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At pop-up design studio, Hulsey Yard neighbors map out redevelopment dreams

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Atlanta architecture firm is collecting community input to craft a masterplan for the huge, deactivated train yard

a picture of a wooden model of the yard and its surroundings
Model buildings and tape are used to configure the Hulsey Yard transformation that some have pined for.
Sean Keenan, Curbed Atlanta

Items on the wishlist: “Space for new neighbors.” “Improved transit.” “Density.” “Not Atlantic Station.” “No Fuqua.”

Those are just a few of the things neighbors of CSX Transportation’s recently deactivated Hulsey Yard want—or don’t want—from the property’s potential redevelopment, as evidenced today at a unique sort of preemptive visioning session.

Curbed Atlanta broke the news Monday that the usually jam-packed, 70-acre train yard had been cleared of its shipping crates, which some urban planners and public observers have hoped to see for years.

Now, Lord Aeck Sargent, the local architecture firm recruited by the community-led Hulsey Yard Study Committee, is offering neighbors from Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, Cabbagetown, and Reynoldstown a chance to help craft a masterplan for the site.

It’s important to note, of course, that the property is still not for sale.

But what becomes of such a large developable piece could have significant impact on the eastside’s future. For context, the site could house Centennial Olympic Park more than three times over. Or two Pullman Yard properties alongside Historic Fourth Ward Park.

At a pop-up design studio hosted by Lord Aeck Sargent, neighbors are jotting down recommendations like the ones above about what should become of Hulsey Yard.

Some locals want to see a linear park running along the railroad tracks, similar to New York City’s High Line.

Some want serious density and mixed-use development, while others are calling for quaint single-family homes like the ones in surrounding neighborhoods.

Neighbors make notes about what they want at Hulsey Yard.
Sean Keenan, Curbed Atlanta

A few neighbors have even lobbed the idea of building a new infill MARTA station between the King Memorial and Inman Park-Reynoldstown stops.

“That’s an open question that we’re going to have to dig into,” Lord Aeck Sargent principal Bob Begle said of a new transit station today. “I’ve definitely heard some desire for it. Whether it’s doable or not is a separate question.”

Reimagining Hulsey Yard, Begle said, could take years, but being proactive about the design is a means to prevent developers from swooping in and crafting plans without substantial community input.

“A lot of times, what happens with these things is developers go in and don’t really have a sense of what’s important to the neighborhoods,” he said. “In some ways this [pop-up studio process] makes things easier for developers. They can say, ‘Well, now we know what the neighborhood issues are.’”

Lord Aeck Sargent displayed examples of various scales of development to help people decide what fits best at the 70-acre site.
Sean Keenan, Curbed Atlanta

Once Lord Aeck Sargent and the community piece together a masterplan, it could be presented to the Atlanta City Council for review and possible approval, much like how neighborhoods map out how future development should be structured.

“There are elements of this that could lead to policy, elements that could go into the city’s comprehensive development plan, like other efforts have,” Begle said.

But one of the most important variables to consider when crafting a vision for the rail yard —”the main carrot and stick that the city has”—is zoning, he added.

The site is currently zoned for heavy industrial use, but after going through community organizations and Neighborhood Planning Units, it could switch to a mixed-use designation.

The cleared-out Hulsey Yard seems to stretch on for miles.
The site, as of last week.
Kyle Bidlack, via Facebook

At the pop-up studio, stakeholders played around with a wooden model of Hulsey Yard and its surrounding environs, adding tiny structures to the rail yard and running strips of tape across the site where they imagined future connection points could be.

“There’s some really extreme topography in places,” Begle said, noting that getting people from one side of CSX’s still-active train tracks to the other is no walk in the park, especially considering the MARTA rail tracks overhead.

“There could be opportunities for some new cross connections, but whether that’s over, under, or at grade, we don’t know yet,” he said. “Nowadays the railroads do everything they can to avoid on-grade crossings for safety.”

The pop-up studio will also be open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Stakeholders can also participate in the Hulsey Yard Study Committee’s online survey.

The property in use as railroad storage.
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