Top officials of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville have met privately for nearly a year to work on a potential joint planning and economic development authority called the Peachtree Gateway Partnership.
The existence of the collaboration, which is coordinated by the Atlanta Regional Commission, was revealed at the Oct. 27 Brookhaven City Council meeting by Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams. She said the four cities will start by creating a coordinated network of pedestrian/bike trails, but have much bigger options, including forming a nonprofit to create public-private partnerships and “a blueprint for the area.”
“The first thing we’re going to figure out is how to connect our trails,” which will help the cities “get used to working together,” said Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis.
But the long-term goal is to “market success” of the area and take a regional approach to its booming development. “We need to be in control of it instead of letting stuff roll over us,” he said.
The cities’ mayors requested ARC’s help with coordinated planning, especially in response to the enormous mixed-use redevelopment underway at the former GM plant in Doraville and the hopes of better marketing DeKalb-Peachtree Airport on the Brookhaven/Chamblee line.
The request is all about “trying to coordinate their economic development goals,” said Dan Reuter, ARC’s manager of community development, who has led the meetings. “I think we’ve got to make ways easier for these four jurisdictions to coordinate.”
ARC suggested two large, cross-jurisdictional, public-private partnerships as models. One is Partnership Gwinnett in Gwinnett County.
The other is the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, a massive effort to redevelop the area around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Representatives of both groups have attended Peachtree Gateway meetings. So have representatives of the GM site redevelopment and PDK airport.
“We’re a different breed, but we can still use that as a playbook,” PDK Interim Director Mario Evans said of the Aerotropolis Alliance.
He added that PDK is planning more corporate-jet hangars and is updating its master plan for the first time since 1995—though it does not plan to add runways or any other major changes.
The Buford Highway corridor is another area that could see coordinated planning, Reuter said, adding that Chamblee and Doraville likely need more economic development help than Brookhaven and Dunwoody.
But first, there’s the question of what form the partnership will take. Options range from informal talks to a Livable Centers Initiative study to a 501(c) 6 nonprofit business league that could create public-private partnerships with corporations. ARC prefers the nonprofit organization model.
“They can have meetings like they’ve done without creating a 501(c) 6 and probably do what they want to do anyway,” Reuter said. “But I think there’s a value to bringing big corporate partners to the table.”
However, decision time is near, Williams said. That’s one reason she revealed the meetings, which apparently have been kept secret even from other elected officials. She said the group met three times last year and six times so far this year. The four mayors have sometimes attended, and top city staff have also.
“I’m not sure the rest of the council even knew about this,” Williams said.
“I’m surprised you even heard about it,” Reuter said when asked about public input. “At some point, it becomes something in the public realm,” he said, but referred only to local governments eventually voting on the final products.
Davis and Williams will be replaced by new mayors in January. The secrecy makes it hard to know how their successors will respond to the details of the partnership.
Dunwoody mayor-elect Denis Shortal, a former city councilman, said he knew nothing about the Peachtree Gateway meetings. “I never even heard the term,” he said. “I’m going to become involved if there is such a thing…Hopefully, come January, I will maybe be up to speed on it.”
“Under my administration, when we have an opportunity to work with other jurisdictions, I’m willing to do that as long as it doesn’t negatively impact Brookhaven,” said Brookhaven mayor-elect John Ernst. “I think there are a lot of common things we could do as neighbors, but my main goal is making Brookhaven as best as possible.”
It also remains to be seen how cities that formed partly out of a desire for local control respond to regionalism-based planning.
“While it creates a lot of benefit for local control, it then creates its own geography and the need to think about your neighbors a little more,” Reuter said of the four cities.
“Regionalism sometimes means 10 counties or more, and sometimes it just means talking to your neighbor. In general, we don’t want Balkanization.”