Breathe easier. MARTA's taking a bit more time on its effort to rezone the mixed-used project it's proposed for the Edgewood-Candler Park Station's southside lots.
Meanwhile, the developer chosen by the transit agency says market conditions needed to justify construction of most of the complex could be many years away.
Those were two takeaways from a meeting last night between neighborhood activists, MARTA representatives and Columbia Ventures Managing Partner Dillon Baynes. Most in the room were Edgewood residents — the project is in that neighborhood, after all — but Lauren Welsh and I attended from Candler Park.
A timeline unveiled last month had raised concerns in both neighborhoods, because it called for taking up in early September legislation that will lock in zoning conditions for the property. That’s important because the zoning process is the main leverage that surrounding neighborhoods can use to influence what’s built on the MARTA land, as well as what MARTA and Columbia will do to mitigate such impacts as traffic.
MARTA representatives now admit their schedule was too ambitious. They’re instead shooting for zoning approval by the end of the year. That means they’ll have time to schedule three or four more small group meetings next month similar to the meeting last night, where all parties can lay their concerns on the table and can try to hammer out solutions.
Among the chief concerns is traffic, especially along Whitefoord Avenue (which becomes Oakdale Road in Candler Park). MARTA Senior Land Use Planner Gregory Floyd presented a rough analysis last night that showed car volumes unlikely to grow much. Based on standard planning formulas, he estimated that the total increase in vehicles on the roads surrounding the project aren't likely to be more than 1.3 cars a minute during afternoon rush hour — and that would be after the second phase of the 445-unit complex was fully occupied.
The increase could be even smaller because the project is specifically designed to be "transit-oriented" — meaning that a lot of residents are likely to be using MARTA. Other than those seat-of-the-pants numbers, however, MARTA hasn’t commited to funding a full-blown study to determine the traffic impact. [UPDATE: MARTA's Amanda Rhein just wrote me to say MARTA is now "committed to doing a more formal traffic study."]
Another concern is building heights. Baynes says that across from the single-family homes on La France Street, Columbia expects to build four stories — ground-level offices with three floors of apartments above them. The project would reach five stories closer to the rail tracks. Although a draft of the zoning legislation would allow heights of up to 80 feet along the rail lines, both MARTA and Columbia seemed open to changing.
Columbia hopes to break ground next year on the project’s first phase, which includes 200 apartment units, a small amount of commercial space, an underground garage, and a two-acre park centered on the entrance to the pedestrian bridge that leads to Candler Park and the MARTA station.
If they were renting today, the apartments would likely go for the market rate of around $1.40 a square foot per month, Baynes said. At the same time, MARTA is requiring that at least 20 percent of the units be offered at more affordable “workforce” rates — meaning that they’d rent for around $1.05 a square foot.
Some at the meeting noted that the project's pedestrian and transit orientation will generate foot traffic. That could be good for safety in the Edgewood neighborhood, as well as in and around the station itself, which often feels unsafe because it's the second most sparsely used station in the MARTA system.
A fair amount of discussion got into a specific traffic issue related to Phase I: The stretch of Whitefoord between the rail underpass and the four-way stop at LaFrance already backs up during rush hour. Preliminary plans call for the underground garage to empty through the embankment onto that little block of Whitefoord. It also envisions slighty elevating the four-way-stop intersection as a traffic-calming feature. It’s unclear what can be done to satisfy various points of view regarding that intersection, but it is certain that stretch of Whitefoord will be a topic for conversation at the September community meetings.
Preliminary plans for the larger, second phase of the project — which would sit on top of the eastern section of the MARTA property — put it at approximately 245 apartment units, 7,500 square feet for shops or restaurants, and a 540-space parking deck. I tried to get Baynes to give us an estimate — even a wide range of time — for groundbreaking on Phase II, but he wouldn’t venture a guess. It’s entirely dependent on market conditions, he said, and Columbia figures the market is ready to absorb 240 rental units in the vicinity — tops.
Among those in attendance were Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, who would handle the zoning legislation because the project is in her district. Candler Park is represented by Councilman Kwanza Hall, however.
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