Times are changing in Buckhead, and planning ahead was on the neighborhood’s mind this year: New parks and improvements on old ones. Massive tax funding for MARTA and PATH400. Fresh concerns about historic preservation and crime. Meanwhile, political winds blew through Buckhead in the former of Black Lives Matter protests.

Park over Ga. 400 design is unveiled

Concepts for a park capping Ga. 400 in central Buckhead were finally unveiled in September after more than a year of study, drawing excitement about green space and concern about how to pay for it.

An illustration of the park’s “Garden” area. (Rogers Partners)

The serpentine, 9-acre park would be built on slender bridges over 400 between Lenox and Peachtree roads in the neighborhood’s commercial core. The park would consist of three parts: a “Garden,” a “Plaza” and a “Commons” area bisected by a line of trees for shade. The estimated cost: $195 million to $245 million.

The park over 400 was proposed by the Buckhead Community Improvement District, a self-taxing business district, but has been controversial among its board members concerned about who pays and whether a CID should be in the park business. The park concept was folded into the new “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” master plan for further study on design, costs and funding sources.

Bobby Jones Golf Course switches to state ownership, sparks management questions

The historic Bobby Jones Golf Course was the center of sports controversy throughout the year. First, the city gave the course to the state as part of a land swap to secure a redevelopment deal for the Underground Atlanta mall downtown. The state and a nonprofit course foundation plan a major renovation of the course, as well as converting it from 18 holes to nine. The course itself passed into management by that foundation.

Jim Chapman presents a new rendering of the proposed Bobby Jones Golf Course during the city finance/executive committee meeting on May 25.

That ownership change led American Golf, a company that managed the city’s five golf courses—including Chastain Park’s North Fulton course—for more than 30 years, to end all of its contracts. Without explanation or announcement, the city twice rejected a $15 million bid from the nonprofit Atlanta Public Golf Conservancy to renovate and manage all of the courses besides Bobby Jones. The city is now managing the courses itself, reportedly with a start-up golf department.

Black Lives Matter protests come to Buckhead

Three separate Black Lives Matter protests, ranging from a dozen to hundreds of marchers, targeted Buckhead as a wealthy, majority-white, shopping hotspot.

The ATL Silent Protest marching on Lenox Road Sept. 24. (Photo John Ruch)

The most significant protest came on July 11. Capping five straight days of citywide protests about the killing of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, the Buckhead march went from Lenox Station to the Governor’s Mansion. Hundreds of protesters chanted and banged drums for hours until Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner agreed to meet with them on the scene inside a police truck.

A follow-up meeting about possible police reforms fell apart, and the Mayor’s Office said most of the suggestions are already in place.

Voters approve TSPLOST, MARTA tax boost

A massive transformation in Buckhead’s transit and trail systems is in the works as voters approved a TSPLOST and a MARTA sales tax boost in a vote Mayor Kasim Reed called “historic.”

The 0.4 percent TSPLOST funds will help complete the PATH400 multi-use trail through the neighborhood and build out local sections of the BeltLine path. The 0.5 percent MARTA sales tax boost will help to fund several major projects in Buckhead. Some items on the list: a new Armour Yard rail station on the Gold and Red Lines; The “Clifton Corridor” light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale stations; light rail on the BeltLine; and bus improvements on Peachtree Road and Northside Drive.

The price for those funds: Atlanta now has a sales tax totaling 8.9 percent.

Historic house demolition triggers new preservation efforts

The year did not begin well for historic preservation, as a new owner demolished a 1937 Tuxedo Road mansion designed by Philip Trammell Shutze, a celebrated Atlanta architect best known for the Atlanta History Center’s Swan House. That demolition was criticized by Mark McDonald, president and CEO at the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

The front facade of the Thornton House at 205 West Paces Ferry Road, showing the starburst window design, the curving front door and the recently uncovered copper work. (Photo John Ruch)

But later in the year, the owners of another Shutze house on West Paces Ferry Road announced they were rehabilitating their home in authentic detail. Meanwhile, Carmie McDonald, who is Mark’s spouse, became the new executive director at the Buckhead Heritage Society, which celebrated its 10th anniversary of preservation successes. The society and the Georgia Trust announced a joint program for training real estate professionals in identifying historic properties and matching them with pro-preservation owners.

Coping with Atlanta Memorial Park flooding

Flooding and sewage contamination has been an ongoing problem at Atlanta Memorial Park for decades.

Mayor Kasim Reed visited Atlanta Memorial Park in March to announce “aggressive” efforts to stop the park from being flooded by sewage-contaminated stormwater. Raising manholes, relocating a playground to higher ground, and $30 million in repairs to a century-old pipe beneath the park were among the plans.

Political drama leads to new state rep.

Political intrigue in House District 52 resulted in Buckhead getting a new state representative, Deborah Silcox.

Deborah Silcox.

The drama began when two candidates—Silcox and Sandy Springs City Councilmember Graham McDonald—announced campaigns to challenge longtime HD 52 incumbent Joe Wilkinson. Wilkinson said he had been grooming both challengers as potential replacements when he retired, but that McDonald’s candidacy “blindsided” him. A short time later, Wilkinson announced his resignation and endorsed Silcox, while also claiming McDonald’s candidacy was part of a “plot” to replace him hatched by Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and District 51 state Rep. Wendell Willard, which both men denied.

Silcox beat McDonald in the Republican primary.

A new master plan for the commercial core

A new master plan for Buckhead’s commercial core launched in October with the goal of pleasing well-off millennials with better public spaces, transportation and housing.

A meeting attendee sticker-votes on programming options for the potential park over Ga. 400 at the Oct. 17 Buckhead master plan meeting at Atlanta International School. (Photo John Ruch)

Branded as “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED,” the planning process also folds in previous independent plans to improve the Lenox Road streetscape and for a possible park capping Ga. 400 between Lenox and Peachtree Roads.

Budgeted at about $200,000, including Atlanta Regional Commission grant funding, the six-month master plan effort applies roughly to Buckhead Village, Buckhead Forest, Lenox and Peachtree Park.

MARTA takes a second shot at Lindbergh Center transit-oriented development

A map of MARTA’s Lindbergh Center Station transit-oriented development master plan area, with the parcels currently out to bid shown in purple and numbered 1 and 2, in an image from the request for proposals document.

Lindbergh Center Station is where MARTA first tried transit-oriented development nearly 20 years ago, with mixed and incomplete results. Late this year, in the midst of a TOD project boom, the transit agency announced the sale of two parcels to kick-start the unfinished mixed-use redevelopment around the station and maybe upgrade what’s there today. Any winning designs likely will be announced in early 2017.

North Buckhead fears rising crime rates

Statistics of major crimes reported to the FBI by the Atlanta Police Department in January through September for Buckhead’s residential area (left) and the entire neighborhood (right), from a North Buckhead Civic Association presentation.

A 90 percent jump residential property crimes between September 2015 and September 2016 drew concern from the North Buckhead Civic Association.

The rise in thefts and burglaries could be a short-term shift, not a trend, the association acknowledged, but the jump from 35 such crimes to 67 looked serious. The Atlanta Police Department noted that the overall crime rate is down 4 percent and that rates fluctuated throughout the year.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.