By Evelyn Andrews
and John Ruch
The massive Buckhead master plan process is scrapping further public input—including a promised public meeting and website posting of documents—due to budget concerns.
Instead, the final “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” plan will be released to the media and posted on a website after an April 18 meeting of an internal steering committee, according to Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, the organization leading the plan.
The abrupt cutback in public input after three previous meetings was due to concerns of staying within the original budget, Starling said. The project budget is $219,500.
In an email, Starling said the reason was “keeping within the original scope of the project–additional engagement and meetings was beyond the scope and would have resulted in a budget increase.”
The organizers wanted to host another public meeting due to the amount of major projects being proposed, but the request for funding to do that was denied by the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which contributed $107,500 to the plan, Starling said in an email.
“I requested that funding from the CID, however, they decided that the added cost would not result in enough return on the investment. More specifically – it wouldn’t supply any new information or recommendations,” Starling said.
Launched last October, “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” is technically an update of an existing, 15-year-old plan for the neighborhood’s commercial core around Lenox and Peachtree roads. But it also folded in some other major planning efforts, such as the proposed park capping Ga. 400. It also began generating new, large-scale project proposals, including a new Ga. 400 interchange around East Paces Ferry Road.
In that early stage, the process drew hundreds of people to meetings and gained input from online and in-person surveys.
A Feb. 27 community meeting showed signs that the planning team had bitten off more than it could chew. It was supposed to be the final meeting in the process, but several plans remained sketchy, with no designs available and residents complaining about the lack of detail.
Starling said that the master plan will recommend further studies for major projects. “Big ideas start in master plans and ALWAYS raise a need for more detail to be discovered as projects get further developed,” she said.
At the Feb. 27 meeting, Starling and consultants said that an additional public meeting would be held to finish off the concepts, and in the meantime, several major plans, like the Ga. 400 interchange, would be posted on the “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” website at a rate of one per week for further public comment. A March 15 blog post on the Buckhead CID repeated the promise of a forthcoming meeting and said, “In order to make these projects happen, we must keep the conversation going!”
But nothing from that meeting was ever posted to the website. The additional meeting has been scrapped, as has the idea of posting one project per week on the website, Starling said.
Presentation materials take time to be ready to post because they need added context so people understand some projects need to be studied further, Starling said. They will be posted on the website in the next few days.
The steering committee that will get one final look has about 40 members from the community. The meeting was pushed back to add more time for public comment, Starling said.
Earlier presentations remain available on the master plan website at buckheadredefined.com.