Atlanta, a Development Primer for the State

Every five years the Gateway to the South Atlanta endeavors to analyze its development and growth, and aspires to create a plan that will accommodate the findings therein. Last CDP public documents can be found here. The City of Atlanta is beginning the CDP process again, with discussions in various groups centering on a focus on/ fear of on-coming density. Here’s a timeline and explainer.

I’ll advise you to grab a cup of whatever your preferred beverage may be, ’cause this is a longer piece that discusses the changing tax base of Atlanta, developer’s new fees, the Beltline, Microsoft, Stranger Things, rural broadband, and the multiplier effects of what changes in my neighborhood may mean for the state. Walk with me, I promise it’s worth the read.

I’m personally less concerned about density/multi-unit housing, and more about who is at the table to discern the city’s steps forward. I’m a BIG fan of local control, and believe that our neighborhoods should decide the path forward. Add to this last bit the racial complexities of the “City Too Busy To Hate”, and you have a layered challenge of class, race, and history to overcome as you move through this citywide discussion.

While I am white, I reside in a historically and predominantly Black neighborhood in what is affectionately referred to as the S.W.A.T.S. (South West Atlanta Too Strong, thank you, Outkast.) Read up on a brief history of my neighborhood and its part in becoming the catalyst for White flight in the 50s. This might help readers understand why the now influx of white folks coming back into the city is a complex discussion in the Black Mecca.

If you aren’t aware, Atlanta’s neighborhoods are grouped into quasi-governmental entities referred to as Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs). There are 25 NPUs. Mine is NPU K, which encompasses both City Council District 3 and District 4. NPU K borders NPU J, wherein the new Westside Park is located. You may know this park as the location of Bellwood Quarry, or have seen it in episodes of Stranger Things or The Walking Dead.

The recent purchase of further acreage around the park by Microsoft gives me great concern about rising housing costs and the pushing out of long-standing residents in the area. An update to that story on purchase came out this morning in the AJC.

And what does Microsoft think? They have quite the propaganda news narrative that highlights the Innovation Crescent impact/timeline as well.

In an attempt to further local, neighborhood driven control, the NPU system was created by Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1974 in response to the unfortunate division development throughout the city had created, leaving namely Black neighborhoods without a say. Here’s a NY Times article that provides some background on segregation, development, and why transit isn’t prolific here. In trying to give the neighborhoods a more defined voice and a means of self determination, the NPU system was created (and has never been updated) to vote on zoning issues as well as licensing within the NPU bounds. Think of it as a super small version of home rule.

While some neighborhoods are well organized, with Herculean efforts from citizens doing the thankless and great work of ensuring their neighbors are informed, others are not.

Bankhead, nearest neighborhood within NPU K to the Microsoft owned property, is not. It has a neighborhood liaison, yet no organized neighborhood association that passes on or votes on issues of zoning, licensing, or even who represents them at neighborhood level. You may think this is the job of their council person, and you would not be wrong. That said, approach matters in politics. Their council representation is Councilman Antonio Brown, whose boldness on council has led to deep appreciation by his district, some skirmishes with Mayor Bottoms, and some investigations by previous U.S. Federal Attorney BJay Pak, who you may remember resigned around the time that ish hit the fan in Atlanta over that whole election thing. Personalities matter and these are strong ones, sometimes overshadowing the issues they champion.

This is where politics get challenging for me: I’m a huge fan of both Councilman Brown and previous U.S. Attorney Pak. I like transparency, ethical and consistent approaches to issues, and I know personally how much money unfortunately often determines success. That said, I look forward to writing about both in the future, as they have many more bright opportunities in politics before them.

Politics and personalities aside, to add to the frustration is the further consideration before the city in the form of the Beltline Overlay District SSD. It’s basically a new tax for businesses and multi-unit homes around the Beltline to fund the remaining paving and rail plans. As you can imagine, business owners and apartment dwellers are NOT happy about this. If you’re wondering, the reason for leaving out single-family attached homes in this tax was to provide some hoped for shelter for long-term residents who reside within the district. The city gave homeowners a bone here, so I’ll be grateful.

