As 2015 rolled through Buckhead, just about everybody seemed riled up about something. Homeowners voiced new fears about crime. Golfers cried foul over plans to remake the venerable Bobby Jones Golf Course as part of a redo of Atlanta Memorial Park. And hundreds of residents flooded public meetings because they were ticked off about a proposal to put bike lanes along part of Peachtree Road.
Still, there were happy times, too. The Buckhead Community Improvement District launched a new park and a new path and envisioned another new park in the sky. The Westminster Schools and Pace Academy won state championships in football. And neighborhoods in the Moores Mill Road area appear finally to be getting a new grocery store.
So, calm down now, and a take a look back. Here’s a review of some of the top events of the last 12 months in Buckhead.
Peachtree Road bike lanes shut down
Following its “complete streets” policy (described as a plan to allow people who aren’t in cars to use public thoroughfares), state Department of Transportation officials proposed repainting the lanes on Peachtree Road through part of Buckhead to include bike lanes. The plan drew thousands of complaints from residents who packed public meetings and wrote letters to local publications saying there wasn’t enough room on Peachtree for the cars, much less more bikes. Bike proponents argued that adding the lanes could cut car traffic, rather than increase it, but opponents weren’t swayed. In the end, GDOT backed down. On Dec. 11, state officials officially dropped bike lanes from its plans. A proposal to create a center left-turn lane remains. “This is the public involvement process at work,” GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle said.
Battle lines drawn over park, golf course renovation
The Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy launched plans to revitalize the historic Buckhead park by remaking the Bobby Jones Golf Course, expanding the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, and adding walking and cycling trails and other improvements. The plans quickly found outraged critics. Golfers organized to fight the conservancy’s plan to turn the 18-hole course into a 9-hole one with a driving range. Some residents of the area around the 35-acre “passive” portion of the park west of Northside Drive said new trails would draw more traffic to the park and onto their streets, and increase the risk of flooding in the area. “I have had it with the conservancy,” one resident said before walking out of a public meeting on the trails. “I have worked for 45 years to protect this park as a haven for wildlife and now you are going to ruin it.” But not everyone found fault with the changes. “Anything that gets my kids out of the street, I’m very much in favor of,” another resident said.
Homeowners fret about crime
Spurred by their belief that crooks were targeting Buckhead businesses and neighborhoods, residents cried out for better police protection. “We’re worried about the sanctity of our houses and the safety of our houses,” one resident said during a public meeting with the Atlanta Police Department brass in September. “Zone 2 [which includes Buckhead] needs more cops. There’s a well-known joke that if you see a cop in Chastain Park, you should stop and offer directions, because he’s lost.” Police responded that there were more officers on the streets of Atlanta than ever, and that APD offered “smarter” policing by watching bad guys through the thousands of surveillance cameras already installed throughout the city and the thousands more to come.
City: No streetcar for Buckhead
A proposal to someday expand Atlanta’s streetcar lines through Buckhead derailed after some residents publicly questioned how the trains would fit onto already crowded Peachtree Road. (See “Peachtree Road bike lanes,” above.) “The day may come when the public will support sharing precious Peachtree Road capacity with streetcars,” Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook said, “but today isn’t it.”
Loudermilk Park opens
Buckhead got a new landmark in March. More than 100 people gathered to celebrate and formally open the renovated Charlie Loudermilk Park, a triangle at the meeting of Roswell and Peachtree roads that now features a clock tower and a fountain. The renovation of the park cost the Buckhead Community Improvement District and Loudermilk himself about $2.8 million. The park’s namesake gave it good reviews. “I love it,” Loudermilk said as he greeted well-wishers at the opening. “It turned out better than I thought it might.”
Cities repair Lake Forrest dam
After years of prodding from the state’s Safe Dams Programs, the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs agreed to split the costs of repairing the “high-hazard” dam running beneath Lake Forrest Drive on the cities’ border. Sandy Springs took the lead on long-overdue maintenance of the dam and partly drained the lake—including capturing and relocating its fish—to begin a close review of the dam’s condition. The review will wrap up in 2016. The state rates the dam as “high hazard,” meaning that if it fails, the flood likely would kill people. It’s one of 11 high-hazard dams in Reporter Newspapers communities.
A grocery comes to Moores Mill
After more than a decade, the demolition of an abandoned shopping center at the corner of Moores Mill and Bolton roads should happen early next year to make way for a $40 million mixed-use development, including a 45,000-square-foot Publix supermarket, retail shops and apartments. Local residents have been living in a “food desert,” with many having to drive miles into Cobb County to buy groceries. The wrangling over the project between the Atlanta City Council (especially Councilmember Felicia Moore, who has been championing redevelopment of the area for years) and the mayor’s office hinged on funding sources (a mix of local and federal dollars) to create an extension of Moores Mill to connect to Marietta Boulevard.
PATH400 draws a crowd
On one cold, cold January day, dozens of business and government leaders donned bright green scarves knitted just for the occasion and helped cut a bright green ribbon to officially open the first phase of PATH400. The first piece of the path stretches just about a half mile to connect Lenox and Old Ivy roads. When it’s done, PATH400 is supposed to run about 5.2 miles, cost $10 million to $12 million, and someday connect Buckhead to points north and south. The path will meet the BeltLine in Atlanta. And state transportation officials have drawn a path through the Ga. 400/I-285 as part of the massive rebuild of that interchange, so Buckhead’s paved trail could in the future connect hikers and bikers to similar trails through Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.
Voters back bonds
In March, city voters overwhelmingly approved a $250 million bond issue to repair bridges, update public buildings, pave streets and pay for other infrastructure fixes across the city. Turnout was low – only 20,762 voters, or about 7.5 percent of those registered, cast ballots – but on each of the two bonds on the ballot, more than 86 percent said “yes.” Voters approved $187 million for transportation projects and $64 million to upgrade municipal facilities. The bonds, which required no tax increase, were promoted as the first of several to be used to pay for nearly $1 billion in backlogged infrastructure repairs.
CID considers park in the sky
After getting PATH400 off the ground figuratively, officials of the Buckhead CID turned their thoughts to a park that would be off the ground literally. The CID board hired consultants to look into building a 9-acre park above Ga. 400. CID officials said the elevated park, near Lenox and Peachtree roads, would bring new green space to a park-poor part of the community. The CID plans to seek detailed planning and conceptual designs for the park in January.
Will it get off the ground? Stay tuned.
Collin Kelley and John Ruch contributed to this report.