I first heard about this tree a few weeks ago when a fellow RoswellNEXT board member who owns a property on Goulding Place shared the sad news. The owner of the property on which the tree stands (not my friend) who is completely within their rights had decided, based upon an aborist's assessment, that the tree needed to come down as it was not in good health. The news was not well received by the neighbors and others in the community.
In all honesty, if I lived in the house, I would have been terrified of one of the gigantic limbs that hung directly over the house. That said, there is no arguing that up until the last year or so when trimmings appear to have started, this was an amazingly beautiful tree. Google Streetview caught an incredible picture of it in a 2013 drivethrough (above) and I snapped one a few weeks ago while I was out on a walk.
Notice how much of the left canopy has been trimmed back even at this point. I'm not sure of the history but man I hope it wasn't trimmed back to keep it away from the power lines. To forsake a tree like this for shitty power lines would be a shame. Also, notice how close this tree is to the street. It's almost IN the street. Do you think this is dangerous or safe? I'd highly doubt there has ever been any collision with or around that tree because it's perceived danger is exactly what makes it and that road very safe.
Anyway, over the past several weeks, a great deal of citizens came out to support Old Majestic by signing a petition to save the tree. That petition was started by Donald McDonnell and has since changed to focus on creating a landmark tree ordinance. There were 449 supporters who came to the digital side of the tree. That's a lot of supporters for a tree on a sleepy street in Roswell. It took us over 9 months to get 600 supporters for the City Green project. News crews were out to cover it and Mike Pechenek of WSBTV did a segment and had several tweets (@MPetchenikWSB) on the situation. Here's his piece from today as the tree was being taken down.
The real takeaway here is that the city probably should have a landmark tree ordinance to protect some of our oldest inhabitants and kudos to Donald for pushing it along. I find it absurd that we have a Historic Preservation Commission that will prevent a business owner from putting up tasteful decor on their facade but when a tree that is older than any building in our city is set to be cut down, there is no one there to ensure it's a good decision. Assuming an ordinance is protective to our old trees but subordinate to a landowners rights, I believe it could be a good thing.
Goodbye Old Majestic.. I barely knew ye.
I was able to get a copy of the site plan today for Riverwalk Village and it looks pretty darn good. I'm seeing a lot more pros than cons as I dig in. It utilizes the land and geography nicely and puts appropriate development in the appropriate place. Here's the plan overlaid on Google Maps.
There are 16 different sections broken out into 7 different categories, each with a slightly different intent and purpose. I think they have largely gotten these right. Here are the descriptions for each according to the site plan along with my commentary.
- A1-A2 - Office District - This area is well located along the western edge to place it closest to 400 which was an intentional decision by the developer to keep the residential and retail further away from the highway. I'm curious about it being further south on the site though as there will be a lot of commuters driving through to get to the offices. That could be a positive for the retail and it would be great to be able to get out of the office and walk to the river during lunch break.
- B1 - Medium Density Residential (Townhomes & Single Family) - The residential is toned down from the East Roswell/Charlie Brown proposal from 2007. In fact, there are roughly half the number of units coming down to 1500+ from 3000. I don't see any single family on the site plan but the description calls for it. We'll see if that happens. I really like that this B1 parcel it is situated close to the river and what will eventually be more parks and trails in Riverwalk Village.
- C1-C8 - Mixed Use Development District (Residential & Non-Residential Uses, Such as Retail, Restaurant, Civic, Office, Multi-Family, Entertainment) - This one is a bit tough to envision but the obvious main point is that it will front what appears to be a Main Street that bisects the new development. This could create a great walkable street on the east side of town that currently has nothing at all close to a walkable urban street. Or.. It could end up looking plasticy and contrived like Town Brookhaven. It will hopefully take its inspiration from Serenbe, Downtown Woodstock and Glenwood Park. I like that there will be a small bridge crossing the lake.
- D1 (with alternate) - School or Alternate Residential District - This one is well played. The developer has to expect that their largest opposition is going to come from Martins Landing. This part of the property abuts 21 single family homes along Trailmore Dr & Trailmore Pl. So, they place a school that will cater to children with disabilities on the adjacent property. If for some reason, there is enough objection to the school, they have prepared option two which will be townhomes and multi-family from what I can tell. The one thing that seems a bit ridiculous is that the multi-family and the townhomes each have their own entrance/exit on to Old Alabama. There should be street connectivity between the properties.
