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What to do with Howell Mill Road north of the Waterworks?

Dominated by a Walmart-anchored shopping center and lined with oil-change shops, Howell Mill Road just south of I-75 looks more like a suburban highway exit than a neighborhood street. But someday, residents and shoppers might stroll the area thanks to a new business-strip rezoning effort underway.

The “Howell Mill Road Redevelopment Blueprint,” an effort of the city Office of Planning and City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, aims to fulfill the longtime rezoning wishes of the Berkeley Park and Underwood Hills neighborhoods. A community meeting process kicked off late last month and should wrap up by August.

“At the end of the day, what I expect…is, we will have development regulations in place that will transform Howell Mill Road from automotive [and] fast-food [uses] to a residential corridor…more of a walkable corridor,” says city Planning Director Charletta Wilson Jacks.

Most commercial and industrial properties — not residential — within 400 feet of Howell Mill are covered. But if that type of redevelopment, already booming farther down Howell Mill, expands further, how will the narrow street handle hundreds of new residents? Transportation is not part of the “Blueprint” effort, but the city’s new infrastructure package does promise bike lanes and pedestrian improvements.

The rezoning won’t boot existing businesses or halt any in progress — including a widely loathed giant QuikTrip gas station that is still facing zoning appeals. (The “Blueprint” plan picked up steam when that controversy erupted last fall.) The idea is that, as redevelopment picks up, it will take on the mixed-use, storefront-style character of similar projects booming farther down Howell Mill. That’s been a goal of NPU-D and neighborhood associations, which have proposed various commercial rezoning ideas for about three years.

“What we had hoped to see is that good, New Urbanism development make the jump over Waterworks,” says Jim Martin, the NPU-D chairperson, referring to the booming Westside area that boasts new mixed-use developments with shops, restaurants, and condos.

Martin voiced some skepticism of the rezoning’s limited area — it’s targeting the area between I-75 and Forrest Street — and whether it will result in real changes. Planners also are looking at a wider variety of zoning options than neighbors proposed.

“It’s actually going to be rezoned,” pledged Jacks, saying she knows Atlanta already has enough go-nowhere plans that “sit on a shelf.” As for the scope, Jacks says the stretch of Howell Mill north of 75 already had a similar study, while the stretch south of the Waterworks already has a lot of rezoning already in place. “We’re still assessing that,” she adds.

Moore ponied up $20,000 to fund the Howell Mill blueprint and a similar upcoming process for the Riverside neighborhood. She tells Creative Loafing that whatever the specific zoning ends up being, it will address the local concerns about a “heavily used street with a lot of traffic, a lot of curb cuts.”

The community definitely knows what it doesn’t want there, Moore says. “[The process] is more getting to what you do want.”

The process also would make the underlying zoning more closely match the Beltline Overlay District that already covers much of the area. Intended to serve the Beltline’s planned extension in that area, the overlay also calls for a pedestrian friendly environment.

Absent more transit along Howell Mill, wider sidewalks and fewer curb cuts could mitigate some traffic issues on the already car-choked corridor. But Jacks says that there is no transportation-specific part of the plan. And nothing special is being done to mitigate it — say, by changing parking-space-to-unit ratios — in the new developments going up south of the Waterworks.

The city’s upcoming $250 million infrastructure bond package includes some items that could help out — notably including bike lanes and pedestrian improvements, along with repaving, on most of Howell Mill. Traffic signal upgrades are planned at key intersections, too. The bond package awaits City Council approval and putting its many projects into some priority order, says city spokeswoman Jenna Garland. Depending on how that shakes out, Howell Mill upgrades could come anytime between this summer and five years from now.

Meanwhile, the rezoning Blueprint marches on. The next meeting will be held on May 6 at the DeFoor Centre. Planners are also taking online comments at the project website here.

SOURCE: Creative Loafing, http://goo.gl/9jBfhW


Nia Knowles

Realtor, Community Advocate, Mother, Leader, Innovative Thinker, Idea Generator,

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