By John Ruch
The Buckhead master plan will keep on planning for a while.
A Feb. 27 community meeting for the “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” plan was scheduled to be the last, but now input will continue into April to hash out some controversial ideas, said Eric Bosman of lead consultant Kimley-Horn. Those include ideas large and small for Buckhead’s commercial core, from a new Ga. 400 interchange to a neighborhood trail loop.
A crowd of about 100 at the Atlanta International School received a sprawling, 90-minute presentation that narrowed some earlier ideas, elaborated others, and introduced still more new concepts, all while mingling short- and long-term plans.
Several of its recommended “first steps” are already underway, like finishing the PATH400 trail along Ga. 400; some residents complained that basic details are still lacking on others, such as the exact route of the proposed “Buckhead Loop” trail. One change with that trail concept: It would now be only for bicyclists and pedestrians, not the Buc shuttle bus, due to neighborhood opposition.
The plan’s sheer number of ingredients seemed to be taking longer than expected to bake. Technically a 15-year update of an existing urban plan, BUCKHEAD REdeFINED is also juggling several other existing plans—like a possible park capping Ga. 400, which was barely mentioned—as well as producing new ideas.
The plan’s focus is also expanding. Originally presented as focused on improving public space and non-car commuting connections, the plan is now tackling “viability,” “mobility” and “livability.” That essentially means quality-of-life issues, but the definitions of the categories aren’t always precise. One material change is that plan will now recommend more programming ideas, including a study about housing and its affordability, and ways to expand mass transit shuttle and bus services.
Among those in the audience was Atlanta mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard. “I love the big vision. And I love they are doing big community engagement,” she said afterward, adding that the big question for any projects will be funding.
Some parts of the master plan are looking for money, too. One new recommendation at the Feb. 27 meeting: an organization to spearhead planning and funding for a neighborhood public art and performance program.
A theme of the master plan is how to encourage better open spaces, retail uses and new streets in future developments. The biggest section of new material in the Feb. 27 presentation gave details about that idea in several sub-neighborhoods. For Loudermilk Park, there was an expansion of the park into the nearby Bank of America building area. For the West Village, a centralized parking garage and on-street parking on Roswell Road. For Lenox Square Mall, office buildings and a park in what is now the parking lot fronting on Peachtree Road. For the Lenox MARTA Station, transit-oriented residential development.
All of those concepts are just suggestions for future redevelopers and would take many years to happen.
Two of the most controversial ideas in the master plan involve Ga. 400 interchanges. It seems both will be recommended for more study, but first the consultants have yet to decide what exactly to study.
One idea is a “diverging diamond” interchange at Lenox Road and 400. A diverging diamond is an intersection design where traffic switches sides of the street to speed traffic flow. Bosman said consultants are still studying that idea, but also other alternatives. He briefly showed a drawing of a more typical interchange with crosswalks added. The status of settling on a project to study was unclear.
Another idea is a new, additional Ga. 400 interchange somewhere around East Paces Ferry Road. Two previously alternatives that would have connected the interchange to Lenox Road was killed due to strong opposition from the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, Bosman said. He briefly showed a drawing of the interchange, which would serve only Ga. 400 southbound, as having two roundabouts.
Another big idea that had some preliminary sketches, but no real detail: Flattening out the ramps on Lenox between the Monarch Center and the Phipps Plaza Mall.
And still more new ideas came along, including new streets: one connecting Wieuca and Peachtree-Dunwoody roads, and another looping behind the Kroger on Piedmont Road across from Tower Place to help bypass the snarled Peachtree Road intersection.
Next, Bosman said, planners will post various concepts from the plan on the BUCKHEAD REdeFINED for further comment at a rate of about one per week for four to six weeks. Another public meeting will follow as the plan aims to issue final recommendations in April. For updates, see buckheadredefined.com.