- E1-E2 - Entertainment District (Restaurant, Retail, Grocery, Multi-Family) - Everyone loves entertainment. The lone rendering which I shared in my first post on Riverwalk is, from what I can tell along the lake in what looks to be E1. They've done an excellent job putting this area next to the lake and it appears they will utilize the water in an urban fashion actually building right up to it which differs significantly from most modern development which caters to the environmental memes of water quality protection at all costs. (One reason we can't develop much at all along the Chattahoochee). I'm thinking the water in the lake won't be as blue as the rendering depicts though. Whatever they've done, it sure does attract a lot of Rendering People though. Be prepared to be Entertained!
- F1 - Hotel District (Hotel, Civic, Multi-Family) - The articles and PR releases floating around are calling for a ~200 key hotel. That would give this new hotel 28 more rooms than the Doubletree. It will be positioned directly on the little lake. Once again, well thought out. Roswell needs this. Period!
- Greenspace - (Parks, Trails, Landscaping) - This is a huge plus for this development and I sure hope they get it right. There is a real opportunity to differentiate the development from virtually any other in Atlanta. Mixed-Use with a connection to the Chattahoochee River and the Roswell Riverside Trail. Wow! I'd like to see the city jump on the opportunity to finally connect the Big Creek Greenway to the River by somehow extending the trail from Big Creek Park down through this project and to the River. There aren't many details yet on the greenspace but given what they are doing with the rest of the property, I'm thinking this will be a win.
Our next post will take a look at transportation and potential traffic issues and after that, we'll hypothesize on what this means for Roswell and in particular, the Historic District given that it will have Avalon, Alpharetta City Center and now Riverwalk Village to compete with.
The big news this week in Roswell is the $500 million mixed-use project called Riverwalk Village that is being proposed for the southeast quadrant of the Holcomb Bridge/GA400 interchange (paywall link). Dunwoody based Duke Land Group announced on Tuesday that they will be seeking rezoning to allow for a massive development that could rival Avalon in size. The AJC broke the story in Wednesday's paper with some details but little in the way of imagery.
I've been able to find one rendering but have not been able to come up with a site plan yet (stay tuned).
Here are the high level details from the AJC article with my thoughts.
- 1,556 residences, including active adult housing, single-family attached housing and multifamily units that could be apartments or condos. - This is about half of what the Roswell East (aka Charlie Brown) project had proposed. I see this level of density being a major problem for the vocal NIMBYs on the east side of town.
- Nearly a half-million square feet of space for restaurants and retailers, including a grocery store. - This is a LOT of space. I'm not sure what to think yet but it wil
- 1.7 million square feet of office space spread across several mid-rise buildings. That amount of office space is slightly more than the total floor space of Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta. - Again, this is a LOT of space but the 400 corridor is booming and I'm not doubting this can and would be filled.
- A hotel with 200 rooms. - Yes PLEASE. We need another hotel to compete with the Doubletree. I would like to see one closer to the historic district though.
- A Swift School campus, a private institution for children with language difficulties. - This is a nice addition and will be a good fit.
- About 43 percent of the property would be preserved as green space with passive and active recreation amenities, such as walking trails that would connect to nearby neighborhoods and the Chattahoochee River. - I don't see that there would be any way to avoid this given the proximity to the river. It will be a great addition.
- An existing apartment community known as Marquis Trace would be demolished. - Great news. That think is a big POS and significantly underutilizes the land.
I think it's ambitious but doable given that this is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in North Fulton. I'm unsure of the developer's background but I'm optimistic. My biggest concern is the vocal NIMBY force that will organize to once again defeat a project in that area.
So, that's the summary. As this progresses, it will be one of the biggest stories in Roswell. I'm looking forward to seeing how the project progresses and wish the developers luck in implementing what I hope will be a great addition to the city of Roswell.
I often write about what makes great places. I try to provide insights on what makes places great and what makes places not so great. It generally boils down to this.. Places built around people that are highly walkable tend to be great. Places built around cars, not so much. Places that try to accommodate both are hit or miss but usually fall into the miss bucket.
