By John Ruch
Many Buckhead residents are eagerly awaiting their piece of the Atlanta BeltLine trail and transit system, but how the Buckhead cityhood movement might affect BeltLine planning and funding — there and citywide — is an unanswered question, according to the organization in charge of building it.
“We don’t have answers to these questions at this time,” said Jenny Odom, a spokesperson for Atlanta BeltLine Inc., when asked about any interruptions or alterations the secession of Buckhead might cause. And asked if anyone at ABI is working on answers, she said, “Not right now.”
The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee did not respond to questions, but the group has previously said it generally intends for the new city to assume infrastructure-related debts or responsibilities currently held by the City of Atlanta.
The anti-cityhood Committee for a United Atlanta has criticized the financial impacts a “Buckhead City would create” but apparently has not studied the BeltLine issue directly. However, a CUA spokesperson, Billy Linville, emphasized the “unknowns.”
“This is one of the many unknowns of this ill-advised effort to carve up the City of Atlanta,” Linville said in an email. “The Atlanta Beltline is one of the most exciting economic development projects in the history of Atlanta, improving the quality of life for residents and visitors. This is just another example why we need to come together and work through our current difficulties, rather than break apart.”
In Buckhead, ABI is in the midst of planning the Northwest and Northeast Trails, as well as engaging in an early study of possible transit routes. Citywide, ABI is pushing to meet a 2030 deadline to build out the trail portion as well as affordable housing projects that are partly funded by a new “special service district” property tax via bonds issued by Invest Atlanta. The SSD effects of Buckhead cityhood are among the questions for which ABI says it has no answers right now. Invest Atlanta did not respond to a request for comment.
Atlanta City Councilmember Dustin Hillis, who sponsored the legislation that created the SSD, said he doesn’t know the impacts, either, but criticized the BCC’s approach.
“I am not sure on this issue and don’t know who would be, as it has never been done before,” Hillis said in an email. “Probably just one more thing that their sham ‘feasibility study’ failed to take into consideration.”
The question of cityhood’s impact on the BeltLine was raised by a member of the public at a Nov. 1 ABI virtual meeting about the Northwest Trail planning that drew over 100 attendees. In that meeting, ABI officials also said the question remains unanswered.
“As the Buckhead movement progresses, we would need to get together with whoever the leadership emerges to be and have those kinds of conversations,” said Beth McMillan, ABI’s vice president of community planning, engagement and arts and culture.
Shaun Green, an ABI senior transportation engineer, said that “ideally, this all goes forward anyway” as part of a regional trail network. “We’ll find out soon enough how big of an issue that is,” he added.
The BCC’s cityhood proposal is currently working its way through early legislative hearings with supporters’ goal of making it a binding local ballot question in November 2022.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Atlanta City Councilmember Dustin Hillis.