By John Schaffner
The leadership of the Peachtree Hills Civic Association feels the BeltLine Master Plan work is suffering from “a lack of clear direction and the lack of a clear plan,” coupled with city planners and their hired consultants not doing basic research and not paying attention to comments from the public.
And, Peachtree Hills is not alone in its concerns as the master planning public process nears its conclusion this month and in January.
According to Peachtree Hills resident Frank Sommers, who grew up in Brookwood Hills and has a father who has been active in that association for years, Brookwood Hills neighborhood leaders share many of the concerns of Peachtree Hills over plans for the proposed Peachtree Creek Parkway and the routing of the PATH Foundation trail through the area of their neighborhoods.
Also, during the Nov. 27 meeting of the BeltLine Master Plan Sub Area 7 stakeholders steering committee, Piedmont Heights representative Bill Seay was stunned to discover the Armour Drive/Armour Circle area, which this year was placed by the city in his neighborhood, was to be redeveloped as an industrial area rather than mixed-use residential that previously was his understanding.
The Brookwood Hills, Peachtree Hills and North Collier Hills neighborhoods also feel their concerns are not being heard regarding proposed redevelopment density along Peachtree Road and stepping down into the edges of their neighborhoods.
“We are looking at these issues. They (the planners) are looking at these issues,” Sommers told the Buckhead Reporter. “They all are part of the master plan, but the master plan is not coming together to deal with these issues.”
For instance, Sommers points out that Brookwood Hills owns more than 50 acres of land between the neighborhood and Armour Drive, for which it got a conservation easement from the city to protect the green space along Peachtree Creek that runs through the property.
He said the BeltLine planners and PATH Foundation originally planned to run a trail along the north side of Peachtree Creek on what originally was a bridle path, but which no longer exists. These plans were mapped out without knowing the bridle path no longer exists and without knowing Brookwood Hills owns the property and it has been designated as a conservation easement.
“They are taking some positions and determining certain items without having full information about property ownership, about the existence of certain paths or right of ways,” stated Kristy Gillmann, president of the Peachtree Hills Civic Association. The bridle path has been mostly washed away through erosion from Peachtree Creek, which now is essentially in residents’ backyards.
“It is a disservice to the whole community, not just Peachtree Hills, that they are getting everybody hyped up about this without knowing these things.”
What Peachtree Hills decided to do, according to Gillmann, was to find someone in the neighborhood that was very knowledgeable about the area to physically walk the Peachtree Creek area and “map it out and show the residents what the BeltLine was initially proposing,” explained Gillmann.
The person chosen to do this was Sommers. The result of that work Gillmann said was that what the BeltLine staff and consultants were initially planning “was not feasible, literally, given the lay of the land.”
Brookwood Hills has made it clear to the BeltLine planners that it will not allow the PATH Foundation’s trail to go through its 50-plus acre conservation easement—either cutting through the property to get from the proposed Peachtree Creek Parkway to Armour Drive, nor running along the edge of the property.
However, at the Nov. 27 meeting, the master plan maps displayed still showed potential PATH routes that the Brookwood Hills representatives thought had been removed as options.
It is essential that an acceptable route is found that will allow the PATH trail to turn south from the proposed Peachtree Creek Parkway and eventually hook up with the PATH trail segment inside I-85 at Piedmont Park.
Sommers said the Peachtree Hills group pointed out to BeltLine planners, at one of the early meetings they attended, that the original PATH plan put the trail essentially in people’s backyards and that route now has been removed from the plan.
“That was a positive thing,” Sommers said. “But now there have been some proposals for where the PATH goes that have shown up, disappeared and shown up again.”
“The things that some of the neighborhoods felt were previously considered off the table keep reappearing,” Gilliam said. She said a letter was sent to Jonathan Lewis, the city’s BeltLine project coordinator in the Planning Department, to suggest another meeting with the three neighborhoods (Peachtree Hills, Brookwood Hills and Piedmont Heights) to discuss the three major issues the PATH trail, Peachtree Creek Parkway alignment and the future development of the Armour Drive area.
“From our perspective, we thought it was our responsibility to our residents to give them as much thoughtful, truthful education as possible, instead of the misinformation being presented out there,” Gillmann explained. The association has had five meetings now for residents in Peachtree Hills.
Both Gillmann and Sommers said they had been unaware until recently of the public “study group” meetings that had been held in preparation of this portion of the BeltLine master plan, even though the meetings were being held at the Peachtree Hills recreation center in their neighborhood.
“None of our neighbors were aware of the early meetings,” Gillman said. They only found out about the meetings in time to attend the October meeting.
“We support the concept and we certainly understand the city’s desire to improve people moving,” Gillman stated. “But it needs to come with some realistic expectations from an engineering standpoint, from community support. I think the city and the BeltLine team would have a heck of a lot easier time of things if they would really work with the neighborhoods and understand that we are trying to come up with a viable option for everybody. Right now, I just don’t think they are feeling that way.”