Now, I know a lot of this is personal preference but just take a look at look at home values and vacation destinations to discover the magic of place. In a 2009 study on walkability, Walking the Walk, houses with above average walkability were seen to command premiums of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels of walkability in the typical metropolitan areas studied. Additionally, the study saw between a $500 and $3,000 increase in home values for each point increase in Walk Score. In our own metro area, the same place/walkability premiums exist and can be evidenced in neighborhoods such as Virginia Highlands, Inman Park, Decatur, Historic Roswell and eventually Avalon.
Vacations, another high ticket item where place seems to matter, also show a distinct preference for destinations that deliver great experiences . Vacation destinations are almost always either walkable urban environments or places that bring us closer to nature, and it is apparent that the ‘burbs just don’t provide either very well. Unless you’re visiting a friend or family, you probably aren’t headed to suburbia for vacation. There just isn’t any ‘there’ there. People crave places with personality and will pay a premium for it.
Building better places was an important discussion 5 or 6 years ago when we were in the throws of the Great Recession but it’s even more important now as we are seeing a building recovery, dare I say boom, in North Fulton. The unfortunate thing is that we are still building the same crap devoid of personality and lacking any true future. Will Windward be the next historic district in Alpharetta? Why are we still throwing up commoditized subdivisions dominated by front loader garages that pretend to be walkable but yet connect to nothing? Why do we still tolerate sucky architecture from builders looking to make a quick buck?
In my opinion, the problem revolves around our obsession with economic efficiency and our love affair with the short term. When we add on to our suburban street network, we fail to see how that will impact our commute in 5 years when more vacant or under developed land is developed. We purchase a home using borrowed money planning to sell it within 5-10 years hoping for a quick profit. We think that a quality interior will somehow fix the shallow and cheap exterior. We are blinded by the mortgage interest credit.
In our short sightedness, we have built an environment that only a mother (or homeowner) can love, a world full of non-places whose sum is less than the value of its parts. The fact of the matter is that we are building places that have few redeeming qualities save that fact that you can buy and sell them. They won’t stand the test of time...
Nate Hood, a fellow urbanist from Minnesota, recently made just this point when he posted his engagement photos online. The satirical photo shoot highlights just how ridiculous our suburban landscape is in a series of shots in front of driveways, empty lots and cul-de-sacs. Nate’s website says it all; “Engagement photos are either urban or rural. They are either a former factory or a leafy meadow... Never the subdivision. Never the cul-de-sac. We wanted to capture the ambiance of the American Subdivision”
What a sad sad place we have created when our homes and neighborhoods are a punchline for a witty couple who recognizes the hilarity of our suburbs. Like it or not, we are married to the places we build. Like a spouse, don’t expect to change places. Once built, we have to accept them for what they are. When the traffic gets bad, realize that you married that traffic when you chose to live in a car oriented world. When you have to drive the kids everywhere, don’t think you’re going to change that zoning code so things can be closer together. When you want to ride your bike, go ahead and strap it on the SUV and drive it over to the greenway because you’re married to a place where riding on the streets is akin to risking your life. But, maybe you’d be better off.. or maybe you just need to get a divorce and move to a real place that will truly truly stand the test of time. One that is capable of growing with you as your needs and preferences change.
For those of us who can’t get a divorce from our places, we need to focus on building more real places and quit pretending that the suburbs as we know them are the answer.
I've been wondering a few things lately.. I'm just going to get this all out in one post.
Why don't we partner more with non-profits such as the Trust for Public Land & the PATH foundation? We could make a lot of things happen a lot faster if we decided to partner with these organizations. The PATH Foundation would be a great partner for the Rowell Loop and the TPL might have some interest in helping us add park land along the River. I'm just sayin.
What in the world was the city doing redesigning the city green plan behind the scenes? This one really bugs me. We have a plan. It's a really good one. There are almost 600 supporters of the plan.
Why in the world is the city having an internal charrette to look at alternative designs? The DDA hired JB+a to do conceptual design work. These are the same guys that designed Suwanee's Town Center. No offense to staff, but I think the JB+a guys have a pretty good track record at desiging urban parks.
Why wouldn't the city get significantly more involved in the architecture of the new school? They get into intricate nuances on irrelevant buildings but but the city seems to be indifferent when the largest building to be built in Roswell in the last 10-15 years comes along. It's run of the mill architecure that looks just like a handful of other schools recently constructed or currently being built in Fulton County. I'm shocked that we didn't even ask if we could get some different colors that might be more fitting for Roswell. It's mind bottling.
