2018 began and ended with political change in Buckhead, from new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ call for unity to the re-emergence of her former rival, local resident Mary Norwood. Big changes to such local institutions as the Bobby Jones Golf Course and Phipps Plaza mall were stories of the year, as were crime and a host of neighborhood issues that may linger into the new year.

Atlanta unity

The glass statuette of a handshake given to attendees of the Buckhead Coalition annual meeting in January. (File/Evelyn Andrews)

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made “One Atlanta” the theme of her new administration’s first year after a bruising, razor-thin victory over Buckhead-based rival Mary Norwood in campaigns that raised tensions about race and class. Bottoms kicked off the messaging in January with her first major post-win speech, given to the Buckhead Coalition at a luncheon themed “Atlanta Together,” where guests received a glass sculpture of a handshake. The coalition and Buckhead Christian Ministry also got 15 houses of worship to join in a common prayer for city unity. But in Buckhead, rumblings about a possible secession movement continued as a similar effort in Stockbridge went to the ballot and failed.

Norwood is out — and back in

Mary Norwood

Mary Norwood also made her first post-election speech in Buckhead, with remarks about unequal distribution of city services and south Atlanta taxpayers that Bottoms’ administration blasted as divisive. After that, Norwood spent most of the year off the public stage. Late in the year, she re-emerged, calling for a new Buckhead subway line and accepting a possible nomination for chair of the Fulton County Board of Elections. Expect 2019 to be the year of her political comeback effort.

Bobby Jones Golf Course debuts

Marty Elgison, head of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, tries a putt on one of the redesigned course’s oversized, two-hole greens. (Phil Mosier)

The historic Bobby Jones Golf Course debuted a $23 million makeover in November after years of planning and debate. The course, which dates to 1932, now has an unusual reversible nine-hole configuration, and features a new driving range and youth golf area. A large clubhouse with a golf hall of fame and a bar and grill is coming in 2019. Before the opening, the foundation operating the course agreed to save and plant trees to fend off a conservation group’s legal action, and still faces a lawsuit from neighbors unhappy with tree loss, traffic and other impacts.

Crime raises fears

Crime unsettled the neighborhood in forms ranging from gas station purse-snatchings to at least six shooting homicides. Especially jarring was July’s fatal shooting of a wedding guest at the Capital City Club, with four teens facing murder charges. That case drew a large crowd to attend a Buckhead meeting with prosecutors and led to talk of reforming a system of private probation. Prosecutors blamed much of the crime on drug gangs.

BeltLine and Clifton Corridor connections inch closer

MARTA’s latest map of proposed projects in its “More MARTA” sales-tax expansion plan.

The main Atlanta BeltLine began heading to Buckhead with early planning meetings for the “Northeast Trail,” which would run between Monroe Drive and Lindbergh Center. And MARTA approved a sales-tax spending plan that would help to bring public transit trains along the BeltLine and on the new Clifton Corridor line between Lindbergh and Emory University — though other funding has to be found first.

Big changes for Phipps Plaza

Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell stands with actor Robert De Niro at the Phipps Plaza Oct. 18 groundbreaking. (Special)

At Phipps Plaza mall, a Belk department store is out and a massive new expansion is going up, including a Nobu hotel and restaurant and a 12-story office building. Legendary actor Robert De Niro, a partner in Nobu, attended an October groundbreaking. A new fire station within the mall’s parking structure is part of the deal.

Party mansion raises dispute

The mansion at 4499 Garmon Road as it appeared on the rental site MansionHouseAtlanta.com.

Nightclub-style parties at a palatial mansion on Garmon Road — once home to music star Kenny Rogers — sparked neighborhood controversy, as the city struggled to find ways to crack down on the online-based rentals. The surprise appearance at a community meeting of a woman claiming to be a new owner and pledging an end to events only added to the confusion.

White nationalist draws good-neighbor debate

A white nationalist’s ownership of a house in Buckhead’s Peachtree Hills was criticized by the far-left group Atlanta Antifascists, leaving the local neighborhood association divided on how to respond. One of its board members, Donna Lorenz, said she was asked to resign after unsuccessfully pushing for the association to issue a pro-diversity statement. Sam Dickson, the homeowner and white nationalist advocate, joined the association and criticized the Antifa group as “dangerous.”

Darlington tenants are evicted

Athena Parker speaks about conditions at The Darlington apartments at a Sept. 17 rally. (Evelyn Andrews)

Residents of the historic Darlington apartment building at 2025 Peachtree Road faced mass eviction in August following the building’s purchase by a controversial developer. The mass displacement led to concerns about the loss of affordably priced housing for Buckhead’s working class and was an example of issues raised in an affordable housing study underway by Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Community Improvement District.

Political winds shift House seats

Shifting political winds that turned some suburban districts Democratic blue in the midterm election flipped a couple of Buckhead state House seats as well. Beth Beskin, the two-term Republican incumbent in House District 54, was knocked out of office by Democrat Betsy Holland. And Democrat Erick Allen will replace retiring Republican incumbent Rich Golick in House District 40. Incumbent Jen Jordan, a Democrat, held onto her Senate District 6 seat, and Rep. Deb Silcox, a Republican, won the right to stay in her House District 52 seat.

John Ruch

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