By Louis Mayeux
Advocates for the planned Atlanta BeltLine present a stirring vision of the 22-mile light rail line that would connect 45 neighborhoods. They say the BeltLine would promote balanced growth, increase parks and trails and clean up 1,000 acres of polluted ground.
“The city will be more efficient, more sustainable,” senior project manager Jonathan S. Lewis told north Atlanta residents during a Feb. 1 meeting to discuss BeltLine plans.
But residents of the area were skeptical. They asked whether the project could really attract the dense developments needed to support rail lines. They also wondered whether the project would produce the added tax revenues needed to pay for the increased services new development would require.
The Northside Study Group meeting began the master planning process for the BeltLine’s sub area 8, which encompasses a section of west Atlanta from the King Plow arts center to I-75 and the freight line near west Marietta Street to I-75.
The area includes the Berkeley Park and Loring Heights neighborhoods to the north, Atlantic Station and Home Park to the east and Blandtown to the west. The master plan for the area, which includes the planned Waterworks Reservoir park, is to be completed by May.
Lewis and John Maximuk of the Livable Communities Coalition told members of the audience the BeltLine would attract high-density development that would be more efficient.
“Higher density has economies of scale that save money in the end, such as in water usage,” Maximuk said.
Maximuk said nine to 12 dwelling units per acre is required to support light rail. The city of Atlanta averages three dwelling units per acre, with four dwelling units per acre near the BeltLine, he said. A resident at the meeting questioned whether the BeltLine would ever attract nine dwelling units an acre.
Lewis expressed optimism that sufficient density could be achieved, with several of the 45 BeltLine projects already approved containing 40 to 44 dwelling units per acre.
But one resident at the meeting wondered whether BeltLine development would generate enough money through impact fees and taxes to pay for increased services.
“The growth around the beltway will be absorbed the way all growth is absorbed in the city,” Lewis said. “The impact fee ordinance is being completely rewritten. The fees are very low, and all proposals are to make them higher.”
One key part of the BeltLine vision is creating efficient street connections using a grid of small streets. Lewis said that developers are attempting to avoid the smaller-grid concept. Lewis sought public support to force them to conform to it.