Moderated by Tom Sabulis
MARTA is having an interesting summer. Development around its rail stations looks to be gathering steam. Expansion south to Clayton County seems inevitable now that residents — most of them pro-transit — get to vote for a penny sales tax in November. And an expansion north along Georgia 400 also shows promise, as long as MARTA chooses the right route. Today, neighborhood leaders in Sandy Springs outline the best way for MARTA to win over North Fulton residents. And a MARTA executive writes that the agency is listening.
Commenting is open.
MARTA should choose the right direction
By Chip Swearngan
I live in Sandy Springs, between Spalding Drive and the Chattahoochee River on the east side of Georgia 400, where MARTA is considering expanding its service northward from the North Springs Station.
While I am not opposed to MARTA’s proposed expansion of service to north Fulton County, I am opposed to any expansion, particularly heavy rail, east of Georgia 400.
Expanding east would heavily impact multiple neighborhoods, four schools, local roads and traffic. Two public elementary school campuses (Dunwoody Springs and Woodland) back up directly to the GDOT right-of-way and would have a rail line potentially running through their playgrounds, which could force the schools to relocate.
These views are shared by many of my neighbors. On June 12, two homeowners’ associations invited MARTA representatives to speak to our members at an evening event we publicized. More than 75 residents attended representing 11 different neighborhoods in north Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
We conducted a simple survey of attendees on sign-in sheets. 74 surveys were completed; not everyone responded to the survey, or to each question. Survey results, which we shared with MARTA, follow:
1. Do you support heavy-rail expansion of MARTA? 18 responded yes; 31 responded no; 18 responded maybe.
2. Do you support expansion on the east or west side of 400? None responded “East;” 68 responded “West;” and 2 responded other, including “middle” and “any.”
3. Do you support a MARTA station at Northridge (Road)? 6 responded yes; 45 responded no; 16 responded maybe.
By contrast, if MARTA were to cross over GA 400 immediately before or after Spalding Drive to the west side of the highway, we believe MARTA could provide much needed public transportation to many residents who ride MARTA busses today that circulate along Dunwoody Place/Northridge Road/Roswell Road. Additionally, expansion on the west side could promote transit-oriented-development and offer the opportunity to rebuild or upgrade older multi-family housing that currently exists between Spalding Drive and Northridge Road. Further, we believe there are stronger positives for supporting MARTA expansion west of Georgia 400, including:
• Land use opportunities are greater, including greater options for station location and design.
• Existing transportation and access to/from a proposed Northridge station are more evolved on the west, although some of our neighbors question the need for a station given the proximity to the North Springs station.
• A greater number of current MARTA customers live west of Georgia 400. The northern panhandle of Sandy Springs is the most densely populated portion of the city. If an expanded MARTA route were not sited on the west side, these customers would need to cross the highway to use MARTA.
• There is far less National Park Service land in the Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area that would be potentially impacted if a rail line were run West of Georgia 400 at the river.
• The city of Sandy Springs supports MARTA expansion and heavy rail, but also prefers a west side orientation to encourage redevelopment.
• The commercial property values on the west would likely have a greater potential for appreciation with MARTA development than would residences on the on the East side.
Most long-term residents in this area recall a 1989 resolution by the MARTA Board affirming a “west of 400, before or after Spalding Drive” future MARTA expansion, to cross back over Georgia 400 after Holcomb Bridge Road. This was done around the same time as planning for MARTA’s North Springs Station. It is the agreement upon which residents have bought and sold property and made investments in neighborhoods along the east of Georgia 400 from Dunwoody to the river over the last 25 years, and it’s why neighbors are upset that MARTA officials now seem to be ignoring that previous agreement.
MARTA officials told residents that nothing has yet been decided but as the Project Connect 400 study was started it was necessary to consider all options in order to meet federal transportation guidelines.
If the MARTA board of directors would again resolve to expand MARTA from the North Springs station along the west side of Georgia 400, I believe there would be greater community support, from neighbors like me, the cities of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, as well as the Fulton County School Board.
Chip Swearngan is president of the Somerset Homeowners Association in Sandy Springs.
Business, transit agency would benefit
By David Centofanti
MARTA has been soliciting feedback from the community on its proposed North Line expansion (Connect 400). The plan relies heavily on the Atlanta Regional Commission 40-year master plan, where you can see statistics and forecasts for greater Atlanta’s transportation vision, and the cost of that vision.
The feedback process is designed to help MARTA select a locally preferred alternative and is highly recommended for a project seeking federal funding under the FTA New Starts program. The Connect 400, ARC and Sandy Springs websites have some great information if you feel your life needs a serious dose of community involvement. The dozen documents, 1000-plus pages, take quite a bit of focus to unravel.
