By Clare S. Richie
While 2016 was a busy year for the Atlanta BeltLine, 2017 is shaping up to be one of its biggest yet.
“2017 will be a year of very tangible progress for the Atlanta BeltLine. We’ll open the Eastside Trail Extension and the Westside Trail and acquire the remainder of land for the corridor,” said Rob Brawner, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Executive Director.
These gains require a continued commitment from the City of Atlanta and the community “to get to the finish line by 2030.”
“The amount of work that lies ahead to complete the BeltLine and maintain what we have far outweighs the work that’s been done,” Brawner emphasized.
Brawner’s referring to the land acquisition, design and construction for the remaining trails and parks, and creating the remaining 5,040 mandated affordable housing units.
Once completed, the historic 22-mile railroad corridor that circles Downtown will be reborn as a network of public parks, multi-use trails, transit, and affordable housing that connects 45 neighborhoods.
This massive project is a public and private team effort. The Atlanta Beltline, Inc. (ABI), the city’s implementation agent that primarily secures public funds and oversees implementation of the trails, parks and transit.
“We could not be able to accomplish this project without the leadership of Mayor Reed, and the public funding support from our TAD partners, City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and Atlanta Public Schools,” Paul Morris ABI CEO, shared.
ABI works closely with the city departments and Atlanta Beltline Partnership (ABP), a private nonprofit that raises supplementary funds, engages the community in programs on the BeltLine, and promotes partnerships and advocacy around health, housing and economic opportunity to benefit all residents of BeltLine neighborhoods.
Here’s a closer look at what’s been accomplished and what’s ahead.
Eastside Trail Enhancements and Extension
More than 1.3 million people have walked, jogged, biked or skated along the Eastside Trail in the past year. The trail extends for two miles from 10th Street and Monroe Drive to Irwin Street, connecting Piedmont Park, Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Freedom Park trail.
It’s construction completed in 2012, cleared 100 acres of kudzu, overgrowth and debris, removed 1,700 tons of contaminated soil and now celebrates more than 600 trees in an arboretum thanks to Trees Atlanta.
Enhancements abound on this well-loved trail. You’ll notice more access points, like the one at Ralph McGill Boulevard (near mile marker 10.0) and the BeltLine’s first public plaza next to Ponce City Market. This month, the fourth prototype bench will be on display. Based on community feedback, one of the four local artist benches will be chosen as the signature bench placed throughout the corridor. And a new permanent sculpture near the stainless steel ’33 Oaks’ installation at 725 Ponce is coming in 2017.
The extension, projected to open in late summer 2017, will add another 1.25 miles from Irwin Street to Kirkwood Avenue in Reynoldstown.
“From Irwin Street, it travels south to DeKalb Avenue, navigates through Krog Street tunnel into Cabbagetown and runs along the CSX Hulsey Yard on Wylie Street,” Morris explained.
Design for the .37-mile stretch of Wylie Street calls for a 10-foot multi-use trail on the north side of the road, buffered from traffic by landscaping.
The Westside Trail is a 3-mile segment that runs from University Avenue in Adair Park to Lena Avenue at Washington Park. A half-mile stretch along White Street will use the existing West End Trail, the spur that runs from Rose Circle Park to Westview Cemetery.
This new multi-use trail will include 14 ramp and stair connections (including 11 ADA-accessible ones), greenway, and space for future transit. Once completed, it will connect four schools that serve southwest Atlanta.
“Concrete pours have started on the Westside Trail, and we are hoping to finish by late summer 2017,” Morris said.
The completion day is at least two-years ahead of schedule because of a federal U.S. Department of Transportation Tiger V grant and private funds.
At the south end of the trail is the BeltLine’s first urban farm, Aluma Farm at Adair Park. “It’s a demonstration site to learn how to expand urban farming around the BeltLine,” Brawner said. Produce is available for sale there (seasonally and at certain times) and at other city farmer’s markets.
“It’s a demonstration site to learn how to expand urban farming around the BeltLine,” Brawner said.
Initial work on the 16-acre former state farmer’s market site, known as Murphy’s Crossing, is also underway. As a result of professional, community and resident input, this property has the potential to “create a destination on the Westside that could include economic development opportunities, such as maker spaces and affordable housing,” Brawner explained. In the short-term, ABI will stabilize the site with infrastructure and green space until the site development plan is complete.
Southside Trail Design
Design for the Southside Trail, which runs four miles from Glenwood Avenue clockwise to University Avenue at the Westside Trail, is underway. ABI recently held community meetings for resident input on where to locate ramp and stair connections as well as gathering places along the trail. Design is expected to take place well into 2018. Input can still be given to Nathan Soldat, ABI Community Engagement Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Referenda To Provide Needed Funds
Two sales tax measures, the MARTA Referendum and TSPLOST, passed by a strong margin on Nov. 8
“It’s a game changer,” Brawner said. “It reinforces how important transit and transportation are to residents of Atlanta.”
The MARTA referendum added a half penny sales tax, which for the BeltLine will support constructing and operating the Atlanta Streetcar System Plan in the loop and four new rail stations along the BeltLine (Armour Yard, Boone Boulevard, Murphy Crossing and Krog Street).
The TSPLOST four-tenths cent sales tax increase is estimated to generate $66 million for ABI to purchase the remaining right of way for the 22-mile loop and provide lighting for its multi-use trails.
“I can’t overstate how important it is to the ultimate development of the project to secure the remaining corridor,” Brawner said. “Once we have land we can go after money to clean it up, design and build.”
As more of the corridor is acquired, look for more hiking trails like the one from Piedmont Park to Ansley Mall to open.
The next step is for MARTA and the city to prioritize projects and timing. “Ideally, we’ll have projects identified that can begin in April 2017 after first quarter sales tax revenue is collected,” Morris said, noting that the projects are eligible for federal matching grants.
The New York Times recently reported what many already suspected: Home prices have risen in formerly overlooked working-class neighborhoods near the BeltLine.
In 2005, Atlanta City Council legislatively-mandated a 25-year goal of 5,600 units in the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD), the specific geographic area designated in the 2005 Redevelopment Plan.
To date, 2,000 units of affordable housing have been created by ABI, Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta and the State Department of Community Affairs in the BeltLine Planning Area, a .5-mile area on either side of the BeltLine corridor. But only 560 units, or 10 percent of the initial goal have been built within the smaller TAD.
“It’s been slow going because during the recent recession the TAD didn’t raise as much and no one was building,” Morris said.
“We reset our game plan,” Morris explained. “Over the next three years, ABI will invest $15-$20 million in the preservation and creation of affordable housing, down payment assistance, developer incentives, funding for land acquisition, and owner occupied rehabilitation, to support an additional 425 to 600 units.”
Morris and Brawner agreed that affordable housing is a citywide issue, and that a combination of policies and funding is needed to address it. Some of their ideas include working with public and private partners on inclusionary zoning, land trusts, housing trust funds, and land banks.
The Atlanta City Council is working on a new ordinance, 16-O-1592, which establishes an inclusionary housing requirement for new rental developments in the Beltline Overlay District to allow low- and moderate- income households to buy or rent property in mixed-income environments.
Brawner said that ABP could also play a bigger role by raising private funds for affordable housing as it has done for parks and trails.