Why do we give business owners on Canton St shit when they want to add harmless accents to their shopfronts? Seriously guys. A couple tasteful shutters by an entrance, some colorful shade curtains. I happen to love the Mac McGee paint job but man.. how did they get that done when people who have all but made Canton St what it is want to make small, inconsequential tweaks have to go through hell and then can't do what they want to do?
Why can't we figure out the HBR/400 SE quadrant? Someone grow a pair and just call it what it is. It is the most valuable piece of land in Roswell that is going to be developed at some point and guess what.. there will be traffic and tall buildings and transit and all of the things that those loud people over there just can't stand.
Why do we have over 1300 dead ends or cul-de-sacs in our city? Seriously... that's whole lot of cul-de-sac. What it does is force essentially EVERY driver on to Holcomb Bridge Road.
WTF is up with Stormwater? If we can't figure this out, we are going to see development really slow down in the historic district.
WHY.. WHY.. WHY.. can't we get the damn sidewalks between the square and City Hall fixed? This is the heart of our city and the sidewalks along the main thoroughfare are abysmal.
Does anyone here not understand that Alpharetta is about to eat North Fulton's collective lunch? Hey Milton, Johns Creek & Roswell.. Alpharetta is going to eat your lunch. Just thought I'd let you know.
I bet you thought I'd gripe about road signs.. I'm resigned to the fact that our governments will continue to treat all citizens as if they are complete and utter imbeciles.
There.. I've said it. I can now get on with my life.
Over 90% of the Atlanta region lives what is loosely called the suburbs. So, if the overwhelming majority of people live in suburbia, it must be the right choice, right?
Well, I wouldn’t call Suburbia the pragmatic choice. Suburbia stretches resources and eats up land in ways that can’t be sustained in the long run. Currently we are seeing suburbs attempting to become more walkable and significant development being focused on rebuilding our urban cores. However, if you’ve looked around recently, there is a lot of suburban style development going up around the northern burbs. That’s great economically in the near term but it might not be so good in the long term. It brings more residents, it requires new infrastructure, it creates the need for all things that cities must provide. These things cost money and often turn into long term liabilities for cities and municipalities.
The organization StrongTowns has been illustrating the high costs of sprawl to cities across the country in an alarmingly effective way. Their Curbside Chat is a bit like taking Morpheus’ red pill in the Matrix. Their premise goes like this.. Our ability to grow by taking on more debt is waning. Federal and State incentives for growth will become more scarce. The tax productivity of auto-dependent places is lower on a per acre basis than the pre-WWII city design. Cities need to stop pursuing the short term prosperity that will result in long term liability. They refer to the post WWII development pattern as the Suburban Experiment and compare it to a Ponzi scheme. The suburban development pattern requires new growth to pay for long term liabilities. Eventually, the growth stops and maintenance comes due.
They argue very effectively that the most financially viable development pattern for cities is one that resembles the way we designed cities prior to WWII, prior to the suburban development pattern. If they are right, and our economic growth is stunted by sprawl, then why aren’t we doing anything about it?
If we admit they are right, then we are saying we have been wrong for all of these decades. We are saying that we sunk our national wealth into a development pattern that caused us to go broke. It married us to our cars and our commutes and it drained our municipalities of cash to build and maintain roads that don't generate enough in property tax to maintain themselves and it unfairly burdened future generations with debt that was ultimately wasted. It’s hard to admit when you made a wrong turn... And that’s why we aren’t making wholesale changes to our development pattern.
So, if we are too proud to admit we mad a bad financial bet on an inefficient development pattern, will we do anything to protect the environment? The suburban lifestyle seeks to create refuge in the environment but in it’s effort to create an idyllic home in the woods, it is actually wrecking the very woods that it seeks to be so close to. According to a joint study released in July by the US Geological Survey and NC State University, sprawl in the southeast will increase by 110 to 180 percent between now and 2060. The piedmont region between Raleigh and Atlanta will experience the largest growth. By 2060, we could see a virtually uninterrupted stretch of development on that corridor. This will have huge environmental impacts in a region that has some of the most biodiversity in the US. I don’t know about you but I think developing generic suburban style development from here to Raleigh, is a travesty.
