Lindbergh Center Station is where MARTA first tried transit-oriented development nearly 20 years ago, with mixed and incomplete results. Now, in the midst of a TOD project boom, the transit agency is selling two parcels to kick-start the unfinished mixed-use redevelopment around the station and maybe upgrade what’s there today.
It’s a personal project for MARTA, which has its headquarters at Lindbergh and has made TOD a top priority under General Manager and CEO Keith Parker.
“From our general manager’s perspective, he would love for our headquarters here to be located in something considered a model TOD nationally so we could walk outside and live it every day,” said Amanda Rhein, MARTA’s director of TOD projects.
Sally Silver, an aide to City Councilmember Howard Shook who has long been involved in Lindbergh-area planning, said the attempt to revive the TOD plan is especially important with MARTA’s “Clifton Corridor” project on the horizon. That proposed new light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale through the Emory University area is targeted for some funding from the recently approved MARTA sale tax increase.
“The Lindbergh area is going to be the best place in the city of Atlanta to live,” Silver said she has long predicted, due to its live-work-play TOD and rail line access.
In the late 1990s, MARTA rolled out a TOD master plan for roughly six blocks around the station on Lindbergh Drive. Developers were selected and work continued into the middle of the past decade, but the vision ran into “obstacles,” Rhein said. Those included development partners dropping out, changes in the economy that affect financing, and lawsuits from residents concerned about traffic.
Several projects were built along Main Street, including mixed-use buildings and two apartment complexes, one of which was originally planned as condos. But it wasn’t quite what MARTA envisioned and later phases stalled.
“It was supposed to be more of a retail-focused project,” said Rhein.
Silver recalled that a smaller, urban-style grocery store was part of the plan that never happened. Instead, a traditional Kroger with a large parking lot recently opened nearby, on Morosgo Drive.
Likewise, Silver and Rhein said, the project included some non-TOD uses, such as the Pikes Nurseries plant and garden store at Lindbergh Drive and Camelia Lane. “Today we would not put a nursery on that site,” Rhein said.
Now MARTA is in a different era, with high-density TOD projects for five stations under construction or moving through review process, and a sixth—King Memorial station—stalled on the drawing board.
With that momentum, MARTA took another look at Lindbergh and came up with a strategic approach. While the agency owns several parcels around the station, it recently issued a request for proposals for two of them—a vacant lot at 2562 Piedmont Road and a small site at 572 Morosgo currently housing MARTA’s fleet management offices. Proposals are due Jan. 23.
The strategy, Rhein said, is to get a developer interested in buying up adjacent private properties, too, and create a development along the “front door” of Piedmont. The hope is that would raise the value of other MARTA-owned parcels deeper in the site before they, too, are sold for future TOD redevelopment.
One particular property sitting between the two parcels in the RFP is a boarded-up former Shoney’s restaurant that Rhein called an “eyesore” and “certainly not what we would like to see near one of our train stations.”
The RFP also requires the developer to help build a new grid of streets, especially a street between Morosgo and Sidney Marcus Boulevard. Street grids are thought to help with walkability and also improve the ability to develop nearby parcels.
Another factor is zoning. The entire TOD area was originally supposed to be included in the SPI-15 design district, which includes such TOD-friendly restrictions as a ban on drive-throughs, Silver said. That never happened, but MARTA is currently in the process of meeting with community groups to get included, which eventually would require City Council approval.
“They can become the real TOD they were intended to be” with that zoning help, said Silver, who is part of the SPI-15 Development Review Committee.
Silver said MARTA is also seeking to change some design conditions originally placed on the parcels, including a limit on residential units and a maximum 50 foot height with a large setback. Those conditions are not very TOD-like, she noted, and “nobody could remember” their origin.
Beyond new development, MARTA is also considering ways to make Lindbergh’s existing TOD closer to the original vision. One discussion underway is with the company that operates the retail space in the AT&T office towers at 575 Morosgo.
“We have limited control over what’s been developed,” Rhein said. “That said, we’ve been working with those owners to create a strategy that improves what’s happening at street level.”
Another major location train station, Buckhead Station on Peachtree Road, is unlikely to attract a transit-oriented development plan due to its position overhanging Ga. 400. But MARTA is working with Livable Buckhead on the study for a possible park capping the highway there.
“We were excited about that concept,” Rhein said.