By C. Julia Nelson

Without so much as talking loudly, but rather consistently and with unbridled passion, community voices from Buckhead are ringing in the ears of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. staff.

During its quarterly update to the community on Feb. 7 at the Atlanta Public School headquarters, 131 Trinity Ave., Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) staff emphasized a theme of due diligence to listen to, seek out and take into consideration community concerns as plans progress in the coming months.

The controversy over a proposed trail in Tanyard Creek Park has stirred Beltline Inc. to realize its responsibility to listen to community voices.

“Community engagement is greatly on everyone’s mind,” Terri Montegue, BeltLine CEO, said. “In 2008 we’re going to work on getting more closely aligned with our public and private partners.

“One of the things we will be doing is reaching out aggressively to partners to see if we can convene some citywide conversations relative to transit plans, vision, affordable housing and community benefits,” she said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on elevating and intensifying our community communications and our community engagements and outreach.”

BeltLine citizen participation advocate associate Rukiya Eaddy spoke at length about how the BeltLine staff would engage the community according to the Citizen Participation (Engagement) Framework based on a recent evaluation of the master planning process.

Three steps have been identified in that effort: 1) localizing master planning activities, 2) clarifying and re-articulating the decision making and planning processes by reviewing and leveraging citizen participation and input and 3) strengthening public outreach and involvement.

This third piece will require more staff and expert consultants, leveraging partners and maximizing communication efforts.

Eaddy said the BeltLine would also update the web site as to meetings and calendars, send flyers to council and e-mail blasts to the community as well as reorganize scheduled events to create a slower pace for collecting community input.

“We’re definitely planning to leverage all the channels we have to get the message out and move forward,” Eaddy said.

Despite promises to listen more attentively, the neighbors of Tanyard Creek Park are still struggling to be heard.

On Jan. 15 Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s BeltLine sub-cabinet in conjunction with ABI, decided the path in Tanyard Creek would run on the east side of the creek against local sentiment to place the trail west of the creek. Ultimately, this version came as a proposal by the PATH Foundation as the least expensive and least damaging to the surrounding growth, Montegue said.

“While it’s not the community’s first preference, we have these options because of community impact,” she said. “The city can’t override the (technical) facts. We can’t overlook our environmental stewardship.”

Concerned neighbors Karen Levy and Karen O’Brien, of the Friends of Tanyard Creek, said the technical facts they researched indicate the western route is feasible.

“We originally did not want a path at all,” Levy said. “The Friends of Tanyard Creek got a consensus that the western route is not only preferred, it’s completely feasible.”

She said efforts to express the neighbors’ preference have gone unfounded which has led to a lack of trust in ABI.

“Community input has been completely ignored,” Levy said. “We want the boards to work with us.”

To appease the frustrated neighbors, Montegue announced a meeting would be held with the neighbors and BeltLine decision-makers to review the logic behind the decision. She did not indicate whether the decision could be reconsidered.

“Maybe there is a fix, but the default is the decision is made,” Montegue said.

O’Brien is glad to have an opportunity to discuss other options. She credited Atlanta council members Claire Muller (Dist. 8) and Mary Norwood (Dist. 2) for reopening the issue for discussion.

“It gives us an opportunity to talk to them point by point and that’s good,” O’Brien said. “We’re viewing it as a very good thing. It’s a good step in the right direction.”

Part of the desire to preserve the park’s ambiance comes from its history as the Battle of Peachtree Creek site during the Civil War, O’Brien said. Since that time Tanyard Creek has remained untouched and the surrounding community would prefer to keep it that way.

“It’s a historical asset,” O’Brien said. “At one point it was between that park and Kennesaw Mountain to become a national monument. Once you put the concrete in, you cannot create another battlefield.”

(As of Reporter Newspapers press time, the date, time and location of this meeting had not been announced.)

According to ABI figures, the residents’ preferred western route would have cost about $300,000 more than the eastern route.

Guests also heard presentations and updates on several other aspects of the Beltline progress. ABI senior project manager Nate Conable reviewed the status of the Master Planning process.

Six months in the making, master planning is under way in six of the 10 designated BeltLine areas. Land use concepts are underway; park concept planning is moving forward; and an effort is being put forth to clarify the planning and decision making processes to the community.

ABI staff will place high priority on master planning through March, Montegue said.

Another focus is the acquisition of green space and right-of-way. So far, 250 of a desired 680, greenspace acres as well as 20 percent of the needed right-of-way have been obtained. ABI’s goal is develop at least half of the greenspace by 2010.

“Much work remains to be done to secure permanent financing and the site plan for that,” Montegue said.

MARTA staff is examining the environmental impact on the city and focusing on maintaining eligibility for federal funding. It will take approximately 10 years for MARTA to see its part of the project come to fruition.

Georgia Senator Nan Orrock, Dist. 36, said the Ga. Senate is on track to assign a transportation task force to consider a regional sales tax for transportation projects.

The audience also received brief overviews about the Tax Allocation District Advisory Committee as well as a proposed “urban bike expedition” to align with the BeltLine.