If we continue that direction our places could look like the suburban transect that planner Dan Zack designed to effectively illustrate the difference between Suburbia and the type of development that new urbanists advocate for. In Suburbia, we divide uses and limit connectivity, while New Urbanist developments combine uses and encourage connectivity. Juxtaposed, next to each other, it’s easy to see the difference.
If we want to build more productive places, that reduce environmental and economic waste, we need to be aggressively building mixed-use, walkable places that follow the pre-WWII development pattern. The New Urbanists have been doing this for over 30 years. It’s time to get serious about it.
There's a lot going on in Roswell these days. Here's a quick update on what's going on around town that I'm aware of. If you have any additional items or details, let me know and I'll add them.
New Elementary School (Name TBD) - Our new elementary school on Alpharetta Hwy is moving along. They are obviously working quickly to get it open for the 2015 school year. The site has been cleared (you can't miss that) and there has been some pretty extensive grading.
Canton Walk Apartments - This one is going vertical and is starting to make good progress. I've heard that they hope to start leasing toward the end of the year.
Forrest Commons - This one is in full swing as well. A number of foundations have been poured and as of this writing, there are three single family units that are framed. There are 9 detached units and 13 townhomes slated for this one and prices look to be starting in the $580's. This one is a Monte Hewitt project and you can find out more on their website here.
Providence Phase II - Lehigh Homes entered into a partnership with Frontdoor communities to build and sell the second phase of Providence which will have 17 townhomes and 3 single family residences. The site is being prepped and there is a lot of activity back there. I'd suggest not driving back on Webb St to check it out. These units are starting in the $580's and appear to be securely in the $600's for most of them. For more info, you can go to www.ProvidenceRoswell.com.
Long Circle - Another project by Lehigh Homes, this one will be putting in three or four single family residences (unsure but will get clarification) at the southwest corner of Long Circle. The site has been cleared and is being prepped currently.
The Porch Project - Not too far from the aforementioned Long Circle project, this is a single family teardown on Thompson Place that is being done by some friends of mine. Check out their website to see how they have been working to do all of the work with local Roswell businesses. www.theporchproject.com
Alstead (formerly Centinnial Walk) - This John Wieland project is in full swing. The last I saw, there woudl be 80 single family homes, 29 townhomes and 17,500 sq ft of retail on just under 28 acres. That may have changed. The site has been cleared which any East Roswell readers will already know as you can't miss the red clay as you pass by on Holcomb Bridge. There is a tiny mixed-use component to this one which is better than nothing but the original plans for this were significantly better when you think about how little true walkability exists in East Roswell (sidewalks and trails do not equal true walkability).
The Village on Pine - This one is at the intersection of Chattahoochee St and Pine St just south of Barrington Hall. I was never too happy with the overall design of this one as you can see here, but at the end of the day, it's happening. Acadia Homes has cleared the lot and homes should be going up soon. The price point on these is in the $400's but there isn't much additional detail available yet. (website)
Strickland & Valley - I'm not sure what the name of this one is going to be but the site has been cleared and at this point there's a bunch of red clay. There was a lot of debate on the site plan and rezoning request for this one. I personally feel we ended up with the worse option of the two for the site plan but man.. people can't have headlights shining in their windows.
Sprouts Buildout - For the organic food shoppers, the loss of Harry's to Avalon will leave a void. I'm guessing that Sprouts will be looking to fill that void. They are currently upgrading the anchor space in the shopping center behind Chipotle and Starbucks at Mansell & 9. I'm not sure what the timeframe is for opening but it could be before the end of the year.
Roswell Manor - This one is another piece of land that was a victim of the real estate crash. JEH Homes has resurrected it and this time around it's going to be built out as 73 single family homes. This one will collect on to Old Alabama. The address is 1580 Old Alabama Rd. The website advertises its proximity to Big Creek Park but this development could have done so much more to foster bike and trail connectivity especially given that it sits between Big Creek Park and the planned Big Creek Parkway. Prices start in the $300's.
Weatherford Place - It looks like there is a little bit of construction underway on this long stalled development of uber-eco-friendly homes off Minhinette Dr. These homes have all the environmental bells and whistles including solar systems and LEED certification.
