A new Chamblee Doraville Community Improvement District aims to boost local projects, including Chamblee’s downtown master plan and a connection to Brookhaven’s Peachtree Creek Greenway trail. But there is concern about what it will mean for Buford Highway’s famously diverse businesses, many of whom do not qualify to directly join the group of self-taxing property owners.

Dan Reuter, a consultant working to form the CID sometime next year, says that members believe the two cities already have a lot of good plans in place and some strong assets, like the businesses, communities, highways and MARTA. The goal is to provide at least $1 million a year to help leverage more funding for them.

Consultant Dan Reuter.

“The area has a lot of functional infrastructure,” Reuter said. “It’s just not stitched together very well.”

And Reuter said the CID’s initial members — mostly large-scale real estate and car dealership operators — are aware they’re in “really the most mixed-cultural, diverse area in metro Atlanta” and aim to be “grassroots and inclusive… [and] not get anyone worried about the intentions of the CID.”

Marian Liou, executive director of the Buford Highway advocacy group We Love BuHi, called the CID an “exciting development,” but spoke cautiously about it as well.

“Any transformation in Buford Highway’s outward form — for example, from a dangerous transportation corridor to a tree-lined boulevard — will be hollow unless we are intentional about sustaining its heart and soul and ensuring that its immigrant community can remain, adapt and thrive in place,” Liou said in an email. “What is Buford Highway, after all, without its people?”

What’s a CID?

A CID is a fundraising mechanism allowed under Georgia law where commercial property owners can voluntarily agree to pay additional income taxes that are spent on improvements within a defined district. The improvements are usually geared toward beautification, transportation and public safety. CIDs also can conduct planning studies.

Some well-known and influential CIDs in the area include Buckhead in Atlanta, Cumberland in Cobb County, and the Perimeter CIDs, which cover parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs in Perimeter Center. In 2016, a new CID was established anchored on Doraville’s Assembly site.

The Chamblee Doraville CID has a couple of points of origin. A CID was among the recommendations of a recent Atlanta Regional Commission Livable Centers Initiative study of the Buford Highway corridor in those cities.

A map of properties included in the proposed CID. (Special)

The CID is more directly an outgrowth of the Peachtree Gateway Partnership, which secretly formed in 2015 among city leaders of Chamblee, Doraville, Brookhaven and Dunwoody. It was intended as a joint planning and economic development authority, roughly centered on the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Chamblee. At that time, Reuter was on the ARC staff and worked on the PGP group’s formation.

Officials from the PGP member cities still meet regularly, Reuter said, but there has been little in the way of formal results besides early talk of coordinating city multiuse trail plans. The group appears to have been more influential for networking and spin-off conversation, notably including a group of top end Perimeter cities and other CIDs collaborating on studying transit possibilities along I-285.

A CID along the Peachtree Industrial Boulevard area was another early idea in the PGP. Reuter said a “Peachtree Gateway CID” was the initial idea, but that property owners have settled on starting in just Chamblee and Doraville.

“We haven’t really sought to go into Brookhaven yet. That could happen down the road,” he said. “…It’s just a lot more to bite off.”

The CID’s proposed district roughly runs in the area between Buford Highway and Peachtree Boulevard. To the northeast, border landmarks include I-285 and the White Windmill Bakery. To the southwest, border landmarks include the Plaza Fiesta mall and the new Whole Foods supermarket.

“In theory … any commercial property within Chamblee or Doraville could eventually be part of the CID,” Reuter said.

The additional property tax for CID members is proposed at somewhere in the range of 3 to 5 mills. Reuter said that, depending on which millage is chosen, that is projected to raise over $1 million to $2 million a year. “We wanted to have a minimum of $1 million a year,” he said.

The next step is to put together a formal plan to present for approval to the DeKalb County tax commissioner’s office, Reuter said. He expects that to happen in the first quarter of next year.

Greenway connections

A map of the Peachtree Creek Greenway’s proposed route, connecting Doraville and Mercer University to Buckhead via Chamblee and Brookhaven. (Peachtree Creek Greenway, Inc.)

Besides some general concepts of supporting existing city efforts, the CID has some specific intended priorities. Working on a plan to connect the Chamblee Rail Trail to Brookhaven’s Peachtree Creek Greenway is a big one. The Greenway is a concept for a 12-mile park and trail running along the creek and Buford Highway, eventually connecting Doraville and Mercer University to the Atlanta BeltLine and other trails in Buckhead. Brookhaven expects to break ground by year’s end on a “model mile” of the Greenway.

Reuter said the Greenway is a “project that is inspiring a lot of people right now. … If we were able to have the CID advance connections from Chamblee’s downtown and Doraville’s downtown to the Peachtree Creek Greenway, you could ride a bike all the way from Chamblee to the BeltLine.”

Marian Liou, executive director of We Love BuHi.

But the Greenway is also among the projects raising concerns about gentrification and displacement on Buford Highway.

Liou, who served on the Buford Highway LCI that recommended the CID’s formation, said she has discussed the community’s preservation with organizers.

“I’m optimistic after hearing from CID organizers that they fully recognize Buford Highway’s unique character and its small, immigrant-owned businesses as intrinsic and valuable to the CID’s identity and mission,” Liou said. “Undoubtedly the organizers will not avail themselves of Buford

Highway’s long-held reputation as an ‘International District’ without fully informing, including and incentivizing the participation and leadership in the CID effort of the immigrants who make this place amazing.”

For more information about the CID, see its page on the Peachtree Gateway Partnership website here.

CID Priorities

A Reporter Newspapers summary of priorities listed in the CID’s marketing materials.

  • Study “low-cost projects” to improve appearance, mobility and
  • Landscaping and access improvements at I-285 interchanges with
    Peachtree Boulevard and Buford Highway.
  • Develop proposal to connect Chamblee Rail Trail with Peachtree
    Creek Greenway.
  • Branding and promotion in Buford Highway area.
  • Review transportation system and development needs in
    specific sub-areas.
  • Support Chamblee’s study of self-driving shuttles and other
    alternative transportation connections to MARTA.

CID Founding Members

As listed in CID marketing materials.

  • Jimmy Ellis, Ellis Automotive
  • Larry Callahan, Pattillo Industrial Real Estate
  • Vince Riggio, Trinity Development
  • Matt Oppenheimer, Halpern Enterprises
  • Valerie Voyles, Ed Voyles Automotive
  • Allan Gutierrez, Urbana Realty
  • Bob Voyles, Seven Oaks
  • Gary Matthews, Parkside Partners
  • Carter Sechrest, Tripoli Management Inc.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.