After tapping the brakes on MARTA’s planned Peachtree Road development, Brookhaven city leaders have begun meeting with transportation officials to try to create a regional plan for handling traffic.
Mayor John Ernst said the group sought “a comprehensive approach instead of reinventing the wheel.”
Ernst, City Councilman Bates Mattison and other city officials met with representatives of MARTA, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the owners of property near the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station to discuss the transit agency’s plans for a regional development there.
“It was a great mutual meeting that some were saying should have happened years ago,” Ernst said. “All of us weren’t aware of all the [traffic] studies going on … so now we can take a comprehensive approach instead of reinventing the wheel.”
Ernst asked for a task force after backlash against the proposed MARTA TOD at Brookhaven/Oglethorpe pushed him to ask MARTA to delay its rezoning request from April until June.
Plans are for the regional task force to meet again in May, Ernst said. The city’s Public Works Department is set to put out by next month a bid for a site-specific traffic study for the corridor to complement the comprehensive traffic study conducted when the city incorporated in 2012.
MARTA is also conducting a traffic study on how its proposed development would affect the area and GDOT has other studies along to the Peachtree corridor to draw from.
“We want to look at ways on how we can solve traffic problems on the Peachtree corridor with an eye to development that will more than likely happen in the future,” Ernst said.
‘Brookhaven is the bottleneck’
Getting the major players at the same table to discuss possible solutions and bringing each group’s particular knowledge together means a regional plan can be made for a vital corridor of economic development to metro Atlanta, Mattison said.
“[Brookhaven] is the bottleneck,” Mattison said. “We as the city are not the owners of the property or the developers – our only influence is in rezoning. This doesn’t affect just the MARTA development, but the entire corridor.”
Councilwoman Linley Jones also agreed taking a step back from the TOD was a good idea to ensure public input. “The initial plans [from MARTA] were not in keeping with what the community hoped for,” she said. “What we have is leverage to influence zoning.”
At community meetings, residents told MARTA officials there would be no way the small two-lane roads leading into the MARTA station site could handle a major increase in traffic.
Also, plans to have off-street parking on Apple Valley Way was a mistake because it would lead to people circling neighborhoods while waiting for a space to come open, they said.
The Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development and Real Estate at MARTA, Amanda Rhein, said she heard the complaints and worries from community members attending the several public meetings MARTA held to discuss the proposed development. No specific answers on how to deal with traffic could be produced because the project is still in its very early stages, she said.
“We intentionally went out early to get feedback on the big picture vision, before everything was set in stone,” she said. “We wanted to take the feedback and incorporate it into the plan.”
While a number of people opposing the plan showed up at meetings, MARTA is confident there are many who also support it.
“They are not as vocal as the detractors. That’s a challenge for us,” she said. “We are committed to continuing to have dialogue with the community.”
One such supporter is Greg Boyer, 43, who moved to Brookhaven 15 months ago. He works at AT&T in Midtown and takes MARTA to work by catching a bus to the Brookhaven station and riding the subway to the Lindbergh station or by taking a bus directly to Lindbergh.
“I moved to Brookhaven since it had a modern townhouse I wanted at an affordable price on Millenium Way,” he said.
Brookhaven is an urban area, he said, and residents must come to grips with that. “Buckhead is less than two miles away. This may have been a suburb 30 years ago, but not today,” he said.
While Boyer supports the MARTA TOD, he believes MARTA and the development team should be willing to sacrifice buildable land on all four corners of the project to add more traffic lanes.
Regional cooperation necessary
Mattison said 40,000 to 50,000 motorists cut through Brookhaven every day on Peachtree Street; the city only has a population of about 42,000 people.
Also, MARTA does not own Peachtree Street – it’s a state-owned road and any changes to it must be made by GDOT.
MARTA’s proposed TOD for the 15-site includes retail, residential and green space on the property that now is covered in a mostly barren asphalt parking lot surrounded by unsightly fencing.
“The mayor basically requested we postpone submitting to June 1 and we agreed with him because it’s the right thing to do, but we continue to move forward with our due diligence,” Rhein said.
MARTA has six other TOD projects underway as part of a plan to take mostly empty parking lots and underserved areas to create multi-use developments that, according to MARTA, will create revenue for the local communities, put riders in the seats of MARTA and also contribute to a higher quality of life – while also working to take cars off the already busy roads.
“MARTA owns a lot of property in highly desirable communities,” she said. “We recognize the value of having a big team effort and we want to be good partners.”