By Terri Montague
President & Chief Executive Officer, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.
It’s been called the most ambitious urban revitalization project in the nation, perhaps the world. A complex redevelopment project like the BeltLine doesn’t come without challenges and sometimes conflict. On the surface, there are a variety of seemingly competing interests, but it’s our job to find the balance among them.
The trail hugging the edge of Tanyard Creek Park’s meadow will connect neighborhoods and two existing sections of trail. Its route will reflect a balance of community preferences and environmental impact. And it will be forged now after seven years of discussion inherited most recently by the BeltLine planning process, which has included 10 public meetings in the last seven months. Further public meetings are upcoming to review and comment on the complete trail design package from Ardmore Park to the Northside Drive/Woodward Way intersection.
Have we listened to the community? Two potential bridge crossing locations and one entire trail alignment were eliminated in direct response to community input. And equally important to our obligation to buffer the stream from environmental impact of the trail, we have taken seriously the community’s desire to buffer the meadow from the trail. That visual impact will be minimized by routing the trail through existing naturalization areas and restoring new naturalization areas along the trail edge and between the trail and the creek.
Could we have explained better from the outset how the process would work and how the decision would be made? Yes. Will we strive to continually improve that communication? Absolutely. Will all decisions around the BeltLine be made following the same protocol? No. And here’s why:
The BeltLine is an ambitious project that weaves together neighborhoods; bundles daunting challenges including transit connectivity, greenspace expansion, economic development and affordable housing; and incorporates myriad existing urban planning and development challenges. To the great advantage of the citizens of Atlanta, the BeltLine provides a way to tackle this web of opportunity. And the key to the way it does so is collaboration: collaboration between neighborhoods and the BeltLine; collaboration among the BeltLine and many City departments; and collaboration between the public and private sectors more generally.
The BeltLine is also continually balancing neighborhood desires and citywide needs. In the planning process, we are ever mindful that there are many community voices and each community voice represents a particular neighborhood perspective and the view of someone who will enjoy a great trail and transit experience around the city. Our continual opportunity—and challenge—will be to create viable alternatives that incorporate the views of directly impacted neighborhoods with the views from trail users – not to forget our obligation to responsibly steward the environment for future generations.
Finally, let me answer very directly any question about whether cost colored the decision about the trail alignment: No, it did not. While we are ever mindful of our stewardship of public and private funds in the development of the BeltLine, in this case in particular, cost was considered only as context and never presented a materially important consideration.
We recognize and appreciate the community’s desire to identify a path forward together. And we stand committed to listen and to work hard to respond to lingering concerns.