City touts possible eastern Buckhead projects for $700M infrastructure funds, but cityhood’s effect is unknown

City officials touted a list of Northeast Atlanta street, parks and public safety projects at a Nov. 18 meeting as part of a question put a new, $700 million infrastructure bond and transportation sales tax on the May 2022 ballot. But they had no answers as to what happens to the funding and local projects if Buckhead cityhood is also approved by voters, which could happen later that year.

Potential projects including funding to complete the PATH 400’s multiuse trail to the Sandy Springs city limit, a new parking deck in Chastain Park, and improvements to dozens of other local parks and streets. The list, however, is not set in stone, and removing Buckhead from the equation is a much larger unknown.

Asked about cityhood’s impacts by Buckhead.com, City Deputy Chief Operating Officer LaChandra Butler Burks said the question is “one that, as we were putting this together, we did not think through because it is our hope that Buckhead will stay as part of the City of Atlanta.” After being asked about cityhood more than once in recent weeks, she added, officials realize they do need to “think it through.”

An overview of potential projects in Northeast Atlanta that could be funded by a new infrastructure bond and transportation special local option sales tax. Credit: City of Atlanta

Doug Nagy, the City’s deputy commissioner of transportation, struck an empathetic note, saying his planners know and care about the area. He said that “our aspiration is that the city stays intact and that we move forward together.”

Cityhood’s potential impacts on Atlanta’s tax revenue, municipal bond ratings and the Atlanta BeltLine infrastructure project are already major points of contention. The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee has said it will provide fuller answers with a draft budget coming within 90 days or so. “Buckhead City” backers are attempting to gain the General Assembly’s approval to put the cityhood question on the November 2022 ballot.

Atlanta is in year five of an existing transportation special local option sales tax (TSPLOST) and the Renew Atlanta infrastructure bond program. Both sources have been used to execute a wide variety of projects, from street improvements to public art. They also have been controversial for slow pace and confusing, changing project lists.

The City aims to essentially extend those programs with a $400 million infrastructure bond and a 0.4% TSPLOST estimated to be worth $300 million. The City wants to put both questions on the spring 2022 primary election ballot, which likely will be held in May, officials say.

A map of potential parks and public safety improvements from the bond and TSPLOST. Credit: City of Atlanta

To do that, City officials need approval of the City Council, which they hope to get Dec. 6 following Dec. 1 hearings before the Finance/Executive and Transportation committees.

In advance of council hearings, the City is holding a series of virtual meetings to promote a tentative project list for each quadrant. Northeast Atlanta includes eastern Buckhead, as split roughly along Roswell and Peachtree roads. Northwest Atlanta, including western Buckhead, will be the subject of virtual meetings Nov. 22 at noon and 6 p.m. accessible on Zoom at bit.ly/2ZXYHKF.

In the Nov. 18 Northeast quadrant meeting, officials said they intend for the funding to make a dent in an estimated $3 billion in infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. Spending would focus on four areas: “subpar conditions” at public safety facilities like fire stations; a backlog of repairs at parks; outdated street designs that don’t take pedestrian safety into account; and installing new sidewalks and repairing existing ones, in what Nagy said might be the City’s biggest such investment in its history.

For Northeast Atlanta, the list features improvements to 22 park facilities and 20 transportation projects, including about 14 miles of sidewalk repairs, 10 miles of new sidewalks, and 17 miles of “major street projects.”

A map of potential street and sidewalk improvements from the bond and TSPLOST. Credit: City of Atlanta

Among other projects in the Buckhead area could be “safe streets” improvements to Lenox Road, Maple Drive and Sidney Marcus Boulevard; and sidewalk installations on Lenox, Roswell, Peachtree-Dunwoody and West Wieuca/Wieuca roads.

However, there is no final or permanent project list, said Burks, nor is one needed to get the bond and TSPLOST questions on the ballot. City officials created the lists based on internal analyses, they said, and are still changing them based on feedback from city councilmembers.

In practice, the public appears to have little influence over the lists at this point, with the meetings functioning primarily as advertising to promote the effort to get the funding questions on the ballot. The Nov. 18 meeting had a brief question-and-answer period, but no opportunity to directly change the project list or create a new one. Burks said the PowerPoint-style presentations from the meetings likely will be posted online somewhere, but indicated that recordings of the meetings will not be.