A proposed five-mile trail to be built alongside and beneath Ga. 400 moves into its final planning phase this week. If all goes as scheduled, design work that begins at this time will lead to construction starting in mid 2013, according to Denise Starling, the executive director of Livable Buckhead, Inc. Livable Buckhead is the chief organizer of the $10 million trail that is to stretch from a cemetery off Loridans Drive in North Buckhead to the planned Peachtree Creek spur of the BeltLine, near MARTA’s Lindbergh Station.
The Buckhead trail is not directly affiliated with the BeltLine but the two projects are complementary, and combined constitute the largest expansion of greenspace now underway in any U.S. city, according to Trust for Public Land.
Livable Buckhead, a non-profit, was incorporated in 2010 to help implement a greenspace initiative known as the Buckhead Collection. The initiative evolved out of the collective vision within the community to provide more public greenspace in a park-starved region of the city.
Buckhead’s newest proposed trail is an example of the type of innovative thought that Livable Buckhead is bringing to its effort to provide public greenspace. The trail would be established in the Ga. 400 corridor, in the right-of-way beneath the highway and outside the walls that reduce the highway noise heard in neighborhoods. Currently, much of the land is unkempt and urban campers have taken up residence in some areas.
Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook has helped garner support for the project from the Atlanta City Council. Last week, Shook shepherded legislation through the Atlanta City Council to support the proposed trail by expanding the boundaries of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID). The CID now includes the state-owned land along Ga. 400, as well as property owned by MARTA. This expansion will allow the CID to help pay for the trail’s development, according to Jim Durrett, the CID’s executive director.
Starling said the development phase now beginning involves meeting with individual landowners to talk about their desires for the trail. This phase will follow the pending approval of the trail’s finalized concept proposal.
Some neighbors have already expressed concerns including safety along the trail, its impact on trees, and impact on a natural habitat that’s home to a number of coyotes and deer, Starling said. Compounding these issues is the reality that some homeowners may not realize that portions of their backyards are actually within the public right-of-way of Ga. 400, Starling said. Some apparently have forgotten property lines that were established by the Georgia Department of Transporation after years of intense conflict that led up to the highway’s construction.
The battle over Ga. 400 now seems like ancient history. But its construction almost 20 years ago came only after a long and bitter battle that pitted neighbor against neighbor, and resulted in zoning that was intended to keep commercial development and apartment towers south of the Buckhead Loop.
“Ga. 400 came right through these neighborhoods,” Starling said. “One of the biggest things we’re going to have to deal with is a lot of people who think the GDOT right-of-way is their back yard. So there are going to be perception issues to deal with.”
Another the major issue to resolve involves the amount of access to the trail. “I’d say I want an access point from my backyard to the trail, but others may say, ‘No, I want a wall,’” Starling said. “We’re designing with different people’s needs, and different yard dynamics, and taking all of that into consideration.”
Funding is another major issue. Nearly $1 million has been provided for design, with $750,000 coming from the Buckhead Community Improvement District and $200,000 from Atlanta. The PATH Foundation has included about $3 million for the trail in its current capital campaign, Starling said. A request for an additional $2.5 million has been presented to the entity that oversees Ga. 400, the State Road and Tollway Authority.
Starling said Livable Atlanta expects to start a capital campaign later this year to raise the additional funds needed to build the $10 million trail.