote this summer. Opponents, including those who have signed petitions against Brookhaven, are expected to ask for more time to thoroughly vet the city.
“Regardless of viewpoint, I want to ensure the process is open and allows for every viewpoint to be presented,” said Government Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming.
Members of the cityhood advocacy group, Brookhaven Yes, think they will have no trouble convincing their neighbors to vote for more local control.
Group president J. Max Davis II, an attorney and namesake son of a late conservative state representative who touted that he never voted for a tax increase, said many DeKalb residents already feel the county is too bloated.
Those in Brookhaven want to reinforce that idea by voting for cityhood, he said. But the first goal is convincing lawmakers to allow the July 31 referendum.
“Our motto is ‘better services, lower taxes,’ but before we can discuss why we think we can do a better job of spending our money than the county, we have to get the right to vote,” Davis said.
The DeKalb County government, meanwhile, is officially lobbying for any vote to be delayed, so that more time could be spent studying what losing Brookhaven would mean for county coffers.
The county lost $20 million in revenue when Dunwoody incorporated in 2008, and Brookhaven is expected to cost the county at least $22 million, according to county estimates.
More than 500 residents have signed petitions also asking to slow down a process they believe has been rushed. A group formally opposing the city, called Ashford Neighbors, circulated the petitions.
Eddie Ehlert is among the Ashford Park residents who plans to call for a delay, though he would prefer the idea be killed altogether.
Ehlert said there hasn’t been enough transparency about one goal he sees for the city: to undermine county control of a 63-acre tract of hardwoods just across Clairmont Road from the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
The land is now a runway protection zone owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and county, shielding residents from noise and fumes from airplanes in the area. Ehlert, who is political chairman of the Sierra Club Georiga, worries that developers supporting Brookhaven actually want that land for a big project.
“We cannot possibly support a police department without needing more taxable land, but there hasn’t been any notion that we’re going to leave that property alone,” he said. “There hasn’t been enough time to really look into that.”
Creating DeKalb’s second new city, and the sixth in the metro area since 2005, was first raised in the last days of the Legislature last year. State rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican who represents the area, said he filed a bill for the city after hearing from residents who wanted a local, not county, government.
A study by University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute for Government released in November concluded Brookhaven could provide services comparable to those provided by DeKalb, with no tax increase.
Even residents who liked the idea of a new city complained, though, that the study called for the same 6.39 mills that residents there now pay for county special district services.
Earlier this year, Jacobs revised the proposal for Brookhaven. He lowered the tax rate to 3.35 mills – or about the same rate residents paid before the county raised taxes last year.
“By rolling that back, we are able to deliver a property tax decrease from DeKalb’s tax increase and still end with a projected $261,000 surplus,” Jacobs said of the proposed $25 million budget for the city of about 50,000 people.
Whether the timing works remains to be seen. The hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday in room 341 of the state Capitol.

The Tricky Second Wave of Urban Highway Removals

Dismantling urban freeways—replacing elevated viaducts of steel and concrete with parks and boulevards—is happening in so many places, it’s like an unspoken national urban policy. We’ve reached a unique point in city-building when the destruction of a public works project has all the glamour and buzz of breaking ground on a new one.