Goulding - This project is a favorite of mine for the connectivity that it will add to our street network. Frontdoor Communities is billing it as the largest infill development in Historic Roswell and it likely is. There will be 27 townhomes, 13 single family homes and a remodel of the existing Goulding house. Prices will likely start in the $700k to $800k range.
The Watertower (name TBD) - This project is on Woodstock Rd between the water tower and the cemetery. Lehigh Homes (builders of Providence and the Long Circle development mentioned above) is currently working through the approval process having had their neighborhood meeting and going before the Historic Preservation Commission and City Council in August and September. This project will be more townhome product and should be an interesting addition to the historic district.
835 Mimosa - This is a very interesting development that could energize Mimosa Blvd. The proposed plan will renovate or rebuild the existing home with a Neel Reed look and put 8 townhomes around the existing home. The architecutre would be similar to the Bricks in the Mill Village and is being designed by Lew Oliver.
Canton Street Townhomes - I'm unsure of the name of this potential development but it is just starting the approval process. It will be along Canton Street just between Woodstock Rd and Minhinette Dr.
Townhomes at Creekview Condominiums - Not many details are available on this one but from the looks of it, the owner of the property surrounding the unfinished Creekview Condominiums would like to develop townhomes on the areas of the property where the two other condo buildings were never built.
Hill Street Commons - Another proposed development in the Groveway district. This one looks to have 24 townhomes and will be on the lot on the southwest corner of the Myrtle & Hill St intersection.
City Green - This one will be a long term project but I like keeping tabs on it. The most recent news is that the design and engineering were funded with $587k set aside in the 2015 budget. This is big news and we should expect to see more details in the next few months. If you would like to show your support.. click here!
Kingswood Subdivision (12160 Etris Rd) - This is pretty standard single family home subdivision that ws approved for 25 lots. It will add a tiny bit of road connectivity to the intersection of Etris and Kent Rds.
Traditions at Roswell (Hardscrabble/Crossville) - This one is about 14 single family homes on about 5 acres. It's a pretty standard subdivision that does not add to road connectivity and opens up to Hardscrabble just east of the Crossville intersection.
Canton Street Walk Resurrected - I haven't heard much about this one since late last year but I'm keeping it on the proposed list until I hear otherwise. This project that I wrote about here will fill in an empty lot within the Providence development.
52 Sloan Street - The owner of this property is hoping to tear down the historic structure circa 1925 and build new. The building is currently badly burned but the HPC is not sure whether it is in need of demolition. More to come here. Either way, with the fire and the loss of the large tree, this property has seen better days.
Vickers - What I have heard here is that the property is under contract to be sold. The dollar figures are well over $1M. It'll be interesting to see what might go here.
Dolvin House - The word on the street is that a redevelopment of the property surrounding the Dolvin House (aka the Roswell White House) on Bulloch Ave bay be in the works. I think a cottage court style development surrounding the historic home would work well here. Given that the property is listed as under contract, I'd say there is definitely something in play.
Azalea Townhomes - This would have brought 22 townhomes and 2 single family homes to the lot at Azalea Dr across from Azalea park. The owner was also planning on donating some land on the river side of the property to the city to build a new boat house for the Crew teams that operate on the river. Oversimplifying, there were a lot of water concerns coupled with some vocal NIMBY opposition. It would have been nice to see added connectivity for the neighborhoods to the north to get to the river which would have eased some of the traffic at the 9/Riverside/Azalea and Azalea/Willeo intersections. Oh Well!
The Blacksmith House (1075 Canton Street) - This one is dead from what I understand. It would have added four townhomes behind the house at 1075 Canton St.
Holcomb Bridge @ Scott Rd - This proposed development has been fraught with challenges. A couple biggies were the site which has some water and topography issues. I was a big fan of the initial proposal which would have added connectivity into Martins Landing from HBR but apparently when solutions are proposed that will help alleviate traffic problems, the same people that complain about the traffic problems don't like the solutions... so a second proposal came back without the connectivity but as of last check, the developer has dropped their application.
I'm a big fan of the paint job they put on the old Chaplin's shopping center near the square. The old green was just dark and depressing. The new paint job breaks up the facade and will really help to bring attention to the tenants. I'm sure Moxie Burer is pleased as they will be moving into the old Borocco spot soon.
