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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.