From Atlanta News First
By Savannah Louie
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 7:28 PM EDT
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – A solution to metro Atlanta’s growing pains has taken root at DeKalb County libraries with “productive urban landscapes,” or green spaces.
DeKalb County Super District Six Commissioner Ted Terry said six of the county’s 23 libraries have transformed their landscaping into green spaces for the community.
“We actually have a lot of space outside the library,” said Terry. “During the pandemic, there was a real emphasis on outdoor learning spaces.”
A green space contains grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While green spaces provide a range of socio-economic benefits for communities, development poses a threat to natural ecosystems.
80 percent of DeKalb County is already developed with no sign of slowing down. According to the Urban Land Institute, the Atlanta region is expanding faster than any settlement in human history.
The DeKalb green space revitalization comes at no extra cost to the community.
“We’re already spending a lot of our taxpayer money on [public landscaping], but we’re shifting it to a more ecologically and sound system,” Terry explained.
Research from NASA finds green space exposes the body to good bacteria and can help improve mood, depression, neurological behavior, and stress.
Green spaces are also associated with lower rates of crime and can reduce the cost of public services, like police protection, sewer, and road maintenance, according to DeKalb County.
“We’re shifting the paradigm. We’re creating a more organic productive landscape,” said Terry.
The landscaping project in DeKalb County is facilitated by Georgia landscaping nonprofit Roots Down. Roots Down provides opportunities for local government and businesses to improve sustainability within landscaping.
Roots Down CEO Jamie Rosenthal said the pandemic highlighted the need for activating more green space.
“People are sad. They’re riddled with anxiety, depression, mental illness – and a lot of that can be helped by being outside and connected to nature,” said Rosenthal. “Nature is one of the best healing forces on the planet.”
Rosenthal said landscaping, a $140 billion industry, holds a lot of room for improvement.
“I would say people give it really little thought,” said Rosenthal.
Productive urban landscapes, also called edible landscapes or permaculture landscapes, contain pollinators and native plants that don’t require watering. Many of the plants produce edible fruit for the public.
DeKalb County, GA — The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is moving forward with a project to redevelop the Kensington station. The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approved MARTA’s rezoning request for the property at the end of April.
The station is located at 3350 Kensington Road at the crossroads of Covington Highway and Memorial Drive. The study area includes 35 acres that currently house 1,912 surface parking spaces.
The property was rezoned from R-75 (residential medium lot-75), MR-2 (Medium Density Residential-2), and C-1 (Local Commercial) zoning districts to MU-5 (Mixed Use Very High Density) zoning district to allow a future mix of land uses to implement the Livable Centers Initiative plan and transit-oriented development goals at 3350 Kensington Road.
MARTA is working on creating a master plan for the Kensington MARTA station, which is located just outside of Avondale Estates. The master plan will direct the rezoning of the 35 acres surrounding the station and enable redevelopment from the private development community, according to the project website.
“We are grateful for the support of the DeKalb County Commission and this vital rezoning designation,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood in a press release. “We are now ready to solicit developers to work with MARTA and DeKalb to turn the undeveloped and underused property around the rail station into a community hub with affordable housing and neighborhood amenities.”
In June 2022, MARTA and the county kicked off the master planning process. The Kensington TOD Master Plan includes affordable senior and workforce housing, and a new headquarters for the Housing Authority of DeKalb County (HADC).
In the press release, Commissioner Steve Bradshaw said he has long supported MARTA and the important role the agency plays in community development.
“The Kensington TOD will provide affordable housing and other amenities while reflecting the diversity and spirit of our county and serve as a catalyst for the planned revitalization of Memorial Drive,” he said.
Representatives from the consulting firm working with MARTA presented the rezoning plans to the DeKalb Board of Commissioners on Feb. 28.
“MARTA has had a series of goals that ultimately led to this rezoning,” said Sarah McColley, urban designer at Perkins and Will. “They wanted to encourage a mixed-use walkable environment with housing, retail, office, and a new approach to parking. They want to offer a variety of housing choices at different price points, increase ridership on the MARTA system and generate revenue for MARTA, and then improve multimodal access and safety to the station and on the streets around the station.”
The county’s Livable Centers Initiative plan envisions the Kensington MARTA station as a regional center.
“In a more local view, it also can be a centralized destination for the surrounding community and the residents around it while we’re connecting to broader networks of trails and greenspaces,” McColley said.
MARTA has hosted various public engagement opportunities throughout the master planning process.
“The main themes that we heard is that making walking and biking easier and around the station is really important, that we need to add public greenspaces with recreation and space for events, offer a variety of housing types and make them affordable, adding quality retail and restaurants, including things for daily essentials, and then building a walkable mixed-use community destination,” she said.
To make the station a neighborhood gathering place, the plan and rezoning application set design parameters that address the themes.
“The first one is to create a connected street network with walkable blocks and better crossings over the tracks, redesigning the current stormwater pond into a usable public space, improving pedestrian and bike access to the station with additional access points, trails, and sidewalks, make it easier to access the bus bay from the street, creating a usable event space or park including a permanent location for Station Soccer and then testing smaller scale development types like small multifamily buildings and mixed buildings,” McColley said.
