By David Pendered
The fate of a proposed 18-acre retail/residential project in Buckhead near the Lindbergh MARTA station, possibly including a Walmart, is now completely in the hands of the city of Atlanta.
The project has been moving in fits and starts through the various review processes for about a year. The Atlanta Regional Commission handed the project to Mayor Kasim Reed in an Aug. 28 letter that said the ARC doesn’t have purview: The project isn’t big enough to qualify as a “development of regional impact.”
The development is proposed by a duo that has retooled the face of several urban neighborhoods – Sembler Co. and Jeff Fuqua. The total square footage being proposed, 400,000 square feet, is roughly a third the size of Lenox Square.
In the past decade, Sembler and Fuqua produced game-changing projects including the former Lindbergh Plaza in Buckhead; Little Five Points’ Edgewood Retail District; the Prado in Sandy Springs; and TOWN Brookhaven. Sembler also developed Perimeter Place, north of Perimeter Mall.
Regional planners are well familiar with the Sembler/Fuqua development model and have suggested some significant alterations in the current proposal.
The main suggestion is to not build a retail center.
According to the ARC’s analysis that was sent to the mayor:
- “The ideal development on this site would include additional residential and office uses. If the developer is not able to or interested in providing additional density on this site at this time, the development proposal should be structured in a way as to allow incremental increases in density in the future.”
MARTA raised concerns that range from a potential loss of riders to the prospect of shopping carts being taken from the shopping center to the transit station and abandoned.
The Atlanta chapter of Congress for the New Urbanism wrote a letter against the project. The letter cites Atlanta’s 40-year effort to foster walkable, mixed-use neighborhood and says the project defies that effort:
- “We believe the Lindbergh proposal would represent a step backwards if approved. While the proposed site plan is clearly not consistent with any recognized principles of good urban design or transit oriented development (including those established by the Congress for the New Urbanism), we recognize that design specifics are always subject to change as projects move forward. What concerns us more is the precedent that this disregard for the sound planning would represent.”
The Atlanta City Council has been poised for a few months to vote on a rezoning application and a related change in the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan. The matter was expected to have come up for a vote at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting, according to some documents, but it wasn’t called for a vote.
The development site is located across Piedmont Road from the Lindbergh City Center project, which is a transit oriented development at MARTA’s Lindbergh Station. Another reference point is that it is immediately south of the Home Depot and Target section of Lindbergh Plaza, which Sembler demolished, rebuilt and reopened in 2006.
The proposed development would provide 216,399 square feet of residential space and 183,600 square feet of retail space. There also would be a three-acre park, which was endorsed by Livable Buckhead in the package the ARC sent to the mayor’s office.
The big box tenant would have 150,000 square feet, about the size of the Walmart in the Selig Enterprises project located at the corner of I-75 and Howell Mill Road.
Walmart is widely rumored to be the major tenant of the Buckhead project. The company did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Walmart has been on a roll the past year, with its stock price climbing from just above $49 a share a year ago to just over $75 on Monday. Part of the growth stems from the company’s focus on opening in cities because it has exhausted opportunities in rural and suburban markets, according to the company.
The mayor has made glowing remarks about the company’s investment in Atlanta. At a groundbreaking ceremony this year for a store on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Reed noted that Walmart is strengthening the community through its investment in a shopping center that Publix left – Historic Westside Village.