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Panel Discussion Tackles ATL Growth, Gentrification, Affordability

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"Vision for Atlanta" discussion covers range of issues facing the growing city

Four movers and shakers in Atlanta's development scene came together last night to discuss the future of the city. Hosted by AIA Atlanta, the "Vision for Atlanta" covered a range of topics relating to where the city is heading.

It got interesting. And — at certain moments — hilarious.

Participants on the panel included Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, City Councilwoman Mary Norwood who represents Buckhead, Egbert Perry who serves as the CEO of developer the Integral Group, and Dawn Luke, the Senior Vice President of Community Development at Invest Atlanta.

Here are some of the most interesting thoughts from the evening:

Tim Keane...

On the transit vote:

"It's an amazing opportunity. We have to show how the investments we make in public transit can be in service for the city (quickly)... in support of a lifestyle that you want."

On growth within the city limits:

"There's a reason to believe that the city will grow." But it will need to be a better quality of life that draws continued growth, he added. "We've grown a lot in the north and we've grown a lot in the east, but not in the south and west. The reason to grow (in the core, as opposed to in the suburbs) is... because it makes a much better city to live in. If you get very active about.. what the city would look like and we as a community decide, we will be a much better place to live ... it's got to be much more balanced."

On Buckhead in the longterm, after shunning bike lanes and streetcar service:

"There's no amount of traffic people will be happy with... transit needs to be in its own lane. We need to rethink the streets." We have to give up the concept that we can drive everywhere, and park anywhere, he added. "To be a better city, you have to..." give room for transit, pedestrians and bikes. Transit needs to be "safe, affordable, happy."

On preservation of historic buildings:

"We will save what we, as a community, decide to save. We as a community must voice that there is value in old buildings. We need to set some priorities — what are those things that we most want to protect."

On growth downtown:

Keane noted that only 3,500 people live downtown. There should be substantial residential growth there, he said, though hopefully not all millennials. He added, jokingly, "Millennials kind of annoy me."

Mary Norwood...

On growth in this development cycle:

"It has not been the kind of growth I want to see throughout the city. It was tragic in the bubble how much of Atlanta was affected — it wiped out whole communities."

On returning blighted properties to use:

The city has "to get those boarded houses into productive ownership." A new pilot project that allows properties to be seized and flipped to new owners will soon be starting. "Clean it up, fix it up, and make it safe."

On Buckhead's traffic woes:

"Those of us who live in the epicenter of traffic didn't ask for it."

On embracing the city's relationship with the Chattahoochee River:

"It would be tragic for us to keep ignoring the river we've got."

Dawn Luke...

On affordability:

As a city "we don't have the tools" to address affordable housing. We no longer have "the tools that we had in the past" due to the debt service by the city and emphasis on infrastructure since the recession. "We need... policy changes" that do not geographically restrict where money can be spent. Finally, she said, the city is beginning to require affordable components when developers work within the city in order to drive equitable growth.

On how much the current system is failing:

In the past few years, 9,500 units were constructed in the city, receiving over $100 million in tax breaks. Out of those, only 30 units were designated as affordable housing, she said.

Egbert Perry...

On the current development cycle:

"On that spine (Peachtree Street/Road)... the millennials are doing a lot to drive the current demands. Their taste buds are very different from the generations before. There is more movement to this region and there is a longer (development) cycle for parcels near transit. There is an emphasis on walkability and transit... Making areas around transit more desirable in this cycle." Millennials live outside their unit, Perry said, which makes an emphasis on "placemaking" much more important than before.

On drawing development to the south and west sides:

"What we need are inducements to entice developers to go there." City departments need to work in concert to coordinate investment and redevelopment, from the school board to the mayor's office, he said.

On the City of Atlanta within the region:

"Nobody really has to give a flip about Atlanta.... But without the heart beating the body can't live. People don't realize that until they're already dead."

On gentrification:

"You can't be against gentrification but be asking about why there are no services."