Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville last week officially created a nonprofit public-private organization called the Peachtree Gateway Partnership to conduct regional planning in the four cities.
The partnership’s first project will be creating a coordinated plan for a multi-use trail network spanning the four cities, said Dan Reuter, the Atlanta Regional Commission official who helped the cities establish the organization. “We’re going to undertake that next. Pretty small steps,” Reuter said.
But there is potential for bigger impacts, considering the players at the table as listed by Reuter. The board members on the public side include the four cities’ mayors, with Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson as chair. On the private side, the board has representatives from DeKalb Peachtree Airport; Georgia Power; Epps Aviation, a charter airline operating at the airport; and developers on the team undertaking Assembly, the huge redevelopment of the former GM plant on Buford Highway in Doraville.
The Peachtree Gateway Partnership has been in the works for roughly two years. The four cities invited ARC to help them create some sort of regional planning and development authority, officials have previously said. Potential impacts of the Assembly project was one major motivation, while another was finding better ways to market the airport, which sits on the Brookhaven-Chamblee border.
ARC suggested a public-private partnership modeled on a similar group in Gwinnett County called Partnership Gwinnett and on the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, a massive effort to redevelop the area around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport.
The cities conducted the planning in secrecy until last October, when former Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams announced its existence. Current Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal, who both took office this year, had to be brought up to speed, but agreed to proceed with the effort, Reuter said.
“It took them some time,” Reuter said. “That’s kind of why it got delayed a little while.”
Ernst said he agreed with the partnership as “a great way for all four of us to get together and talk and see what each other is doing…I think it’s a good use of my time…And hopefully we can talk about traffic.”
“It’s not really set in stone…what the objective is,” Ernst added, saying the cities have agreed to start setting goals at a future meeting. Some early talk has involved transportation issues and the possible forming of self-taxing community improvement districts, he said.
Ernst said he is not concerned about developers having close access to city officials on the partnership board, as he has not even noticed them at meetings. More of the talk has been about the already planned city trails and the airport, he said.
In Dunwoody, Shortal also was convinced of the partnership’s usefulness, according to city spokesperson Bob Mullen.
“Dunwoody believes in the advantages of working with neighboring cities and jurisdictions to promote coordination, partnerships and efficiencies,” Mullen said. “By working together, we can help to address any number of matters or needs, including transportation, infrastructure, parks, trails and green space.”
One reason Williams revealed the partnership planning was that the cities were nearing the time to decide what form the group would take. They finally settled on forming a 501(c)6 nonprofit business organization, a status that was officially approved last week, Reuter said.
The nonprofit status means the group can raise money from private sources in such forms as contributions, membership dues or sponsorships. The payments would not be tax-deductible, but can be written off as business expenses, Reuter said. The partnership is not currently charging dues and is still in the early stages of bringing the cities’ staff together to “talk about priorities,” he said.
One decision has been made, Reuter said: the partnership’s efforts will not include the parts of Brookhaven and Dunwoody that are currently within the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts. The PCIDs are two self-taxing business groups, led by a single organization, that plan and fund various improvements in Perimeter Center. The PCIDs also cover part of Sandy Springs, which is not part of the Peachtree Gateway Partnership.
“It’s more the Buford Highway corridor, the MARTA [Gold Line] corridor” and the airport that the partnership wants to focus on, Reuter said.
ARC itself is not part of the partnership, Reuter said. “I hope ARC is going to have a very minimal role. We’re hoping this something really led by local governments,” he said.
Reuter said that even though it’s a formal group, the partnership is “modest,” and “whether it has any utility or benefits” will depend on the partners’ efforts.