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South River Forest, housing affordability studies among projects gaining ARC assistance

Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve Photo Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

The massive South River Forest public park concept and housing affordability studies in Buckhead and Chamblee are just a few of the programs that this week won technical or financial assistance from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The ARC on May 12 announced eight winners of its competitive, annual Community Development Assistance Program support. Through CDAP, the metro Atlanta regional planning agency provides support to nonprofit organizations and city and county governments on “community development initiatives that aim to improve quality of life for residents,” as an ARC press release puts it.

The Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve is just one of several green spaces that could become part of the South River Forest. Credit: Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

Priority issues used to judge this year’s proposals included: access to healthy food, housing affordability, “creative place-making,” “lifelong communities,” green infrastructure, “smart communities,” historic preservation and workforce development.

“These projects will help communities address housing affordability, preserve valuable natural resources, and engage under-represented populations to enable the creation of more inclusive local policies,” said Sam Shenbaga, ARC’s managing director of community development, in the press release. “We are proud to say that all of the selected applicants are as committed as we are at ARC to forwarding innovative and inclusive planning processes.”

The following programs will receive the CDAP assistance:

Chamblee Housing Study
$120,000 grant

Project description: “This housing study will complete a preliminary assessment, begun by Georgia State University students, evaluating the city’s housing for demographic, economic and affordability data — establishing the number of residents who are cost-burdened, that is, paying 30% or more of their income on housing. The study will also develop recommendations for improving housing stability and affordability.”

Dunwoody Edge City 2.0 Redevelopment Plan
$120,000 grant

Project description: “This redevelopment plan will create a vision for the portion of Perimeter Center that lies within Dunwoody. This vision will incorporate new mixed-use and multifamily development based on three different growth scenarios: low, medium and high. Each will align with the 2020 Dunwoody Comprehensive Plan. Residents and other stakeholders will then be invited to review the plans. A final report will include an assessment of existing conditions, case studies for each growth scenario, and a summary of stakeholder discussions.” Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a press release that the work is important for the area’s post-pandemic recovery and will “address infrastructure, school capacity, place-making and more.” The project will have a total cost of $150,000, with the city providing $15,000, the Dunwoody Development Authority and the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts each contributing $7,500.

Fairburn Community Garden Plan 
Staff assistance

Project description: “The City of Fairburn aspires to develop a community garden that will stimulate social interaction among residents, increase physical activity, and provide an area with limited access to grocery stores with access to fresh, healthy produce. The completed plan will identify sites across the city for future community gardens, elements to include in each garden, as well as implementation strategies and potential funding sources.”

Livable Buckhead Employer-Assisted Affordable Housing
$80,000 grant

Livable Buckhead is a nonprofit focused on environmental sustainability and alternative commuting. Operating in Atlanta’s most exclusive and expensive neighborhood, Livable Buckhead in recent years has studied housing affordability, especially for middle incomes, as a pressing issue and gained political momentum by framing it as a traffic congestion problem — if people can’t afford to live close to work, they clog local roads. One tactic proposed by Livable Buckhead is employer-assisted housing, which could mean anything from an employer covering an employee’s security to depositing to company-owned residences. Small-scale versions of such programs exist in Atlanta and around the country, but have sometimes drawn legal scrutiny as possible violations of housing anti-discrimination laws. The ARC-funded project will explore the feasibility of and interest in such programs, including its “legal and policy perspectives.” The project also “will create a toolkit that outlines strategies for implementing recommendations.”

South Fulton Citizen Board Training
Staff assistance

The City of South Fulton incorporated in 2017. The project description: “This training will bring together members of several of this new city’s boards to arm them with the knowledge and tools necessary to work with community members, elected officials and developers as they consider key infrastructure and development decisions in the months and years to come. In addition, the county will receive a reusable lesson plan that they can use in the future to educate new citizen boards as well as the wider community.”

South River Forest Consensus Building and Stakeholder Engagement
Staff assistance

The South River Forest is a concept for a 3,500-acre green space of forests, parks and historic sites in south Atlanta and DeKalb County, whose advocates include the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and Atlanta BeltLine designer Ryan Gravel. The city’s acquisition last year of the 200-plus-acre Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve was one small step toward that vision. In this program, the ARC “will convene stakeholders to discuss the potential impact of improved residential access to green space” in the area with focus on economic development, tree canopy protection and water quality. “This process will engage both residents and elected officials in an exploration process of the potential for this considerable green space, including examining case studies of similar areas elsewhere and reviewing regulations and policies in the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County affecting the area,” the ARC says.

Sandy Springs Flood Mitigation and Resilience Strategy
Staff assistance

The city of Sandy Springs has dealt with several actual and potential flooding issues in recent years with such strategies as buying residential properties and turning them into open green space. It’s also coordinating with the City of Atlanta on repairing the Lake Forrest Dam, a potential hazard that straddles the cities’ border. In this particular program, Sandy Springs will use ARC’s “City Simulator” geographic information system software to “accurately predict its infrastructure’s vulnerability to threats, such as flooding,” a press release says. The intent is to unify the city’s work on flooding issues and take the first step in creating a “comprehensive climate resilience plan.”

Tucker Arts in the Alleys Initiative
Staff assistance

This program will assist the City of Tucker in creating public art in the alleys of its downtown. That will include “potential mock-up designs” and possible other collaborations from arts and culture professionals in the ARC’s Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta class.

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