By John Ruch
Neighborhood Planning Unit X (NPU-X) has recommended a permit denial for the 1400 Murphy Ave. industrial complex amid unsatisfied concerns that a key intersection cannot safely handle its truck traffic.
An executive from developer Prologis at an Oct. 20 NPU-X meeting downplayed the intersection issue while also proposing a new path to divert some pedestrian and bicycle traffic away from it. He also offered more detail on a proposal to improve the facility’s connection to an adjacent Oakland City MARTA Station entrance.
Meanwhile, residents raised a new concern — damage to houses possibly caused by vibrations from Prologis’s demolition of the existing building, a former Nabisco snack factory. NPU-X is arranging a meeting for Prologis to meet with concerned residents about examining their homes.
The meeting was polite on both sides and ended with a promise for discussion to continue at a Nov. 14 meeting. But NPU-X members were not satisfied with Prologis Atlanta market manager Kent Mason’s attempt to explain why the company aims to add traffic to an intersection where its own consultant says trucks already must drive the wrong way or onto a sidewalk to make turns. Mason called the situation “not perfect” and “not ideal,” but one already existing.
“Are you saying that because trucks have been doing something bad before, we should be OK with a company coming in and doing the same bad thing?” asked one resident.
“That is a good question,” Mason said after a pause. “I don’t know what the bad outcomes have been. I haven’t heard [of] any accidents or injuries associated with it. So it’s all about the right outcomes.”
When informed that collisions happen regularly at the intersection of Lee Street and Dill and Murphy avenues – though it was unclear how many are truck-related — Mason pressed on whether they involved pedestrians, suggesting that is the main concern. Identifying himself as an “active cyclist,” he broadly noted that bicyclists are frequently killed by vehicles in suburban cities and said the solution is separating them from such traffic.
That was a redirection to Prologis’s proposal to create a pedestrian and bike path to the north of its site, on Division Place, and connect to a future spur of the Atlanta BeltLine. That would route some people away from the intersection in what Mason called the “safest” concept. It’s a key point because the sidewalk currently invaded by passing trucks, at the Dill and Lee intersection, is where a BeltLine connection is currently planned, according to NPU-X chair Zachary Adriaenssens.
Residents said the idea has some merit but that pedestrians and cyclists need to cross there to get to various other destinations. There were no plans presented for bike lanes, nor for barring cyclists and pedestrians from the public streets there. In short, the general concept of clearing pedestrians out of the way of unlawful truck movements did not play well.
“It’s just really disturbing and insulting that there seems to be such an acceptance of trucks driving onto the sidewalk on a routine basis,” said one resident. However, Mason also responded in personal terms at one point, saying, “To suggest that we don’t care about people is — I take offense to that…”
Better received was Mason’s proposal for the facility to have a metal bar preventing trucks from exiting or entering on Arden Avenue, a residential street bordering it. Mason also provided more detail about creating stairs and green space to better connect the facility to the MARTA entrance at Murphy and Arden. Prologis officials said a company called Ironwood Design has been hired to design that. MARTA previously told SaportaReport it has not heard from Prologis since late September about possible station improvements.
The overall traffic issue is problematic as Prologis is building a speculative warehouse complex and does not yet know what the tenants will be and how many large trucks they may or may not use. Prologis consultant Kimley-Horn produced a traffic projection report that estimated an average of 340 heavy truck trips a week, but Mason called that “surprising” and a “huge number” for this type of design.
He said the building will have four to six industrial tenants that almost certainly will not be major shippers like Amazon or FedEx. He said it is more likely to warehouse supplies for such industries as hospitality, construction, conventions, air conditioning, and movie sets, all of which might use smaller vehicles. However, he also said it is impossible to know until the facility is about six to eight months into its construction cycle — which is to say, too late for any planning. Prologis is currently seeking a land disturbance permit (LDP) to begin construction, which would last about a year.
Residents pressed Mason on conducting a full traffic study, including current traffic volume counts rather than just estimates. He said the company would discuss that with Kimley-Horn while emphasizing there might be no point without knowing the actual tenants. He also said the company would be willing to consider capping tenants’ amount of truck traffic if it exceeded projections, and, in a less likely move, giving the community some form of input on tenant selection.
An underlying issue touched on by Mason is that Prologis — a major warehouse and logistics company that owns about 200 buildings in metro Atlanta — typically builds in suburban areas and rather than urban ones like this. He offered to take residents on bus tours of other Prologis facilities to see what their truck traffic is like and implied that minds need to be more open about industrial uses in the area.
“Not every industrial site in the inner core of Atlanta has to be apartments,” he said. “Multifamily [development] doesn’t create many jobs.”
The issue of possible vibration damage included one resident nearly crying as she described her house shifting and her inability to afford to move. Mason said that Prologis would pay to repair any home with damage that could be proven to have been caused by its work. He said the company had so far received one complaint of vibration issues on Arden. Prologis is nearly finished demolishing the old factory, Mason said, and next would start removing the massive concrete slab beneath it, which would create the most vibrations of the entire process. Adriaenssens said he will arrange a meeting with Mason and residents about the issue.
NPU-X voted to recommend the City deny the LDP and for Prologis to reduce parking on the site — a truck queuing lot is another concern — and to conduct the full traffic study. At the start of the meeting, District 12 Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Lewis said, “…I support Zach and I support the NPU in their efforts” and would back them in their final decision.