Connecting major metro Atlanta cities such as Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville to one another through transit and multi-use trails is a major factor in developing and sustaining economic success for residents of the areas.

That was a key message the mayors of the cities cited during the Nov. 17 Mayor’s Breakfast held at the Chamblee Civic Center.

Speaking at the Nov. 17 Mayor’s Breakfast sponsored by the Chamblee Chamber of Commerce were, from left, Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal, Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson, Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman and Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

“Without that, you have nothing,” Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman said.

Pittman said three major corporations have bypassed locating in the city and the Assembly Project, the site of the former GM plant where a massive mixed-use development is underway. “Because there was no commitment on connectivity, those corporations went elsewhere,” she said.

DeKalb County and the city approved the project area as a Tax Allocation District, but the school district refused to agree with the plan. In August, the Doraville Development Authority approved more than $80 million in tax incentives for the project with the promise that the millions saved will go toward connecting the project to the Doraville MARTA station.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal praised his city’s relationship with State Farm and its regional headquarters under construction adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA station. The Dunwoody Development Authority this month approved $34 million in tax incentives for the corporation to build two more office towers on the site.

As part of that deal, State Farm will pay for a MARTA Connector and pedestrian bridge to maximize MARTA ridership and pay for the construction of an east-west connector road. The road is intended to help ease traffic in the Perimeter Center area by funneling motorists off I-285 and under Ashford-Dunwoody Road directly to the State Farm site and off Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Hammond Drive.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station and its connectivity to thriving Dresden Drive as well as the busy Peachtree Road corridor and Buford Highway were instrumental for growth and development in those areas. But growth and change can bring some pushback from residents and a “balancing act” must be made, he said.

“Everyone wants it except in their backyard,” he said. “There’s a lot of furor on this and a lot of people don’t want change. There is no formula.”

Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson lauded his city’s “rail-trail” project that will include pedestrian and bicycle connectivity by converting an abandoned rail corridor into a multi-use trail to downtown while supporting the planned Chamblee MARTA station transit-oriented development.

“The new generation is embracing transit … and we want to give people the option to ride their bikes to work,” he said, noting that Trackside, the name of the new development planned for the Chamblee MARTA station is installing showers for employees to use after cycling to the office.

Clarkson also noted people feared change but that municipalities must plan for the future. “We need to be looking local and acting regionally,” he said.

Ernst, Pittman and Clarkson said they are all concerned and excited about the future development of Buford Highway, which runs through each of the cities.

“This is one of our biggest assets,” Ernst said, noting Buford Highway’s culturally diverse population and businesses and the economic impact it has in the area.

“But we do not want to bulldoze and replace with gentrification … we want to embrace the culture and sell it,” he said. Ernst noted the city is focusing on affordable housing for the area and said the city wants to “change the buildings but not the people.”

“Embracing Buford Highway is how to go,” he said.

Clarkson said Doraville and Chamblee are now working with the Atlanta Regional Commission on a Livable Centers Initiative for Buford Highway. He said the cities want to make sure they don’t destroy the area, but enhance it.

“We want to maintain the diverse culture,” Clarkson said.