After months of heated meetings, sitdowns and redesigns, Neighborhood Planning Unit F members on Monday night hoisted pink Post-It notes of disapproval in the air and voted overwhelmingly to reject the Beltline's proposed vision for Northeast Atlanta.
Armed with legal opinions, mocked-up photos and fact sheets, residents of Morningside, Piedmont Heights and Virginia-Highland packed the Hillside Facility on Monroe Drive to exercise their Maynard-given right and weigh in on the hot-button issue.
In doing so, residents joined several other neighborhood associations in opposition to the plan. Monday night's final vote tallied 99-7, with four residents abstaining. Beltline officials were visibly discouraged.
While the entire planning segment that stretches from Ansley Mall to Ponce de Leon Avenue was up for consideration, the focus, as it has been for months, was on the dysfunctional intersection of 10th Street and Monroe Drive or more specifically, what Beltline officials had proposed for the triangle-shaped property to its north.
As proposed by Beltline planners, future developers would be allowed to build as high as eight stories at the corner that calls Piedmont Park a neighbor. Adjacent developments could be no taller than four stories on the property. It's a far cry from Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason's 2006 plan to erect twin towers taller than 30 stories at the same location and half the height Beltline officials had originally proposed. But it still didn't meet residents' approval.
Beltline planners' idea: Allow mixed-use buildings at an intersection that could equally serves pedestrians, motorists and the project's transit component, and voila, you'd have a nearby smart-growth village and a grand gateway befitting the city's most iconic greenspace. The proposed four- and eight-story allowances, Beltline officials said, could help make the project more competitive for federal transit funding and pay for greenspace, trails and intersection improvements at 10th and Monroe and throughout the project area. (One possibility bandied about was converting the gravel lot next to Park Tavern referred to by one planner as a "five-acre eyesore" into greenspace and relocating parking underground.)
Fred Yalouris, the project's design director, said project planners thought the concept offered the greatest benefit to "the community, project and city as a whole."
"We felt it was a really, really good design that could set the tone for development that will happen [in that area] one way or the other," Yalouris said. "And raise the bar at the same time."
But residents who stressed that their opposition wasn't a vote against the Beltline as a whole, just the proposal felt differently. They said the proposed vision would contradict previously approved plans to preserve the property as open space, contribute to congestion along Monroe Drive, and encroach upon adjacent residential neighborhoods. In doing so, residents argued, the vision Beltline officials said was needed to help make the $2.8 billion project a reality would violate one of its own aims: to enhance and preserve existing single-family neighborhoods. What's more, residents feared the changes would allow developers to take advantage of a legal loophole and possibly construct even taller buildings.
The plan now moves to the Atlanta City Council Community Development/Human Resources Committee, which is expected to take up the issue in December. Whereas previous Beltline plans have sailed through council, the segment in question comes with fierce opposition. (Piedmont Heights, Virginia-Highland and Midtown neighborhood associations have all expressed concerns about the concept. NPU E also gave the proposal a thumbs down.) Some community members hope council will tap the brakes on the proposal and wait out the lame ducks at City Hall. Liz Coyle and Alex Wan, candidates for City Council District 6, are both in favor of letting the next administration and council vote on the issue.
Political hopefuls, ostensibly aware that likely voters in one of the city's most politically active districts would be on hand, were smart to make an appearance. Both Wan and Coyle were in attendance. City Council President candidates Clair Muller and Ceasar Mitchell were shaking hands. Amir Farokhi, who's facing Aaron Watson in a runoff for the Post 2 At-Large seat being vacated by Norwood, also attended the meeting.
One thing to keep in mind: Should council take residents' concerns into consideration and fail to approve the plan, the Northeast portion of the Beltline might be without the framework i.e. new street grids, intersection improvements that the city will expect future development to follow. It'd be a first thus far for the project. Don't know how that will all shake out just yet.
(Photo by Thomas Wheatley. That's not my hand.)
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