BeltLine, Eastside Trail
The price of a three-bedroom apartment starts at $2,999 a month in the building on the right, the 755 North Avenue complex that overlooks Old Fourth Ward Park. Credit: David Pendered

By Maggie Lee

One of the top bosses of Atlanta’s BeltLine said his organization is going to get focused on community, people, inclusion, equity and affordability.

BeltLine, Eastside Trail
The 755 North Avenue luxury apartment complex that overlooks Old Fourth Ward Park. Credit: David Pendered

“It’s no secret that we have gotten off-center. The BeltLine is an exciting project and it’s supposed to be about the people, it’s supposed to be about communities, but we’ve gotten off-center,” said Clyde Higgs, COO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., the entity that oversees the planning and execution of the 22-mile trail that’s set to ring the central city.

He was speaking as part of a regular BeltLine update to the board of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. He said he was making the remarks at the request of new BeltLine President and CEO Brian McGowan, who was away with a family emergency.

“Everything that you see coming from ABI in the future is going to have that focus of community, people, inclusion, equity, affordability. We’re going to hit everybody over the head with those words,” said Higgs.

Higgs also reiterated an apology for a Westside Trail art exhibit of photographs of black prisoners with companion dogs. Some residents of the historically black neighborhood complained the pictures reinforced negative stereotypes of black men. An area resident removed the photos and replaced them with other portrayals of African-Americans.

ABI will also hire an equity and inclusion officer and set up a housing task force, Higgs said.

Part of the BeltLine’s job is to make sure there are some 5,600 affordable housing units by 2030 along a corridor that’s proven popular with well-heeled property buyers. Housing prices are rising faster along the BeltLine faster than in other parts of town.

But about 12 years into the life of the trail, they’re only about 14 percent to the affordable housing goal: 785 units completed, according to numbers presented at an ABI board meeting in August.

After that same meeting, then-CEO Paul Morris even gave the Beltline’s affordable housing accomplishments a “D” grade. That was one of the last things he said to media before the board voted McGowan the new boss later that month.

Higgs said that task force will tap some of the best minds in Atlanta to figure out how to get to that 5,600 target.

More than a year ago, two prominent members left the board of the Atlanta Beltline Partnership, over worries that the trail managers were not giving enough attention to equity and affordability. (The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is the private sector organization responsible for fundraising, advocacy and affordability along the trail.)

And just last week, activists at the Housing Justice League called for new city and state laws to protect low-income homeowners and renters and public efforts to build or mandate more affordable housing. Those recommendations are part of a larger report detailing their surveys and interviews with residents of BeltLine neighborhoods, with a focus on the south side. One result: folks overwhelmingly want to stay and do appreciate the BeltLine. But they also want to see more affordable housing, family-owned businesses, affordable groceries and shops and better transit, among other things. And they don’t feel they’re part of the development process.

As part of his comments, Higgs also said that the BeltLine has finalized a deal to buy 13 acres of land from Norfolk Southern for the northeast trail for about $500,000. It’s a y-shaped area of inactive rail that will allow completion of the trail between Rock Springs Road and Mayson Street. The cash is coming from transportation sales tax funds, and a bridge loan in the meantime from The Conservation Fund.

Construction on the roughly quarter-mile of trail will start when design is complete and construction funds are secured. The BeltLine owns about 70 percent of the land needed for the loop trail.

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Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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  1. From the looks of the photo above, there will no forested park area any time soon. Is this greenspace equity? Very sad to see what is happening to the once, lush verdant landscapes of our city. Today, Johnny Isakson’s (elected official) company, Isaksons Living and Ashton Woods are busy destroying 10% of the ENTIRE Peachtree Hills tree canopy- 23 acres. This is after they clear cut through Peachtree Hills Park- first time in 134 years a park was used for private profit. What’s being done with the wildlife that lived there? Nothing.

    When you consider that the City of Atlanta also wants to clear cut 255 trees in Grant Park, and replace them with grass (prairie plant) and understory trees (native?) it’s a truly bleak outlook for the future of Atlanta and all wildlife which will be baked in 11-25º hotter temperatures with all of the impervious surface to come. One look at Houston and California forecasts our future if we continue cutting the very thing that would reduce our temperatures and better manage our stormwater without the relentless use of retention ponds- which have a 99% failure rate according to a forensic hydro engineer we hired.

    Here’s what Michael Bloomberg has to say about our southeaster future:

    For more information on what’s REALLY happening to our “City in the Forest”, visit The Tree Next Door or Atlanta Protects Trees on Facebook. Or visit Three advocacy groups that are trying to expose the truth behind the lack of tree preservation in the once, most forested city in the US. Still waiting on the release of the GIS canopy data for 2016 which is long overdue.

  2. The real objective is to appear to do all of the feel-good items the COO mentioned, while keeping the big money flowing under the table as usual.

  3. The Beltline has blown up my neighborhood and my residential street. The organization and Invest in ATL is only interested in making money. There is little/no interest in maintaining a neighborhood. They own it. The older residents will be forced out due to property increases and there will be little/no small businesses left. Who would have thought Buckhead would be SOPO. A great idea that became a killing plague.

    1. Angie, That’s happening everywhere. The Beltline built environment wins. The City in the Forest loses. I’ve heard that the new GIS survey is reporting “no change” but that they counted privet and crepe myrtles – not hard to do in canopy that’s densified by curtains of English Ivy allowed to fill the crowns and contribute to the trees demise. Brookhaven even went so far as to report canopy growth! We’re not blind and I think we all know that, just like GMO labeling, the real ingredient here is money. Still hoping that Trees Atlanta will make the GIS canopy study “public” so we can ask our pesky questions.

      BTW, The trees in Peachtree Hills Park were destroyed last month partially due to the Beltlines’ inflexible requirements for sidewalks widths. And of course the fact that Ashton Woods wouldn’t give up any extra space to save them – after clear cutting the park last month. Not sure if the Treehouse Restaurant will keep their name since the forest is now gone- 23 acres. More trees will fall to winds and root damage now. That’s on the city, commissioners and the developers who “gagged” the NPU from a fair democratic process.

      Current Administrations’s legacy: RIP City in the Forest- Native Specimen Forests. Check out Tucker who’s leaders are doing strong work to protect their community and not let developers and their lawyers change the City’s strategic plan during city-hood infancy. Smart. 200-250 people at city hall. It takes that.

  4. What did he say the Beltline was focused on for the past 12 years? And beyond broad platitudes, what specifically did he propose to change?

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