The “death row” of roadways, marvelously packaged by Eric Jaffe in this slideshow and noted in Michael Kimmelman’s dispatch from highway-erasing Madrid, has become a familiar, almost comforting narrative.
Portland, Ore., led the way, turning the multi-lane Harbor Drive into the Tom McCall Waterfront Park at a time when other cities were still blasting roadways through the urban fabric. San Francisco was prompted by the earthquake of 1989 to re-create the Embarcadero; Seattle anticipated a similar fate for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In Milwaukee, an ambitious mayor, John Norquist, championed the demolition of the Park East Expressway. He later became president of the Congress for the New Urbanism and encouraged others to do the same. In New Orleans, fascination with the Treme neighborhood post-Katrina drew attention to the hulking Claiborne Expressway burdening its core.
And then there’s New York, where Robert Moses famously built hundreds of miles of roads throughout the metropolitan area, including the Sheridan Expressway, now set to come down. Moses suggested or designed or laid the foundation for many more urban freeways, from Portland to New Orleans and beyond. In a fitting coup de grace, New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D) backed the replacement of the Robert Moses Parkway outside Buffalo, the urban highway named for the great master builder himself.
But if all those projects are blockbuster movies, some cities are now moving on to the sequels. It’s time for the Son of the Sheridan, and Alaskan Way II.
Whether this stage of urban design interventions can be pulled off in quite the same slam-dunk fashion as the Embarcadero is very much in question. The infrastructure being re-engineered is similarly from a half-century ago, and exclusively built with the car as priority. But the scale is a bit smaller. Rather than big elevated interstates through downtowns, these are connectors and overpasses, sometimes a long way from the center of town, where the neighborhoods are defined on different terms.
The perfect example of this trickle-down dismantling can be found in, where else, Boston, home of the $15.6 billion Big Dig, arguably the biggest, best-known, and most expensive act of removing an elevated highway.
The three post-Big Dig interventions are surely less well-known around the country, but passions about them are running just as high: the McGrath/O’Brien Highway in Somerville and the Rutherford Avenue connector through Charlestown, both north of the city, and the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain, well south of downtown.
First, a little context. Boston’s freeway revolt started after 1968, when Jane Jacobs fought the Lower Manhattan Expressway in SoHo. The city put a park and a transit line in the planned corridor of the Southwest Expressway, which would have extended Interstate 95 from Rhode Island all the way into Back Bay. A Republican governor, Frank Sargent, put an end to the Inner Belt, envisioned as a mini-circumferential highway whisking motorists through Roxbury and other Boston neighborhoods, Cambridge, and a piece of Somerville, rejoining Interstate 93 there. The turnoff ramp remains, a stub ending abruptly at the sky.
The Big Dig took things to the next level, not just stopping new highways but dismantling one that had become an eyesore. The suppression of Interstate 93 gave Boston the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Younger folks can’t remember the Central Artery ever being there.
McGrath, Rutherford, and Casey are all similarly unsightly, and like the Central Artery or Alaskan Way Viaduct, falling apart; a trip over the crumbling and pothole-ridden Casey Overpass conjures a trek in the Third World. Like the failing Longfellow Bridge and Storrow Drive, they either need to be rebuilt as is, or retooled. The sustainability and Complete Streets crowd has lobbied hard for the latter, arguing for multi-modal surface boulevards.
Not so fast. Nearby residents, who conceivably might be thrilled to see this kind of transformation, want to keep the roadway like it was in 1962, not 2012. They worry about commuters getting frustrated by surface rejiggering and attempting shortcuts through residential streets.
The hearings and the public process on these three interventions have revealed a cultural clash: old vs. young, bicyclists vs. solo drivers, yuppies vs. townies, and so on. The fight is in the trenches, in long discussions and blog posts on traffic counts, state modeling and projections, and the methodology of license plate surveys. Everyone’s voice must be heard, a legacy of the exclusion of citizens in the original construction of the roadways, but seemingly a guarantee of paralysis when it comes to repairing the damage they have caused.
Tim Love, associate professor at Northeastern University, principal at Utile, and an urban designer on the multi-disciplinary team studying alternative futures for McGrath, thinks that more sophisticated data available to project teams will help better frame the transportation and quality of life issues, demystifying claims made by various sides.
“There’s an evolution in these kinds of second-generation de-elevation projects,” Love says, that promotes a more sophisticated public discourse. “Some early testing of the physical implications of transportation alternatives is already uniting the stakeholders around smart alternatives.” He says he is confident that “the outcome will be a fully-integrated enhancement to the urban realm.”
An optimistic view, to be sure. I’m a bit more reminded of my top-floor bathroom and its 1970s ski-lodge decor and giant pale blue whirlpool that hasn’t worked for years. The full-scale renovation that other parts of the house enjoyed is so daunting in there, we just keep it as is, hoping it doesn’t fall apart completely anytime soon.
Photo credit: David McNew/Reuters

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Mass., and author of Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City and This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America.

Local Voices – Why a Clifton Corridor Transit Line is Long Overdue

by Nenad Tadic for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
I wrote an article in August on a recent development to bring MARTA rail service directly to Emory’s Druid Hills campus. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with the initiative since then so I don’t know the current status of it.
But it’s a shame that when MARTA was constructed, it bypassed plans to service the Druid Hills/ Clifton Corridor area with a rail line. These are some of the biggest commercial centers in all of Metro Atlanta, which include Emory University, Emory University Hospital, Emory Point (coming soon) and the CDC, to name a few. These prominent institutions are located just 4-5 miles from Downtown Atlanta, yet because of the absence of a rapid transit line near them, travel times from the CDC to the Five Points station, per se, can take upwards of an hour.
Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.
That’s the first buzz word that comes to mind for me when I think of what a MARTA station off Clifton Road would bring to our entire community. Getting around town would be no hassle at all.
It’d be safer. It’d make exploring Atlanta neighborhoods more of a possibility. It would diminish the prevalence of the “Emory Bubble,” coined because a freshman at Emory is so limited because of unreliable and oftentimes confusing public transit options that he or she makes his own little bubble on campus.
Emory sponsors Cliff Shuttles which operate on a fixed schedule to/from Emory and various nearby business sites. Emory also has special shuttles that run to shopping districts like Lenox Mall or Atlantic Station. These usually operate on weekends, but not every weekend.
These shuttles are great! I use them often. But they are just too limited and run too infrequently to satisfy the student who has an internship Downtown and commutes everyday, or the cafeteria worker whose home in Southwest Atlanta can’t realistically be reached without a car, especially late at night or early in the morning.
As the 9th largest metropolitan area in the country, Atlanta’s public transportation is a nightmare compared to #10 Boston, #18 St. Louis, or even #23 Portland, Ore.
Of all the cities I have visited during my college visits (these include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and of course Atlanta), getting from Hartsfield Jackson to Emory was the hardest airport-school commute.
I myself am from Chicago and can attest to the fact that you can get anywhere in the city with public transit. Anywhere. Especially the University of Chicago and Northwestern University – Emory’s peer institutions. In fact, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the “Purple Line,” named after neighborhing Northwestern which the line runs near.
That’s not to say better public transportation would necessarily make Emory a better school. Not at all. Sure it may make it seem more of an attractive option to prospective students, but that doesn’t get at the bottom line.
The bottom line is this: Atlanta is famous for its urban sprawl and consequently, its traffic. Its infrastructure is severely lacking for a city of its size.
Those opposed to transit lines cite that they bring crimes to otherwise safe and wealthy white neighborhoods. Policymakers need to address their concerns.
It is time for Atlanta to develop a plan that suggests it really is the forward-thinking city it once prided itself on. Better public transit is only going to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And in important districts like the Clifton Corridor, a transit line is crucial.