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Growing Georgia Community Finds New Residents Pose Challenge For Transit (WABE)

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Across the country, people are headed for the exurbs. Those are the areas at the fringe of metropolitan areas.

According to the Brookings Institute, growth in the exurbs has quadrupled since 2012.

But one community in Georgia is finding all of those new residents can come with new challenges — particularly for funding transit.

Booming Population

Gainesville is about 50 miles north of Atlanta — well outside the reach of MARTA. So, the city operates a bus service of its own.

Hall Area Transit Director Philippa Moss boards one of the short shuttle buses. As the bus follows its route, the surrounding town seems to evolve.

“When you enter the city, you’ve got the manufacturing, the stacks and so forth,” Moss said, looking out the window.

Then, the old factories and brick storefronts give way to sprawling shopping centers, with just about every chain store there is.

“A lot of these buildings are newer developments in the last 10-plus years,” Moss said.

In that time, Gainesville’s population has grown by thousands each year. The area is now edging toward 200,000.

But while the traffic has increased, ridership on the city’s buses hasn’t. The system is limited: there are six routes that only run weekdays until 6 p.m.

“We have not invested a lot of dollars into developing this system. So honestly, we’ve been stagnant for many years. We haven’t seen a lot of growth,” Moss said.

Recently, Moss pushed to change that, by adding new bus stops and weekend service. And she said residents were excited.

Then, the expansion plans came to a halt.

Transit Growing Pains

“Our council is committed to funding public transit. They’re just a little scared, which I am as well,” said Bryan Lackey, Gainesville city manager.

He said right now Gainesville gets federal help for its buses — a dollar for dollar match as part of a program for smaller cities. Think of it like a kid receiving an allowance.

But when the area hits 200,000 residents, it becomes like an adult in the Federal Transit Administration’s eyes, and that funding stops.

“Losing that 50 percent match on our public transit system is huge for us,” Lackey said.

And Lackey said leaders realized if they invest more in buses now, Gainesville soon would be on the hook for an even bigger bill.

The city, he said, doesn’t have extra money for transit.

“You either take away from another important service or you raise taxes,” Lackey said. “And, you know, perhaps raising taxes for public transportation may not be something the community as a whole wants to do.”

Future Benefits Vs. Current Costs

Still, the change in course has left at least part of the community disappointed.

Donna Mincey walks through her family’s factory, Mincey Marble, as workers sand down white panels.

“They’re making shower panels and shower bases out here,” Mincey said.

Mincey said she wishes Gainesville would think more about the future benefits of transit than the current costs.

She believes it would help her retain employees. Gainesville has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

“The bus system just needs to grow up,” Mincey said. “In Atlanta, you can get almost anywhere you want to go on a bus, and it’s not like that when you get out in the outlying counties.”

The bus system just needs to grow up.

Donna Mincey of Mincey Marble

You can’t get to her factory on the bus or several other manufacturing plants. So workers without cars often pay co-workers for rides.

Or they’re like Ivan Barnett, who is sitting at a bus stop. When he worked at the Kubota farm equipment plant here, he took a cab.

“Going to Kubota was about 14,” Barnett said. “It was about $14.”

And that’s just one way. He said a connecting bus to the plant would definitely help.

“I would love that bus because it would save a lot of people a lot of money,” he said.

‘Design Our Growth’

Kevan Stone, executive director of the National Association of County Engineers, said exurban areas across the country are facing issues that many suburban areas dealt with before them.

“It’s just natural that you just see the expansion, the swelling of that metropolitan area go into the next region, the next town, next county,” he said.

New residents are good for these places, Stone said — they bring more tax money. But an increasing population does require increased investment in infrastructure, like roads or transit.

With the latter, Stone said Gainesville might be in a better position than most, since it already has a bus system in place.

“Some communities that have existing transit authorities,” he said, “they’re a little bit more up to speed in terms of what to expect and how to handle the increase in population.”

And transit director Phillippa Moss is optimistic.

She said she’s working to find alternative funding sources for buses in Gainesville — so transit can expand with the area’s population.

“I think we want to design our growth as opposed to just being at the effect of our growth,” Moss said.

The sooner Gainesville figures out how to do that, she said, the better.

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PHOTOS: East Point Seeks To Redevelop And Rebrand (WABE)

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East Point is located less than 10 miles from downtown Atlanta, and the city’s Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham says they’re on a mission to attract development and residents. “Closer Look with Rose Scott” begins a three-part series, “Redeveloping and Rebranding the City of East Point.”

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Along Beltline’s future Southside Trail, 319 upscale apartments to break ground soon

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The project’s Beltline and Boulevard frontage.

Set to include micro units and retail in Chosewood Park, project should debut next year, developer says

Brandishing several unique facets, a new Atlanta Beltline-adjacent rental community is officially moving forward south of downtown, and developers predict it will “set the tone” for future projects in Chosewood Park.