Yet another layer for the city’s CDP is the discussion today that kicked off at 10 this morning. I found it on Councilmember Westmoreland’s Facebook post. Basically, it’s new fees being added on to every new development that’s coming into Atlanta, all to be phased in over the next couple of years. Shrewd move; yet beneficial to the city overall, I’d wager and more palpable for the populace than yet another rise in property taxes. (I may or may not be a part of a small yet determined contingency of folks who regularly write in “dead cat” instead of casting a ballot for Arthur Ferdinand.)

TBH, My opinions are based on poor experiences with the Beltline on relatively miniscule requests. If you can’t handle the smaller ones, why would I give you more of my money? I’ve asked my councilmember and Beltline representative for 2 trash cans to be placed along the Beltline route for the last two years. On my walks, I pick up trash along the Westside Trail, with few spots to drop the trash bags. If the Beltline doesn’t have the money for a couple of trash cans, I cannot in good conscience provide them with anymore of my tax money. This isn’t to say I don’t value it, more rail, or any of those things, just maybe you might want to handle the small things well before going after bigger chunks ‘o cash, yes?

Call me a cynic, but all these new plans, taxes, and history of leaving folks out lead one to believe all will come out well in the wash for my neighbors. I will be watching this process as it moves forward. Here’s a list of future meeting dates, if anyone wishes to follow along.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly is the ever-present discussion of land cost. While this matters to me as a citizen, taxpayer, and RealtorĀ®, I also serve in an arm of local control in Atlanta. I am a member of the Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board, which is the entity that brings together all 25 NPUs to yell at one another/ the city discuss ordinances, suggest resolutions to the City, and speaks directly to Council machinations.

Our Zoning Committee, led by Jim Martin, of Gulch lawsuit fame (h/t to Maggie Lee’s reporting), discussed Ordinance Z-20-81, which defines the terms of affordability for housing in the Beltline Overlay around the Westside Park. If you’re wondering (as some have) the definition of affordability is defined in terms of either a HUD area (that includes Sandy Springs and Marietta) or a census tract that includes even more unrelated and overpriced geography. The Zoning Committee is working to draft a resolution that looks at Housing Equity Shares, similar to what is found sometimes in other cities’ condominium buildings, where a share of the property is owned rather than a fee simple ownership. This is an attempt to ensure that after the property is purchased initially at a more affordable price, it is jacked up to a flipper in the next 2 to 5 years to make a hefty profit.

Gentrification has been here for the last few years (I’m a part of it). Yet the changes being brought about with the CDP will implement changes to the next generation of Georgians, not just my neighbors. This impacts property taxes, education curriculum, and transportation.

So why, dear reader, should you care about all of this?

Eric the Younger would assert that West Coasters moving into Atlanta means Coweta County GOP members need to be mindful of what politics are coming down the pike. A strong belief in local control in Atlanta may become more important to folks outside the city, when it begins affecting your homes.

While a political change may be coming, I think this period is much more of a gamechanger for the state than just the city of Atlanta. As rural broadband expands, Georgians may have the opportunity to have increased incomes from jobs like Microsoft, Facebook, & Google without having to deal with traffic. Atlanta’s real estate prices have been soaring, with no real slow down (even in the pandemic), and this will only drive them higher and expand outward. Without meaningful protections, the skyline, density, and racial makeup of Atlanta will continue to dramatically change, with the amount of people within its limits exceeding its current capacity for infrastructure, transit, and education. The Black Mecca may very well become whiter, with the suburbs and rural towns across the state becoming more Black and brown. There will be folks moving out of the city with on-coming density, creating a further influx of folks in towns and counties around the perimeter.

Is your infrastructure ready?

I don’t personally think any of the above is necessarily bad (except higher taxes and mismanagement thereof), just that folks outside the city thinking this is “an Atlanta problem’ as I’ve oft heard legislators, my parents, Bubba ‘n ’em people say, it will soon be coming to a doorstep near you, so you may want to have a plan as well. Or, at the least, you may wish to gather your neighbors together to decide what’s right for your neighborhood and your city before zoning/transportation/infrastructure/whatever changes that may not be to your liking.

Local control is where it’s at, so be ready. The multiplier effect of the CDP cannot be understated. I hope the rest of the state is watching, as this is only the beginning. First it’s my neighborhood, and soon it will be yours.

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