Tensions about the progress made on and scope of the Buckhead Community Improvement District’s Peachtree Road streetscape project came to a head Tuesday when one board member argued several business owners in the district who pay into the self-taxing body are being left out in the cold.
Despite the disagreement, the board unanimously approved issuing a request for proposal to engage a design engineering firm to come up with the plans for the third and fourth phases of the Peachtree project.
Board member Robin Loudermilk, who said he spoke for business owners in the Buckhead Village, raised similar concerns at last month’s meeting but brought up his issues again during a presentation on the history and status of the project by Brian McHugh, director of transportation and planning.
Loudermilk argued road improvements south of Maple Drive to The Peach shopping center were necessary to include all of the businesses who pay into the district, rather than just to Shadowlawn Drive. He also questioned how the board could justify having spent more than $20 million on Peachtree Road improvements north of Piedmont Road with only about $800,000 to $900,000 planned for his area of the district simply for road striping.
“Just painting lines, we already know that doesn’t work,” Loudermilk said. “We’ve seen that down at [West] Paces Ferry [Road]. …We talk about painting lines and adding turn lanes but we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to go down to The Peach. That’s the end of the CID.”
Loudermilk also questioned whether or not the plans illustrated in McHugh’s presentation were viable.
“We’ve got magic marker drawings of what we think we’d like but we don’t know if we can make it work,” he said. “What have we been doing with our time and with our money the last five years? We’re paying to get these solutions fixed. What we have now is simply not an answer.”
Executive Director Jim Durrett said since the project began in 2007, the board has been working toward solutions and beginning the proposal process for the final two phases to would allow the board to move forward. Board Chairman David Allman added the drawings were preliminary.
Allman said he was surprised to hear Loudermilk’s “level of consternation.”
“I know you’re concerned but there’s been an open dialogue for these years,” Allman said. “I hear you saying you’re wanting more dollars going to the village. That’s a discussion to be had. We’ve been saying, ‘Let’s have the meetings and let’s talk about what should be done.’”
Loudermilk provided the board with copies of a study he personally paid to be commissioned, adding he wanted a comprehensive “road diet” with turn lanes, medians and pedestrian passes and landscape similar to what is planned in the northern segment of the project for the village. He said he gets phone calls every weekend from people saying the board has got to get proactive in meeting not just with a few business owners but many stakeholders.
Durrett said the process would involve engaging the public to come up with the best solution for what could go in the area to manage traffic, add streetscapes, etc.
“We are already investing money and want to build on the program to do streetscape improvements using the SPI-9 standards in the village,” he said of the district ordinance that dictates the proposed plan. “We want to hire the consultants in about a month and a half, get them to work so that we can get construction down there possibly by this summer.”
In a meeting last week, Durrett said representatives from the city of Atlanta, Georgia Department of Transportation and Atlanta Regional Commission all agreed that the district’s approach is the same approach they would like to take throughout the Peachtree Corridor and are on board to collaborate.
“We are going to be doing these things you [Loudermilk] are asking us to do, but we’re not going to, in my opinion, spend the same amount of money because we don’t have the same scale of opportunity and problems down there that we had up here,” Durrett said.
However, Allman agreed with Loudermilk the plans for Peachtree “ought to be implementable” by now.
“But we’re just now there,” he said.
A large portion of the streetscape addition in the area was held up by the delayed Buckhead Atlanta development.
“There were clear reasons why we didn’t want to spend those dollars until we had a solution to the Buckhead Atlanta piece,” Allman said. “They closed their construction loan weeks ago. It’s the fullness of time, we agree, but it’s not past time.”
What’s next: Phase 3 construction of the Peachtree Road streetscape project could begin as early as next summer.