The planned expansion of MARTA transit into North Fulton has been floating around the news over the past couple of months. Dubbed the Connect 400 initiative by MARTA (follow the Facebook page for info), it is looking at expanding transit service north 11.9 miles from the North Springs station to Windward Parkway via either Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light Rail or Heavy Rail (the current MARTA rail).
MARTA’s public outreach department held three meetings in North Fulton in July gathering resident and stakeholder feedback. The way it looks now, the vast majority of people favor expansion with 76% of both residents and employees surveyed either approving or strongly approving the initiative. Amongst residents, 11% disapprove and 8% strongly disapprove. Light or heavy rail were the favored modes. Amongst residents, preference is roughly split with 37% favoring light rail and 40% heavy rail while employees surveyed were 68% in favor of heavy rail. (detailed report)
The overwhelming support by both residents and employees shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who commutes on GA400. That said, don’t view transit as a panacea for traffic problems. Transit only works properly in areas that are congested and it serves as a transportation option rather than a cure for congestion. A transit line along a non-congested corridor is doomed to fail unless there is extreme subsidy to support high ridership as motorists will always choose the easier option in the absence of financial rewards or penalties. Now that we are clear that transit will not cure congestion, let’s take a look at some of the issues and obstacles to getting MARTA rail.
Route Alignment - One of the first obstacles to overcome is whether to align the route to the east or west of GA400. Through Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, the east side of the highway is lined by subdivisions and schools while the west side is mostly lined by apartments and commercial uses. My money is on a west of 400 alignment but it is a point of contention to watch.
Transit Mode - The cost estimates are roughly $460M for BRT, $1.8B for light rail and $1.6B for heavy rail. You can write off light rail immediately as it is more expensive, slower and has the mode shift disadvantage. The real debate will be between the cheaper BRT and the logical heavy rail. The one thing to point out is that modal shift is a VERY difficult challenge to overcome and it will cut ridership due to unnecessary inconvenience. And before you start to balk about $1.6B, you may want to consider that the Georgia DOT is currently planning to spend just shy of $1B (one full year of DOT budget) to revamp the GA400 I-285 Interchange. That spend could become less of a need if a robust rail solution were in place for that corridor. They are obviously not mutually exclusive but which is the wiser investment for North Fulton and the region, $1B for 1 interchange ‘improvement’ or $1.6B to expand MARTA rail to Windward?
Station Location - Finding the right spots for stations will prove to be a challenge. Will the stations be dedicated to parking decks or to Transit Oriented Development (TOD)? The current heavy rail alignment shows stops at Northridge, Holcomb Bridge, Mansell, North Point Mall, Haynes Bridge and Windward. No stop at Old Milton? Ahem.. AVALON? Gwinnett Tech? Will North American Properties have another massive walkable development with no direct transit connections like they have with Atlantic Station?
Crime - The boogie man of transit. At a recent public meeting in Sandy Springs, an anonymous attendee was quoted in Creative Loafing as saying “I think it’s the lower-income people who are going to come up and start stealing.” Even if that’s not a real quote, it’s a legitimate mindset that we have to get past. The study Rail Transit and Neighborhood Crime: The Case of Atlanta, Georgia published in the Oct. 2003 edition of the Southern Economic Journal concluded that “there is no evidence... that suburban residents should fear that crime will rise in their neighborhood if rail lines are extended beyond central city boundaries.”
Competition - The race for more MARTA rail may just be starting. In November, Clayton County is set to vote on whether to join Fulton and DeKalb counties as MARTA counties by opting into the penny sales tax. If this passes, they will most certainly be dreaming about rail into Clayton county and the North Fulton line would then be competing for federal funds. Don’t forget the Beltline transit initiative as well as other in-town corridors such as I20 and the Emory CDC area that are looking to get MARTA rail. There will probably be a lot of hands reaching for limited dollars.
So, if we can work through these challenges, the best case scenario is a 6-12 year implementation. Realistically, if funding is secured and the project gets the green light, we might be riding trains in North Fulton by 2030 which will be around the same time that light rail is circling the city via the Beltline and potential rail will be going out to Clayton County if funding is there. So, in the next 15 years, the future is looking bright for a more transit friendly metro area where we have more mobility options than we have today.