The plans for the station aim to maximize flexibility for MARTA. Perkins and Will has created three street and land use frameworks that address the design parameters and create developable blocks. In all three options, the south side of the property has a new street connection to Covington Highway, a MARTA parking deck, townhomes, and other mixed-use buildings.
For the first option, the north part of the property is arranged around a more square town green. Station Soccer would overlook the stormwater park in the northwest corner, and a series of multifamily and mixed-use buildings would overlook the town green.
The second option is more organized according to the surrounding street network.
“We have one continuous street on the north side connecting over the MARTA tracks down to Kensington Road, and then this one has a bigger town green in the center,” McColley said. “Again relocate Station Soccer to overlook the stormwater park and then the south side is consistent.”
The third option uses more of the current layout for the parking lots to organize the street network.
“[It] has a center town green that’s a little bit smaller, but because of that, we were able to fit in some smaller apartment buildings or smaller mixed-use buildings,” McColley said. “Station Soccer remains where it currently is located. Those larger mixed-use buildings overlook the green spaces and the stormwater park.”
The plan addresses parking needs, as the property currently has about 2,000 parking spaces. MARTA is looking to reduce the number of parking spaces, but new parking will be needed to accommodate the new development.
“It also expands bus service by reconfiguring the current bus bay and connecting the bus bay to the street network,” McColley said. “That allows the bus bay to be opened up to have four or five more bays, and that’s necessary because MARTA is looking to expand bus service at Kensington.”
A challenge of the land disturbance permits issued for Atlanta’s planned public safety training center has been appealed to the Superior Court of DeKalb County.
DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry filed paperwork on Wednesday against the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision that the county acted appropriately during its lengthy permit review process for the construction site.
Terry wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday morning.
DeKalb County gave the go ahead for construction to begin in January, nearly a year after Atlanta applied for land disturbance permits to build the facility.
In February, two DeKalb County residents, along with Terry, filed a formal appeal of the permits which accused the city and county of overlooking existing restrictions on sediment discharges.
But the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the challenge during a meeting in April after unanimously deciding that the county’s months-long process to issue the permits complied with all requirements, and denied a request to halt the project.
A Fulton County Judge also denied an injunction that would have pressed pause on construction prior to the zoning board’s decision.
The appeal to the Superior Court of DeKalb County argues again that the planning director for the county overlooked environmental concerns caused by additional sediment deposited into Intrenchment Creek due to construction.
“The (Zoning Board of Appeals) erred by upholding the land development permit because the proposed construction will add sediment into Intrenchment Creek in violation of state law,” the new filing reads and requests the Superior Court takes up the case for review.
DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Commission is considering raising the stormwater utility fee for residents for 2023-2025. The board deferred the vote during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 9.
The commission will discuss the fee at its next committee of the whole meeting, which is scheduled for May 16.
The residential stormwater utility fee is currently $4 per residential unit. If the proposed increase is approved, the fee will increase to $8 per month in 2023, $9 per month in 2024, and $10 per month in 2025 and for subsequent years.
The county has not increased the stormwater utility fees since 2004. The utility was created in 2003 and became operational in 2004.
“It has been almost 20 years since we’ve had a stormwater rate increase, so this is not an option,” Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said. “It is now absolutely necessary due to the cost associated with the program. However, I want everyone to be comfortable with what is happening here. I believe that before we move the item forward officially, we should have a conversation in committee as to the rollout so that the public is completely engaged and aware.”
Some of the county’s stormwater infrastructure includes many retention ponds, catch basins, storm drain pipes, ditches, culverts, headwalls, and outfalls.
“To me, it is not apparent that this fee increase will be enough to handle that entire load, but this is a good start,” Commissioner Ted Terry said. “It’s a good movement in the direction of clearing the many, many years of backlogs.”
The county needs help when it comes to stormwater infrastructure, Presiding Officer Robert Patrick added.
DeKalb’s public works and infrastructure committee recommended approval of the agenda item with a 2-1 vote on May 2. Terry voted no. Terry, Cochran-Johnson and Patrick are on the PWI committee.
Some concerns have been raised about making sure the community has an opportunity to learn more about the increase. In an email to other commissioners dated May 4, Terry said he asked for a two-week deferral to better inform the public.
“Regardless of how many discussions were had at PWI on this issue, no one from the public were in attendance at these meetings, and no other commissioners were at those meetings,” he said. “The public now knows about this agenda item simply because it was put on the agenda Tuesday, by the CEO.”
Terry added the increases could lead to sticker shock for some customers.
“Some of our largest payees of these fees are schools and churches,” Terry wrote. “And those institutions know nothing about this… but they will find out pretty quickly once they get a surprise in their tax bill mailing later this summer, amounting to thousands of dollars in unplanned for fees that will now have to be addressed mid-way through their budget years.”
DeKalb Public Works Director Richard Lemke said during the May 2 PWI committee meeting that prices have increased over the last 20 years, and the county has had a decreasing ability to maintain the stormwater system.
“We’ve got infrastructure that’s failing simply due to age,” Lemke said. “What we’re trying to do is accommodate the needs of the system and of the infrastructure and our ability to provide the maintenance that this county so badly needs on that infrastructure.”
The increased fee would allow the county to hire additional crews to perform stormwater work, such as pipe and pond maintenance.
“It is a critical item for us,” Lemke said.