By Maria Saporta
A vision to create a Chattahoochee River trail within the City of Atlanta is one big step closer to reality.
Invest Atlanta, at its meeting on Aug. 29, voted to approve a pivotal land swap between the city and the development group of Chattahoochee Trails LLC and Kovach Development.
In the swap, Atlanta will receive 22 acres while the developers will get about 8 acres. That will give the city the ability to build nearly one mile of trails along a 200-foot buffer along the Chattahoochee River and a 75-foot buffer along a portion of Proctor Creek.
It is a strategic piece of property to begin implementing the vision of opening up Atlanta’s riverfront to the public because it is where Proctor Creek meets the Chattahoochee River, and it is location of a proposed pedestrian bridge that would cross into Cobb County.
Imagine being able to go from the Proctor Creek Greenway, the first leg which has already been developed, to a trail along both sides of the Chattahoochee River. Eventually the goal is to have a trail that would link the pedestrian bridge with the Silver Comet Trail, which extends all the way to the Alabama border.
Former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, now with Invest Atlanta focusing on the west side of the city, said this Kovach deal is the “first domino” in the community’s efforts to acquire properties along the Chattahoochee River and create a trail and park along its border within the City of Atlanta.
“It is the first land acquisition directly on the river in over a decade,” said Keith Sharp, president and co-founder of Riverwalk Atlanta. “And it does provide one mile of trails inside the city.”
Sharp, who has lived in the area for 26 years, has seen plan after plan for trails along the river with little implementation. About 10 years ago, the Trust for Public Land was able to acquire an easement from Georgia Power for land on one stretch of the river, and TPL then gave its easement to the City of Atlanta.
Sharp started Riverwalk Atlanta in 2011, and he has been pushing the vision of a park along the Chattahoochee ever since.
In recent years, there has been a groundswell of interest to finally give Atlanta a waterfront. A citizens group called Chattahoochee Now hired Ryan Gravel of BeltLine fame to do a 53-mile master plan for a river park.
Now the Atlanta Regional Commission has provided a $1.2 million grant for a detailed plan for six miles of trail (three in Cobb County and three in the City of Atlanta) as well as a vision stretching 50 miles to the north and 50 miles to the south. TPL, the City of Atlanta and Cobb County are each contributing $100,000 to help pay for the plan.
Ed Kovach, who is with the development group, told Invest Atlanta how many other cities have activity along their waterfronts. “That’s lacking here,” Kovach said. “We noticed a need for that.”
The firm is proposing a linear 64-acre development that would parallel the trail with mixed-income residential community including some retail.
Kovach said the firm still has several hurdles to jump over before moving ahead with the project. The firm would like to build 367 residential units, including 73 affordable units – about 20 percent. Ideally, that would include senior residences.
That would begin to change the industrial nature of the land near the Chattahoochee River – making it more of a community where people live and enjoy a quality of life next to a waterfront.
Sharp said some people have wanted to minimize development on that property, but he said having people living along the river will make it safer. “When there are eyes on the park, it makes people feel more comfortable to be out there,” Sharp said.
Both Sharp and Hall said Invest Atlanta’s approval will serve as an incentive to implement the Riverwalk concept.
“There are ongoing efforts to acquire other pieces of property,” Sharp said. The City of Atlanta has eight miles along the Chattahoochee, but only five of those miles is feasible to create a Riverwalk. “There are other pieces of the puzzle.”
Hall said the city has “just started a conversation with Lincoln Terminal,” which now owns the Chattahoochee Brick Co. property and has been seeking a special use permit for a rail terminal. So far, the City has denied that permit, and the company had appealed that decision in the courts.
Efforts also are underway to negotiate with other property owners along the river so Atlanta will have a waterfront at long last. The Kovach deal is that ever-important first domino.
“It’s a good outcome,” Sharp said. “It is finally a step in the right direction to actually get something done.”