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Decatur Diary | September 28, 2017

100+ Residents Show Up to Make East Lake MARTA Theirs, Ours, and Yours

City of Atlanta Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong and Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett kicked off two days of collaborative East Lake MARTA planning discussions Monday night by echoing sentiments shared by the the ambitious project’s multiple partners — the cities of Decatur and Atlanta, Dekalb County, and MARTA:

“There is no preconceived plan before tonight’s meeting,” said Mayor Garrett. “We are starting with a blank canvas and look forward to working with all of you to craft a vision for this station and its corridors that makes East Lake MARTA yours.”

Gathered in the Fellowship Hall of the Oakhurst Baptist Church, the evening’s 70 participants were given an overview by Tom Walsh, founding principal of TSW, of what to expect over the next several months as the project’s many stakeholders work to build consensus around a viable transit-oriented vision for the underutilized station area.

MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit Oriented Development and Real Estate, Amanda Rhein, then provided a summary of her agency’s overarching goals for the station area’s future redevelopment: a mix of uses, great public realm, a new approach to parking, and relative density to support a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly development integrated with transit.

The evening’s context setting continued with three instructional presentations related to successful implementation — zoning, transportation, and market feasibility — each presented by an expert speaker.

Addie Weber, AICP, discussed mobility and accessibility trends. The national trend, one comparable to what’s happening locally, is to create a safe environment for all modes of transportation, whether one is driving, biking, walking, or has a disability, and to have easily connected access to neighborhood-serving businesses.

Supported by a lot of numbers and charts, participants were then engaged in the realities of what makes a mixed-use project successful. David Laube, PLA of Noell Consulting Group, provided a snapshot of their early findings about the study area, including 17-year household income growth, self-employment rates, home values, surrounding commercial areas, and walk score. He also showed an analysis of what it takes to support retail uses, the pros and cons of different types of development, and why density is important for the success of mixed-used projects.

Finally, TSW’s Alex Fite-Wassilak, AICP, highlighted how the MARTA-owned property is presently split between two different jurisdictions and that it will be important to have the right zoning codes in place to support any master plan envisioned by the community.

Attendees then gathered around a variety of activities orchestrated by MARTA, Atlanta and Decatur staff, and the consultant team. One activity asked what type and scale of development is appropriate for the MARTA-owned properties surrounding the East Lake station, as well as what kind of public space and cultural art is desirable. Another activity asked for input on what keeps residents from accessing and using the East Lake MARTA Station, whether it be a lack of sidewalks or safe bike lanes. Attendees — which included residents of Druid Hills, Kirkwood, Lake Claire, Lenox Place, Oakhurst, and Parkwood — were then asked to tell their neighborhood’s story through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

The evening concluded but was repeated the following evening in an open house format where another 30 neighbors had opportunity to get up to speed and provide feedback.

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