The North Springs area (north of Spalding Drive and Roswell Road) is the most densely populated portion of Sandy Springs. The area west of Georgia 400 is primarily multi-family residence, commercial, and retail businesses; the area east of Georgia 400, well into Dunwoody, is entirely single family homes and schools.
The west side of Georgia 400 has a better existing network of roads, sidewalks, and facilities to support a transit station. Cisco, the top employer in Sandy Springs, is one of the businesses, located at Northridge Road. My employer and others, with whom I have spoken, would gain many advantages if a MARTA station was located on the west side of Georgia 400 in the Northridge area. The benefits include greater access to the Atlanta employee pool; reduced commute times to and from the airport; significant improvement in commercial property values, rental rates, and tax revenue; reduced through traffic on Roswell Road; and more options for private investment, station design and location.
Most important, a west side station holds the potential for revitalization of the most northern part of the North Springs. If you look at MARTA stations around Atlanta, it is clear that commercial and high-density residential get a considerable benefit from these stations.
I believe a revitalization of the Northridge area cannot be done with MARTA alone. Sandy Springs, Fulton County and commercial developers must make a focused investment in the area. The City of Sandy Springs Comprehensive Plan supports future mixed-use land use development at the interchange of Northridge and Roswell Roads, as well as along Dunwoody Place, which are all west of Georgia 400. The support from Sandy Springs should be defined in conjunction with this project, and in the form of property owner and developer incentives; consistent zoning requirements; a simple and effective permit process; green space requirements; tax breaks; and most important, funding of a core project that will represent and complement the community in the area.
All this must happen west of Georgia 400 as the land use opportunities on the east side are virtually non-existent and a greater portion of the ridership is west of Georgia 400. The city of Sandy Springs should develop a revitalization plan that includes a MARTA station on the west side of Georgia 400 in the Northridge area.
The location of the station is critical due to the traffic bottleneck in this area. The Northridge Road bridge and Pitts Road bridge over Georgia 400 are the only arteries between North Springs and Dunwoody. The Dunwoody community currently has easy access to the North Springs station via Peachtree Dunwoody Road and Mt. Vernon. A station anywhere on the east side between North Springs and the river will seriously congest these two roadways due to the majority of the ridership and benefactors being located west of Georgia 400.
MARTA says the reason for the east side proposal is due to the cost of crossing over Georgia 400. The additional benefits of being west of Georgia 400 — and the community preference — should justify the minor additional cost of the crossing.
I ask that MARTA place the expansion technology and stations on the west side of Georgia 400 in the greater Northridge Road area. It’s SMARTA.
David Centofanti, a Sandy Springs resident, is president of the Northridge Community Association.
MARTA is listening
By Mark Eatman
MARTA began reaching out to local communities this summer to get public feedback about Connect 400, a project that would extend high-capacity transit farther north in Fulton County. It’s no secret that the thriving GA 400 corridor is experiencing a boom in population, job growth and traffic gridlock. Those who live and work in the area have a lot to say about finding transportation options, and we’ve been listening.
So far, MARTA has had three very well-attended meetings to discuss the project and we’re continuing to work closely with local community groups requesting information. Every day, we receive scores of emails, letters, phone calls and social media posts about this project. We’ve heard from residents, office workers, the media, elected officials, business leaders, local schools and universities.
Since Connect 400 initiative is still in the early stages of planning and no firm decisions have been made, we want to ensure it has a broad base of support from people who would be most affected by it.
As the lead planner for Connect 400, one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had is the recent invitation from residents in the Northridge Road area of GA 400 north of MARTA’s North Springs Station. This association of neighborhoods organized a tour of several subdivisions on a sunny Saturday afternoon in July and, as a result, they gave us a deeper understanding of the project from their unique perspective.
We had driven the corridor numerous times since the beginning of our study. This time, residents graciously took my colleague and I into their backyards, beside their pools, around their flower gardens and inside their screened porches. We also visited nearby community centers and schools that are likely to be impacted by their proximity to the corridor.
As transit planners at MARTA, this type of firsthand experience is invaluable, and it underscores our mission: Working closely with communities to develop technically sound, cost-effective and locally supported projects that address your needs.
Although the formal public comment period for this phase of the project ended on August 8, we still want to hear from you. The MARTA Community Bus – a rolling public outreach center – will be coming to shopping centers along the corridor to share information and gather feedback. MARTA will also visit major employment centers in northern Fulton County during lunchtime to hear from the area’s fast-growing workforce.
MARTA is open to scheduling more community events. If there is an upcoming meeting or event that you would like our planners to attend to discuss the project, just let us know.
To share your thoughts about the Connect 400 transit initiative, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also for more information please visit our website at : http://bit.ly/Connect400.
Mark Eatman is lead planner for MARTA’s Connect 400 project.