Two pending projects threaten dream of Riverwalk Atlanta Park

By Maria Saporta

Second column in a two-part series on the Chattahoochee River

Cities rise and fall on their ability to dream and implement “big” ideas.

For Atlanta, turning five miles of the Chattahoochee River into an easily accessible waterfront is one such big idea that could change the city’s profile.

But two pending projects could severely limit Atlanta’s ability to turn the Chattahoochee River into a linear park.

Project No. 1: The largest piece of developable property along the city’s portion of the river is known as the Chattahoochee Brick site. General Shale Brick, which owns the site, has entered into a contract to sell 45 acres to the Lincoln Terminal Co., which would build a railroad terminal that could accommodate 90 rail tankers delivering ethanol, biodiesel, butane and other light oil products during a 24-hour operation.

Project No. 2: The Atlanta Housing Authority has transferred land to City of Atlanta, which will “enable the City to deliver a tract of land to the Atlanta Public Schools” as part of the settlement over the Atlanta BeltLine payments. The land being transferred is about 10 acres of the former Bankhead Courts – property that is almost next to the Chattahoochee River. APS plans to turn it into a bus yard that would be a depot for buses serving schools in northwest Atlanta.

Keith Sharp Kathy Hearn

Kathy Hearn and Keith Sharp talk about their vision for a “Riverwalk Atlanta Park” (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Keith Sharp and his wife, Kathy “RiversideKate” Hearn, have been working on the vision for a five-mile “Riverwalk Atlanta Park” for years.

If both these projects – Lincoln’s terminal for rail tankers and the APS bus yard – become reality, the ability to ever turn this section of the river into a publicly-accessible park will be greatly diminished, if not destroyed.

“They are both undesirable uses,” Sharp said.

Both projects would continue the industrial profile of the upper westside of the city – in much the same way that industrial uses dominated much of the Atlanta BeltLine.

But Sharp and Hearn believe the Chattahoochee River can become an amenity just as powerful as the BeltLine. Also there are several plans to create new green connections to the River – which can make this section of Atlanta one of the most desirable places to live.

Riverwalk map

A map depicting the vision for Riverwalk Atlanta Park as well as the proposed parks and greenway along the Chattahoochee River (Special: Riverwalk Atlanta Park)

The western edge of Atlanta BeltLine is only a few miles from the Chattahoochee. Plans exist to make Proctor Creek into a green-way and blue-way (with a multipurpose path developed by PATH) connecting the Atlanta BeltLine, the Westside Reservoir Park, Gun Club Park with the Chattahoochee.

“The intersection of Proctor Creek and the Chattahoochee is the Chattahoochee Brick property,” Sharp said. “It should be a spectacular amenity. It’s the mid point of five miles of the Riverwalk.”

Sharp said Lincoln would need to get a special use permit to operate the rail terminal on the land. Most of the 75 acres are in a flood plain, but Sharp is concerned that Lincoln will be encroaching on fragile property.

But most importantly, the industrial use would prevent the land from being oriented toward the river – creating a totally new opportunity to develop an incredible section of Atlanta.

Chattahoochee Brick

Chattahoochee Brick site is for sale and under contract to another industrial user (Photo: Keith Sharp)

“We are trying to come up with an alternative outcome,” said Sharp, who acknowledged that it gets frustrating to keep fighting for a vision that he and Hearn believe is so obvious. “We would like to see a conservation use with compatible economic development.”

The story is similar for an APS bus depot. The former Bankhead Courts could be redeveloped into a new riverfront community next to a linear public park along the Chattahoochee.

That certainly would be a “higher and best use” than pouring lots more asphalt to park buses – property that would not invite people to live, work and play along the river.

APS has said they need place to house buses that serve the schools in that area. If they were to be presented with a reasonable alternative, it’s possible the school system would consider moving the bus depot to another site.

But there would need to be community support for such a switch, and the site would have to work from a transportation standpoint.

Chattahoochee Brick site

Chattahoochee Brick site is for sale and under contract – but community has another vision (Photo by Keith Sharp)

How these projects along the Chattahoochee really could determine the shape, design and feel of Atlanta’s western boundary for decades to come. They can either open up a new front door to the city or they can wall off the river even more than it is today.

A vision to create a series of parks along the river dates back 20 years when the American Society of Landscape Architects proposed five parks along the river – Whittier Mills Park; Standing Peachtree Park; the Bolton Landfill; the Hartsfield Incinerator; and Georgia Power’s land along the river.

It was Hearn and Sharp who came up with the “Riverwalk Atlanta” concept link all those parks with a greenway. Now the vision is part of an even more ambitious 53-mile park known as Chattahoochee Now.

Given the proximity of these properties to the rebounding City of Atlanta, Riverwalk Atlanta is the place where this bold idea needs to take root.

So let this be the year when we not only dream up grand ideas. Let this be the year we turn great ideas our new reality.

Click here to read last week’s column on the Chattahoochee.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

16 replies
  1. Carl Holt says:

    Atlanta is will always be a city of commerce, to continue growing we need projects like the Lincoln Terminal proposal. As far as the APS land, that area has little to no demand from middle class and up families to live, how does Sharp expect to develop a community there when there is hundreds of vacant acres for development in the area yet no activity?Report

    Reply
  2. jay says:

    The Chattahoochee Brick site should be preserved for an even greater reason.  Up until 1925 (according to Douglas Blackmon) African-Americans were kept against their will (enslaved), forced to do horrible work, beaten, tortured and murdered.  Especially since most people believe slavery ended with the Civil War, it is important that we face up to the truth, and also recognize these poor individuals who suffered.Report

    Reply
  3. DanielSan says:

    hallen Just go have a look at the Georgia laws from that period and you can see it in black and white for yourself.  He did reference the author of a great book as well.Report

    Reply
  4. hallen says:

    no but I just got back form Dallas …. we are being left behind… they ate blowing and going there. it used to be that after you left Dallas there was nothing until you got to Plano…..not now ….their expressway systems are off the scale and they attracting business like crazy.Report

    Reply
  5. Bob Kent says:

    Carl this is not intelligent commercial/industrial development. It’s a nasty stinking nightmare at the confuence of an already damaged creek and river. What are you thinking?Report

    Reply
  6. Jarod Apperson says:

    Maria – 

    Thanks so much for all of your coverage.

    Is there any way you can have pictures in your articles link to higher-resolution files?  Usually, when you see pictures in an article, you can click on them to look closer.  I’ve noticed your articles don’t have this functionality.  Not sure whether it is a platform issue or if you might be able to do something.

    In this article, I would really like to click on the Riverwalk Atlanta Park map to take a closer look.  Its hard to glean much with the picture so small.

    Best,

    JarodReport

    Reply
  7. mnst says:

    It seems like a great idea, and I completely agree with the idea of stopping more industrial projects along a polluted waterway — that’s clearly not the direction we should be going.

    I don’t really want to see the city shifting its focus to this project, though. I probably won’t be alive anymore by the time the Beltline is finished, at its current rate. We should concentrate our resources on completing that project, because it stands to affect so much more of the city than a riverfront park on the furthest edge of the city limits.Report

    Reply
  8. mnst says:

    RCollins1911 SaportaReport Who cares? This project is on the Atlanta side of the river, so it doesn’t really matter what Cobb county thinks.Report

    Reply

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