Buckhead residents are unhappy that a state review process for major developments doesn’t include input from local residents.
At a Sept. 12 meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighhorhoods, Laura Beall spoke about her work with the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, including a recent review of Sandy Springs’ “Gateway” project, a mixed-use development near Chastain Park designed to include 630 apartments, offices and retail space.
Due to the size of the development, GRTA recommended realigning the intersection of Windsor Parkway and Roswell Road, which is expected to cost $3.7 million. Sandy Springs plans to fund the road project through a combination of impact fees, money moved from other projects and potentially some bond financing.
But Buckhead residents and politicians have complained that the development, which is planned at the border of Sandy Springs and the city of Atlanta, will dump more traffic onto Buckhead roads.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who represents Buckhead, asked Beall about regional developments, such as Gateway, that affect two communities. Because the project isn’t being built in Atlanta, the city doesn’t get any impact fees from developers.
“We get the bar bill, but we don’t get a drink,” Adrean said.
Beall suggested the best course of action would be for the two cities to work out an intergovernmental agreement for road improvements.
Beall explained that state law requires GRTA, established in 1999, to review all developments of regional impact, or DRIs.
The agency’s review process is all about the expenditure of state and federal transportation funds, she said. GRTA does not judge the merits of the proposals; that’s up to local governments to decide, she said.
“When GRTA is reviewing DRIs, we are not reviewing to approve as a land use,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of your concerns are because of the land use and intensity of what’s proposed.”
Beall said when she reviews projects, she aims to assess and mitigate the impacts of a proposed development, reduce congestion levels and maximize transportation investments.
“We’re trying to protect that public investment,” Beall said.
Jim King, president of the council, said neighbors worry that the project will increase traffic on West Wieuca Road, which is already congested. He said because of youth sports at Chastain Park and evening concerts at the Chastain Amphitheater, the area doesn’t have typical traffic patterns.
He said residents should be included early in GRTA’s review process.
“The policy flaw… seems to be that developers hire their own consultants,” King said. “The folks closest to an area or problem know it best.”
“I try not to do anything without weighing in with GDOT district offices, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and local governments,” Beall said.
But Adrean said communicating only through an employee of the city isn’t effective.
“What we need is a mechanism to notify our local elected officials,” Adrean said.
She said elected officials and residents know the nuances of the streets in an area that engineering studies often don’t reveal.
“What you’re trained to do doesn’t always work in an old city with narrow roads,” Adrean said.