The future of Atlanta’s Westside was once again in question after community residents faced off with developers over the proposal of a major high-density multi-use project, according to the Saporta Report.
In a May 24 meeting of planners, developers, and citizens, Westside residents expressed concern that many aspects of the commercial-residential project, Echo Street Communities, do not align — either in scope or affordability — with the “equitable revitalization” vision laid out in a groundbreaking community land-use plan adopted by the Atlanta City Council in December.
The Echo Street Communities project, as envisioned by developer Brock Built Homes, will cover a 17-acre site near English Avenue with a total of 1.3 million square feet of retail, commercial and office space, 650 multifamily residences, 40 townhouses, and a hotel. That is nearly double what was proposed in the Westside land-use plan, reports the Saporta Report.
The Westside Land Use Framework Plan, hammered out over two years with the input of more than 1,000 participants, was designed to strengthen the neighborhood’s assets, improve quality of life and preserve the integrity of the area’s historic identity, while at the same time encouraging resource sharing to maintain affordability and avoid displacement of legacy residents.
“The land-use framework plan … involved a lot of neighborhood associations,” said Jesse Wiles, CEO of APD Urban Planning and Management. “It recommended that this site be developed as a medium density site except for the part along Northside Drive. This plan is inconsistent with those recommendations. It’s much higher density than what was recommended.”
Residents of English Avenue (part of Atlanta’s Westside) and urban planners also pointed out the project’s lack of affordability for people currently living there. As reported in Next City, the median household income for Westside residents is $22,778. Only eight percent of Westside households own their own homes, meaning the residents are vulnerable to market whims on the rental side.
Adam Brock, from Brock Built Homes, insisted that “you need market-rate housing to create stability,” and that the company will be following government guidelines for affordable housing — 15 percent of units affordable for househods at 60 percent area median income or 20 percent affordable for households at 80 percent area medianincome. At those levels, a two-bedroom unit at market-rate rent ($1,800 a month) would cost $1,080 a month at 60 percent area median income and $1,440 a month at 80 percent. But, as the Saporta Report points out, most English Avenue residents fall between 30 percent to 40 percent area median income.
“I didn’t come up with those standards,” Brock said. “The truth is that I can’t get it to a [sic] 40 percent AMI … It’s not economically possible to build a new single-family home at that level. I’m not willing to do that.”
A number of Westside residents expressed dismay over the proposed project’s disconnect with local concerns. “You are coming to the community asking for an increase (in density), and you are giving us gentrification,” Rev. Winston Taylor said. “What is English Avenue getting out of the increase?”
Alexis Lipsitz Flippin is a writer and editor living in New York City.