A rendering of the Public Storage building planned to be built on Monroe Drive near 10th Street just steps from the Atlanta BeltLine. (Atlanta Botanical Garden)

The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s plans to build a self-storage public building along the Atlanta BeltLine in Virginia-Highland as part of a land swap for its expansion drew harsh criticism from a review committee. 

Members of the Atlanta BeltLine Design Review Committee (DRC) at their Jan. 18 meeting did not hold back their disdain with the Garden’s application to build a Public Storage facility on Monroe Drive near 10th Street, just steps away from the BeltLine and its connection to Piedmont Park. 

A self-storage building “does not belong on the BeltLine, or anywhere near it,” said Stephen Causby, an urban planner on the DRC.

“I think that the BeltLine was envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly corridor … to get people out of cars, connecting with neighborhoods, walking on streets and rediscovering the pedestrian-oriented past of our wonderful city,” Causby said.

Retail, residential or some other mixed-use project would be much more suitable for the BeltLine-adjacent property between Kanuga Street and Cooledge Avenue, where the vacant Cantoni furniture store stands, DRC members said. 

A cyclist rides past the former Cantoni store that is close to the Atlanta BeltLine and Piedmont Park where the Atlanta Botanical Garden plans to build a self-storage facility. (Dyana Bagby)

“I think that … in this part of town to have something other than mixed use … just seems like a missed opportunity,” said Nazeer Kutty, an architect and DRC member. 

Kutty said he understands zoning for the site allows for a self-storage building but doing so was a “disappointment for anyone with interest in the urban environment, the urban fabric.”

The Garden bought the property at 1011 Monroe Drive and 597 Cooledge Avenue as part of a land swap deal with Public Storage. The self-storage giant has a building at 268 Westminster Drive and Piedmont Avenue, also along the Atlanta BeltLine. The location is the only property where the Garden can expand north. 

After years of negotiations, Public Storage said the Garden could tear down its existing building and use the land for its expansion. In turn, the Garden would build a new self-storage building on Monroe to replace the Westminster building, said Kathryn Zickert, attorney for the Garden. The roughly $40 million land swap deal will enable the Garden to add on about seven more acres of greenspace. The expansion will include a direction connection to the BeltLine and Piedmont Park close to Ansley Mall. 

“The expansion is extremely important in terms of the Garden’s long-range plans and [by] allowing this piece to be added to the Garden, we’re going to be providing a direct link between the BeltLine and the Garden for the first time,” Zickert said. 

David M. Hamilton, an architect on the DRC, said he is a member of the Atlanta Botanical Garden and thinks “it is one of the most wonderful things in Atlanta.”

“I am very happy that you guys are expanding along the BeltLine,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that you had to make a deal with Public Storage to put a storage facility in the middle of the neighborhood. I do think it’s not a particularly compatible use.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.