As the Peachtree Creek Greenway nears a date to break ground this year, concerns about the linear park contributing to gentrification along Buford Highway in Brookhaven remain a concern for some community activists who have watched issues such as affordable housing affect the renowned Atlanta BeltLine.
City Councilmember Joe Gebbia says gentrification is already happening along the corridor famous for its multicultural residents and businesses, including many restaurants.
“Even if we don’t do anything, the trend [of rising property costs] will continue,” Gebbia said. “The Greenway has psychologically added to that process and the momentum will pick up.”
But Rebekah Morris, a founder of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an organization created to advocate for those living in apartments along Buford Highway, said the Greenway board and city officials should be more proactive in addressing issues such as affordability.
“We, as the community, just want the cities and the Peachtree Creek Greenway board … to take a more proactive policy stance on how to create green space that our current residents will be able to enjoy,” she said.
“We need to realize none of us are working in silos, and all of our actions impact one another,” Morris added. “We need to work together to develop policies that will protect our residents from displacement. We can’t think that just because we aren’t in the housing business that we can’t also take measures to protect our current, naturally occurring affordable housing.”
The Greenway, sometimes referred to as the “Brookhaven BeltLine,” is an approximate 12-mile linear park envisioned to run along the north fork of the Peachtree Creek and connect Brookhaven to Chamblee and Doraville as well as to Buckhead’s PATH 400 and eventually to the Atlanta BeltLine.
The north fork of the Peachtree Creek runs from Mercer University in unincorporated DeKalb County to near the PATH400 trail. Brookhaven officials expect to break ground this year on the Greenway’s first mile.
Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine, brought the pilot program for his new nonprofit urban design organization, Generator Studio, to Buford Highway last year to seek ways to mitigate negative impacts on the people living and working along the rapidly redeveloping corridor.
The Atlanta BeltLine is also facing concerns about affordable housing.
Any comparison to the Atlanta BeltLine is not really accurate, however, Gebbia said, because the Greenway is running along a creek and does not include commercial or residential developments.
Gravel agreed. “I don’t see a comparison with the BeltLine. It’s very different,” he said.
“The thing is, of course [the Greenway] is a great thing,” Gravel added. “We shouldn’t be afraid to make a community better. We shouldn’t hold down progress to just keep things affordable.”
Concerns raised with officials
Betsy Eggers, chair of the nonprofit Peachtree Creek Greenway board of directors, said Brookhaven will have to deal with affordability. She said the Greenway will address some of the equity issues that people living in apartments on Buford Highway and near the I-85 access road face because it will provide them a nearby green space to access for fun or as an alternative means of transportation.
“People who live in apartments do not have access to parks and backyards like homeowners do,” Eggers said. The plan to connect Brookhaven to Chamblee, Doraville and Atlanta through the Greenway also provides an alternative means of transportation for people who may currently take the MARTA 39 bus, the most utilized bus in MARTA’s system, but want to ride a bicycle on a safe path to work, she said.
“We are serving underserved people,” she said.
Marco Palma, also a founder of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, said concerns about potential negative impacts of the Peachtree Creek Greenway on residents living along Buford Highway have been raised with Brookhaven officials.
“We made it clear that the people who live along Buford Highway would be negatively affected by the construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway,” he said. “The rising housing costs along Buford Highway will cause people to move out of the city.”
Gebbia acknowledged that rising property values along Buford Highway will result in displacement. He is hoping the City Council will institute a policy that mandates developers who buy an apartment complex be required to give tenants a 120-day notice of having to move out. Gebbia said he’d also like to make it mandatory that their last 60 days be rent free to give people time to save money for deposits for a new place to live.
“It’s a proven fact that if you give lower-income people a short time to move, their situation only worsens,” he said.
Brookhaven is undergoing a citywide zoning rewrite and plans to take into account recommendations made by its Affordable Housing Task Force, such as offering incentives to developers who provide affordable housing.
“City staff, working with our consultants and public input, are building upon the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Task Force,” said Burke Brennan, city spokesperson. “They are working together for policy recommendations to be included in the zoning rewrite for approval by City Council.
This is expected to be presented to council this summer.”
Gravel said the best way to help people living and working along Buford Highway from being priced out of their neighborhoods as it continues to evolve is for residents who care about the corridor’s history and diversity to continue to speak to elected officials.
“It all requires political will,” he said. “The people in the community and the leaders have to be willing to do the hard work.”