Proposed ‘Gulch’ development designed to suppress car use, promote alternative transit
By David Pendered
The planned 27-acre development in the “Gulch” in Downtown Atlanta has won support from an array of governmental entities for its concept of building a mini city above the network of parking lots and a parking deck stretching between CNN Center and MARTA’s Five Points Station.
California-based CIM Atlanta Developer, LLC has submitted a proposal to build and open in 2027 a massive live-work-play community at 30 Ted Turner Drive. The development is to provide:
- 1,000 residential units;
- 1,500-room hotel;
- 9.35 million square feet of office space;
- 1 million square feet of retail space;
- About 8,000 parking spaces.
A fundamental principle of the proposed development is that its design and location will suppress the need for automobile trips and promote walking, bicycling and ridership on MARTA and the Atlanta Streetcar.
This alternative transit aspect caught the eye of planners with the Atlanta Regional Commission. Their state-mandated review of the project, because of its size, did not address whether the project is the best interest of the City of Atlanta. But the Dec. 21, 2017 review did mention a number of the project’s characteristics – including proximity to two MARTA rail stations – that appear to “manifest many aspects of regional policy.” Furthermore:
- “Many of these characteristics will collectively offer the potential for site residents to work and shop on site, and for workers and visitors to park once or arrive via alternative transportation modes and conduct multiple trips on foot.”
For starters, plans call for about 8,000 parking spaces to be provided in parking decks, mainly below street level. The purpose of restricting the number of parking spaces is to encourage folks to use alternate forms of transportation to get to and from the development, according to the transportation analysis conducted by Atlanta-based Kimley-Horn:
- “The intent is to provide minimal parking to promote use of alternative modes of transportation, reducing the need for single occupancy vehicle use.”
In addition, access to these parking spaces will be competitive. The spaces are to be shared by residents, shoppers and office workers, according to the transportation analysis:
- “The 30 Ted Turner Drive development is located in a Region Center area type and shared parking will be utilized on the project site where permitted.”
MARTA has enthusiastically endorsed the proposed development. In a Nov. 10, 2017 letter written to Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane by Elizabeth O’Neill, then MARTA’s interim CEO/general manager, O’Neill wrote:
- “I would like to express my support for the proposed development by CIM in the south downtown Atlanta area, often referred to as ‘The Gulch.’”
O’Neill went on to describe particular improvements CIM has proposed to improve access to MARTA’s two nearby stations:
- “The project is planned to fully integrate with MARTA’s heavy rail system at both the Dome/ GWCC/ Phillips Arena/ CNN Center and Five Points Stations. Two new access points have been proposed by CIM.
- “Access to the Dome/GWCC/Phillips Arena/CNN Center Station would include a new ticketing concourse on the south side of the station beneath Centennial Olympic Park Drive with vertical circulation along a retailed concourse to provide direct ingress and egress along the northern boundaries of the project.
- “The second new access point is proposed at the Five Points Station west of Forsyth Street with a direct connection beneath Forsyth Street for ingress and egress at the northwest corner of the Station.”
- “We look forward to working in partnership with CIM to maximize transit access to their project. I appreciate your consideration and ask for your expeditious support for advancement of this project.”
The focus on transit and compressed parking is expected to reduce vehicular traffic on streets that serve the site, according to the traffic analysis.
A traditional development of this magnitude would generate 88,460 vehicular trips a day, according to the analysis. That number is to be reduced to 46,692 vehicular trips a day. The lower number results from some bonuses the project received for alternative transportation mode reduction – of 31.1 percent for residential and retail uses, and 36.4 percent for office use.
These bonuses are in accord with the letter of understanding signed by GRTA, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, according to the analysis.
In addition, the project would benefit from Atlanta’s program to install intelligent street management tools in its vicinity that are being funded with proceeds of the Renew Atlanta transportation sales tax, according to a Nov. 30, 2017 letter to Keane from Faye DiMassimo, then general manager of Renew Atlanta.
After citing some of the planned upgrades, including wireless and fiber optic communications systems and connected vehicle technology, DeMassimo observed:
- “The improvements noted above provide the capability for active traffic management, automated traffic signal performance measures, and real-time optimization of urban traffic flows for the differing types of mobility in the area.”
The state Department of Transportation observed that the project is more than seven miles from a civil airport and doesn’t impact any airport. At least, not if a new building isn’t higher than 200 feet. Some of the 27-acre parcel does have a zoning classification that would allow a building higher than 200 feet.
But there’s a process in place to handle that, according to a letter sent to an ARC planner. The Federal Aviation Authority requires a Form 7460-1 be submitted for review of a proposed obstruction that could affect navigable airspace, according to GDOT’s letter:
- “The FAA must be in receipt of the notification, no later than 120 days prior to construction. The FAA will evaluate the potential impact of the project on protected airspace associated with any airport and advise the proponent if any action is necessary.”