Officials with Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, a multifamily developer and investment firm, announced today they’ve closed on land that’s set to become 319 Class A apartments along the Beltline’s future Southside Trail, a corridor the city purchased earlier this year.

Developers expect to break ground next month and starting delivering the rentals—alongside 15,000 square feet of retail and office space—in the fall of 2019. It would mark one of the first completed projects on the forthcoming, 4.5-mile grin of Beltline trail.

The 1099 Boulevard SE site, largely vacant today, is a few blocks south of Grant Park’s main green space and directly east of The Beacon district, along the rail loop. In a press release, developers relayed that “officials” expect that Beltline stretch to be construction by 2023, linking the Eastside and Westside trails.

 Google Maps
As seen from the north, the site as it looked a year ago, at right.

In coming months, the cleared corridor is expected to open as an unpaved jogging and biking trail.

“There is significant demand for new multifamily product on the next leg of the Atlanta Beltline, which is a proven catalyst for economic growth and development,” relayed Steven Shores, Pollack Shores Real Estate Group’s president and CEO, in the release.

The site, as officials noted, offers one of the last remaining street-level Beltline crossings and the promise of being a future transit stop. Accordingly, about 50 units are being designed to offer trail-front views.

Speaking of units, the community will offer rare micro rentals (500 square feet) in an effort to keep rents lower and “appeal to a variety of residents and [create] a new model for diversity,” per the release.

Another cost-cutting measure: The project will not include a parking deck.

The largest flats, meanwhile, are expected to offer three bedrooms across two levels with north of 1,500 square feet. Potential rents weren’t specified.

 Surber Barber Choate + Hertlein Architects rendering courtesy of Pollack Shores

Beyond the apartments, expect amenities that echo other Class A ventures across the city: a community clubhouse, fitness center with CrossFit and yoga studios, and a pool-lounge area dotted with grills.

“Old Fourth Ward became a success story in large part because of the Beltline, and we see the same potential for this new neighborhood,” added Tyler Gaines, Pollack Shores vice president of development. “There are no comparable rents in this area, so we have the opportunity to offer affordable micro units that address existing market demand, as well as larger three-bedroom options.”

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Report says SunTrust Park is a financial boon for Cobb County, but I have some questions

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image

Looks like I was wrong about this one. Maybe.

I assumed that Cobb County was getting fully fleeced in its $300 million subsidy of the SunTrust Park. But a new report from Georgia Tech says that’s not the case. Thanks to the impact of The Battery development next to the Braves stadium, and the new investments surrounding that property, Cobb turns out to be a financial winner over a 20-year period.

The report does say that the stadium itself is a money loser for the county, if you look at that one element by itself. It’s the non-stadium development all around it that’s bringing the big benefits. See the chart below to see the 20-year fiscal impact on the county and its schools (also, you can read the full report here, as a download):

image

My questions: what about the environment?

Still, you can’t help but wonder if there was a better way. Could Cobb have gained all of this new investment (or perhaps even more) in retail and apartments and jobs through some other avenue, versus dropping $300 million into a stadium? Particularly when the stadium was built on what used to be green space?

And I have to take issue with the report’s calculation. There’s barely any mention of transportation or environmental impacts. 

It seems to ignore the potential need for the county to invest in public transportation to serve this development. It also ignores the financial impact of increased emissions from cars via traffic, which is a solid concern – researchers from Stanford University have estimated that the economic damage of carbon dioxide emissions comes out to about $220 per ton

And perhaps most importantly, there’s the lack of mention of the environmental impact through the loss of green space. Before this became The Battery and the stadium, it was forested land. That permeable surface, covered with trees, is now impermeable surface with asphalt and concrete. The potential effect on stormwater runoff and water basins is left unspoken, as is the loss of tree cover. 

It’s probably hard to put a dollar figure on the full economic value of forested green space in urban environments, but they at least deserve some consideration. From water quality protection, to reduced heat buildup, to improved air quality, the benefits are many and very real. 

I leave you with this:

image

The above is an image that got passed around a lot several years ago. It compares the city of Florence, Italy to the interchange of I-75 and I-286 in Atlanta, showing that the entire city could fit within the footprint of this interstate infrastructure. 

A striking component of the aerial photo of the interstate: a patch of dark green tree cover with a lake in it at the Northwest corner. That’s where SunTrust Park is now. The loss of that last bit of thick forest in the area is worth something. 

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The future of mobility isn't just autonomous vehicles, it's smart infrastructure

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China is trying to become an innovation hub in the autonomous vehicle sector—it is currently working on a draft bill mandating that 50% of all vehicles ...
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NFL Fans Wondering Why Super Bowl Chose Maroon 5 for Halftime Show Instead of an Atlanta Artist

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When news broke that Atlanta would host the 2019 Super Bowl, it created a hopeful chance to showcase some legendary artists from the city that have ...
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