Brookhaven, GA, February 3, 2016 – Commentary by Brookhaven Resident Riley O’Connor – One thing that is clear from last night is MARTA’s general stance on this project. They are driving it, but when it comes time to talk about specific issues, you need to go to the specific entity that is the source of a problem. Got a problem with traffic? Well, you need to talk with the DoT and the City of Brookhaven. Got a problem with sanitary sewer capacity? You need to talk with DeKalb County. Got a problem with ugly buildings? You need to talk with the General Contractor and the architect.
Given that diffuse approach also gives you a clue as to how difficult this project will be to manage, both from the residents of Brookhaven perspective and everybody else. And, if things get snarled up somewhere, will the City have the political Moxie to get things solved and the financial capacity to withstand an extended legal war. It’s easy to talk about using the zoning conduit to try and control things, but there are going to be a lot of moving parts here.
Back in the days of the LCI study charettes, my wife and I attended all of those meetings as did many of our neighbors. Ultimately, all that effort was merely window dressing by the ARC since the LCI overlay is now under attack as not being financially realistic in light of the current market. Even back then, when there was talk of four-story office buildings on Peachtree, some developer type got up and stated that you can’t make money with that sized building. Of course, the market then took a nap, so that sort of talk was effectively stifled. But it’s back.
There also was a kabuki-like feel to last night’s meeting in that MARTA is required to do such public hearings, but they aren’t necessarily required to make changes. Everything felt like it was on rails, which is a mentality that needs to be overcome. And, our experiences with residential zoning issues would seem to be a prologue for the MARTA development. Up to this point, it generally has been easier to seek forgiveness than permission.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is MARTA’s comparing the Brookhaven project to a TOD project in Maryland on the WMATA Red Line. Of course, you can’t just hop in your car and drive over to take a look at how things are going. At the same time, MARTA has been rather shy about their first TOD, the Lindbergh MARTA station area. I asked Ms. Rhein about that at an earlier meeting and her response was words to the effect of “We won’t do this in the same way”.
In short, Brookhaven is one of several new MARTA station TOD projects, presumably their first under the new regime. Based on what I’ve seen with the transit operations, they are making significant progress on several fronts (station & train cleanliness, employee morale, etc.). The optimistic view is that things can be worked out, but I’m not sure that that is the way to bet.