By David Pendered
The next phase of PATH 400 is to be a trail alongside Atlanta’s own version of Okefenokee Swamp, a wetlands in Buckhead complete with beaver dams. Just four years ago, this stretch of trail appeared to be little more than gilding on a dream. Now, construction is funded and awaits just a go-ahead from Norfolk Southern Corp.
The railroad company is expected to decide sometime soon on whether to approve a proposal to extend PATH 400 beneath a section of train track. The section is located between Lenox Square and the Miami Circle retail district, which is east of Piedmont Road near MARTA’s Lindbergh Station.
“It’s threading a needle to put a bridge under there,” said Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, the non-profit entity that is overseeing the development of PATH 400.
In a sense, the entirety of PATH 400 and the ongoing establishment of parks in Buckhead – including the present planning by the PATH Foundation for Loridans Park – is an exercise in threading things together.
Livable Buckhead threaded together support from homeowners along the trail, not an easy task in an area still smarting from the extension of Ga. 400 from I-285 to I-85 through the rolling, wooded lands of Buckhead. Evidence of success is that half the 5.2-mile trail is complete.
“The initial public meetings, they were a little rough,” Starling said. “Once people saw that we did what we promised we would do, the conversation changed.”
Consider some of the newly planted trees along the trail. Starling said the planting pattern responds to concerns raised by homeowners.
“You can see it on Phase 2, from Old Ivy Road to Wieuca Road,” Starling said. “The trees are not regularly placed because we worked with the property owner: ‘How can we screen your yard?’ One woman said, ‘That window is my bathroom. I want screening so people can’t see into my bathroom.’”
Livable Buckhead also threaded together support from the City of Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Transportation in order to build the trail. The city also had to be brought along with the notion of acquiring even small parcels of land to create greenspace in a region of the city that a 2008 survey showed to have the least amount of greenspace per person.
The dynamics of Atlanta City Hall presume that Buckhead has all the financial resources necessary to provide for its public needs. For example, decades ago, the city collected impact fees on developments in Buckhead and spent the money on projects in areas of the city that weren’t being developed.
For GDOT, its decision to grant PATH 400 access to its right-of-way along Ga. 400 was as significant as its agreement to allow MARTA to build the rail line to the North Springs Station in the Ga. 400 right-of-way. The partnership with PATH 400 proved so fruitful that GDOT agreed in 2015 to allow PATH 400 to build a 1-mile long trail within the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange that’s being retooled. Gov. Nathan Deal has provided $750,000 in state funds for the project.
Meanwhile, Livable Buckhead has a hand in the acquisition of future greenspace in Buckhead. Starling said the process involves an owner selling land to Livable Buckhead, and then Livable Buckhead sells the land to the city.
“About 35 acres of public parks property has been added into the parks inventory,” Starling said. “I’m able to be the intermediary and get the deal done and transfer the land to the city.”
Loridans Park is Livable Buckhead’s current major initiative. The site includes the former D.F. McClatchey Elementary School and the Lowery-Stevens Cemetery. The cemetery, in particular, lends itself to the installation of the proposed “Ghosts of History” interpretive public art.
The installations are among a number of concepts proposed by the Buckhead Heritage Society. The “Ghosts” project could be figures of Civil War soldiers, cut from metal; photos from long ago etched into a clear plate, so viewers would see a “then and now” effect; or figures from a number of eras, also cut from metal.
Park Pride selected the site for its 2018 visioning program and on June 12 held the first of three planned meetings to gather public comment. Future meetings are scheduled for July 12 and Sept. 11, at the St. James United Methodist Church, located at 4400 Peachtree Dunwoody Road.
“The many layers of history on this site coupled with the strong community interest in how the park is developed made Loridans Park a great candidate for the community visioning process,” Andrew White, director of park visioning at Park Pride, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Buckhead community on a plan that will meet the needs of the neighborhood and address concerns.”