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On Memorial Drive, rare neighborhood-scaled retail bound for abandoned site

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Rather than a bulky mixed-use development, walkable shops to fill land near Oakland Cemetery

Elevations of single-story brick commercial buildings which look like older storefronts.
View of the streetfront retail planned for 700 Memorial Drive.
Gamble + Gamble

Memorial Drive’s future has become a hot topic as development washes over the previously industrial thoroughfare running eastward from downtown.

With density brought by an array of mixed-use developments, issues like parking, traffic, greenspace, and walkability have come to the forefront. As an example, one new mixed-use development — out of more than two dozen — plans to bring 574 parking spaces to a single lot.

That’s a lot of parking.

Now, Cabbagetown is trying to fight back against massive parking lots and density with approval of two variances for land at Memorial Drive and Tye Street, next to Brother Moto.

The neighborhood voted to support a parking variance that will theoretically “provide future flexibility in case the [owner] wants to lease to a restaurant at the corner” of the site, according to a resident who attended the meeting.

While some may look at the proposed row of commercial buildings and surface parking lot — which will contain 64 spaces instead of the previously required 84 — and wonder why the standard five-story mixed-use building isn’t rising there, the answer is pretty simple.

Multiple proposals for the site have sprung up in the past, but all have fallen through due to site conditions. The land has "slag" that requires strict adherence to treatment guidelines and (almost) forbids any kind of residential on site.

Additionally, the site also has a huge storm trunk cutting diagonally through it, which would make denser development — the type seen along the rest of the corridor — financially unviable.

Now, the planned 11 commercial units are designed to address the street and resemble many of the older small storefront spaces found in historic neighborhoods. The use of brick and large glass fronts, pedestrian scaling, and the prioritization of street-facing entries rather than entrances facing the parking lots are meant to encourage neighborhood walkability.

What’s next? The variances will go before the Atlanta Urban Design Commission next week.

It may not be the biggest, most glamorous project coming to Memorial Drive, but the precedent is important.