After nine months of work, the master plan for Buckhead’s commercial core has been released. It proposes “Six Big Ideas”: projects and studies that especially target the neighborhood’s problems with traffic congestion and housing affordability.
Branded as “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED,” the master plan came out of three large community meetings and other input methods. It also at times incorporated pre-existing planning processes for a possible park capping Ga. 400 and Lenox Road streetscape improvements, both of which are recommended in the final plan.
The master plan, intended to guide the next 10 to 15 years of development, is technically a reboot of the earlier Buckhead Action Plan, which went into effect in 2002. The Action Plan was focused on property redevelopment, while BUCKHEAD REdeFINED is more about transportation, housing choices and “place-making.”
The new master plan was coordinated by Livable Buckhead, the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the Buckhead Business Association, the Buckhead Coalition and the Rotary Club of Buckhead. Those organizations will remain active with the master plan, which is not intended to simply sit on a shelf; it includes a “100-day action plan” for moving agencies and organizations toward the first phases of many “short-term” projects – meaning ones that could be completed within five years.
The master plan drew hundreds of people to community meetings, but also had a rocky wrap-up. Originally announced as a six-month process, the scope and concepts continued to widen, and planners announced an extra community meeting and other further input. But the BCID declined to fund that further input, leaving the plan to be finalized in behind-the-scenes discussions over the past three months.
The 171-page plan contains no surprises, but instead compiles the many concepts that were vetted in the public meetings and surveys. It also lays out some priorities; provided detailed conceptual designs for sub-neighborhoods; and incorporates a “walking audit” that studying the neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendliness problems.
The core of the master plan is its “Six Big Ideas”:
- “Develop a district-wide multi-use trail to connect and celebrate the area history and culture.” Branded as the “Buckhead Cultural Loop Trail,” it would run along East and West Paces Ferry roads; Lenox Road; and the East Andrews Drive area. Various segments of this trail are listed as short-term possibilities.
- “Activate and enliven a continuous network of streets and destinations.” That means a public art program and such “street activation” programs as pop-up stores and outdoor dining spaces.
- “Enhance mobility to and from Ga. 400 and beyond.” That means further study of improving the Lenox Road/Ga. 400 interchange and of construction a new Ga. 400 interchange at East Paces Ferry Road. The East Paces Ferry interchange was a highly controversial concept in the meetings.
- “Foster a distinctive Buckhead identity along Lenox Road.” That means a series of streetscape and green space projects, including a linear park with a boardwalk alongside Lenox Square Mall.
- “Diversify housing opportunities.” A major finding of the planning process was that the neighborhood has a serious lack of housing in general, and especially of affordable housing, both of which contribute to massive commuter traffic. This “Big Idea” has three components. One is an “affordable housing strategy,” including preservation of affordable senior housing, transit-oriented development, “micro-units” and “employment-assisted housing.” Another is further “housing gap” analysis, meaning the fact that the neighborhood has 10 times as many jobs as it does households. And the final component is better mass transit service and connections.
- “Define the civic heart of the community through parks and green space.” The park over Ga. 400 is the key part of this idea. But it also includes a concept for gaining publicly accessible green space in future private developments, with many specific sites suggested.
Among the items on the 100-day action plan are getting formal approval of “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” from the city of Atlanta, and to start seeking federal funding, administered by the Atlanta Regional Commission, for some of the short-term projects.
Another action plan item is an awareness-raising campaign to “educate area businesses, property owners, residents, and developers on the changing demographics in Buckhead to promote a shift in perspective that seeks to alleviate the jobs-to-housing imbalance, and provide economical housing options.”
To view the full “BUCKHEAD REdeFINED” plan see the Livable Buckhead website at livablebuckhead.org/community/buckhead-redefined.