Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beltline proposal near Piedmont Park prompts concerns about density

Posted By on Wed, Aug 5, 2009 at 3:04 PM

click to enlarge Beltline officials have proposed allowing future developers to build up to eight stories at 10th Street and Monroe Drive. (Looking northeast from Grady High School)
  • Beltline officials have proposed allowing future developers to build up to eight stories at 10th Street and Monroe Drive. (Looking northeast from Grady High School)

Some intown residents who've never been ones to shy away from city and developer battles say they're none too pleased with the proposed vision of the Beltline near Piedmont Park.

According to preliminary plans for the Beltline's segment that stretches from Ansley Park to City Hall East, future developers would be allowed to build up to eight stories at the congested corner of 10th Street and Monroe Drive.

That's a far cry from the twin Towers of Babel that Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason wanted to build on the same spot in 2006. But the reduction in size — and the fact that no specific development project's been proposed — hasn't stopped some residents from voicing concerns over what they say is an inappropriate vision for one of intown Atlanta's most popular neighborhoods.

Some residents of Virginia-Highland, Morningside and Midtown say the proposal contradicts several land-use plans already on the books, including the TAD redevelopment plan approved years ago by its Neighborhood Planning Unit and City Council. Residents say that plan shows the properties to remain open space.

"Allowing any development at 10th and Monroe, let alone an eight story building and four story buildings on land that is currently designated as single family residential, will constitute the worst form of bait and switch," Jenifer Keenan, a Virginia-Highland resident, recently wrote in a letter to Beltline officials (and here in Fresh Loaf comments.) More than 120 homeowners have already signed a petition opposing the Beltline proposal.

Orange line designates the Beltline

Keenan, who was part of the grassroots effort to block Mason's plan for two 38-story towers at the same corner, says the resident opposition isn't about NIMBYism, but protecting Piedmont Park and the neighborhood from inappropriate development. She worries that dense development would mar the charm of the city's most iconic greenspace. She also says that the city risks establishing a dangerous precedent if it decides to rezone property it owns. (Last year, the city purchased the unused railroad tracks and nearly 66 acres in the corridor from Mason.)

"It would pave the way for additional changes or at least support an argument for changes," Keenan told CL. "If I were a developer, and the city was willing to rezone the land they owned from single-family residential to multi-family, I could say, 'I want you to do that for me, too. If you're willing to do it for property you own, there's no legal or historical basis for not doing that for my property.' There can't be a double standard that [says] 'we'll rezone city-owned land, but we won't rezone privately owned land.'"

Beltline officials, however, think the proposal is more favorable then the original redevelopment plan. They said they've scaled back that plan's number of proposed development sites, from 11 to four, and marked the seven other areas to become greenspace. They add that any development, whether it's two years or 20 years from now, will be required to go through the city's zoning process.

With smart development, officials say, the dysfunctional corner could serve as a "new gateway" to Piedmont Park and spur a nearby walkable village. They say the project also needs adjacent development to boost transit ridership, compete for federal funding, and fuel the tax allocation district that's the chief funding source for the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit.

The issue of density in the Beltline's northeast segment has been a frequent topic of debate at recent planning meetings. (At last month's presentation, the only topic neighbors wanted to discuss was the 10th and Monroe proposal.) Many in attendance were opposed to the concept for the same reasons outlined above. Others, such as Angel Poventud and Sally Flocks of pedestrian advocacy group PEDS, said that the Beltline plans outline a long-term vision for Atlanta, which is only expected to grow. Flocks said many of her friends' children can't afford to live in the city and that the Beltline might offer them an opportunity.

But the debate also raises the issue of how binding the various plans that undergo public participation and City Council approval actually are. Also interesting is the argument over whether the city can rezone property it owns — property that's part of a project which City Hall poobahs by and large support. Then, of course, there's the larger citywide issue: increasing density in some areas that abut single-family homes while respecting the character of existing neighborhoods. There are lots of moving parts and unanswered questions here, so it'll be fascinating to see how this pans out.

Officials have invited a group of residents to conduct a "walk-through" of the 10th and Monroe area on Friday at 9 a.m. Residents have requested another meeting in addition to that meet-up to tour the spot and speak with project planners. Officials say they'll continue to discuss the project with residents over the coming months to address concerns. Office hours to review the plans with Beltline officials are scheduled to be held in September.

The plan must still undergo the NPU process and gain city approval, which Beltline officials hope will happen before the end of the year.

To view concept sketches of the entire project segment, check out this recent presentation. (Warning: It's a 15 MB file. Some text might not format correctly.)

(Courtesy Atlanta Beltline Inc., photo illustration by John Yardley)

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