Beltline acts as magnet for first-time buyers, others

In the past several years, intowners who have bemoaned the city’s congested streets have watched as the Atlanta Beltline has gone from a schematic to a reality, creating a ring of paths.

When finished, that will give joggers, walkers, cyclists and skateboarders a way to connect to more than 40 city neighborhoods without getting in a car. Along the way are pocket parks, playgrounds and green spaces that bring a bit of nature into the urban environment. A future component is a transportation network that will intersect existing transit services.

The Beltline also has a housing component that allows buyers to live directly along the route. That immediate access has been a draw for many area developers who realize the appeal of having an instant and unique amenity. The result has been a profusion of apartment, condo, townhouse and mixed-use projects in Grant Park, Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, Westside and Buckhead.

Jay Clark, owner of Southeast Capital, has added two rental complexes along the Beltline, and he’s now eyeing property off North Avenue for condominiums.

“That was an easy living area before the Beltline, with plenty of grocery stores, restaurants and Midtown offices within a few miles,” Clark said. “Now with the Beltline, it will be even easier to connect to Piedmont Park and Buckhead.”

Real estate agents are seeing a renewed interest in single-family homes in neighborhoods where the Beltline passes through. Agent Derrick Duckworth of Area West Realty gets inquiries about properties around the Beltline from buyers as far away as Denver and Toronto.

“Buyers coming from out of town are really intrigued by it,” Duckworth said. “They like the transit possibilities and the walkability — the idea that you can have complete communities where you can walk to MARTA and shopping. There’s a whole shift nationally to that, and it’s bringing buyers who think about the Beltline.”

For Duckworth, the biggest demand for Beltline properties has been in Old Fourth Ward, Collier Hills, Ardmore Park and Berkeley Park, but other once-overlooked areas are also getting attention.

“The southwest neighborhoods are starting to come back, too,” Duckworth said. “Some of them — Adair Park, Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, Oakland City and Westview — have inventory that was inexpensive in the first place, which makes them attractive to first-time buyers. Prices vary from $25,000 for something that needs work to $165,000. There are nice Craftsmans in Adair Park, West End and Westview; Capitol View Manor has brick Tudors.”

The attention the Beltline is bringing to older neighborhoods is no surprise to Charletta Wilson Jacks, who directs the city of Atlanta’s Office of Planning.

“Part of the activity we’re seeing is the Beltline, and part of it is the market in general,” Jacks said. “We’re benefiting from both. But there’s no question the Beltline is the prime place to develop.”

Jacks’ team of planners established 10 master plans for Beltline sections that laid out the guidelines of land use and zoning to fit the kind of development the communities around it wanted to see. They’re now in the process of proactively rezoning parcels of land to fit that vision, so developers can get their projects going more quickly.

“In some cases, the new zoning is even tighter than what it usually might be,” Jacks said. “We have rules and requirements that restrict uses, call for more green space and even specify how a project should look. We’ve tightened it up to ensure the vision for that area is in the new zoning.”

As a result, buyers won’t find a condo or townhouse property next to an industrial warehouse. Instead, new developments are designed to encourage people to use the Beltline.

“That may include high-rises and some commercial properties with active uses on the lower levels,” Jacks said. “And we are not opposed to single-family residential, either. But we don’t want to see something like self-storage facilities; there’s no activity there. We’d like more retail, more live-work-play developments that will help people get out and enjoy the Beltline.”

Those elements are precisely the reason buyers have put their names on waiting lists at several projects, such as the Highland Park Townhomes on Highland Avenue. The 5.5-acre site, developed by John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, abuts the Beltline. When completed, the community will have 58 units with 2,100 to 3,600 square feet; custom finishes such as hardwood floors throughout, Silestone counters and Carrara marble; and two-car garages. Almost half the townhouses have porches overlooking the trail; some have fourth-floor terraces and elevator options. Prices are from the mid-$400,000s to the high $600,000s.

“It’s been hugely popular with empty nesters coming in from the suburbs,” said agent Tina Wiggins. “We have access to the Beltline from our property; the sidewalk stops just short of the trail. Having that and the walkability of the Inman Park neighborhood is a huge draw.”

While some projects qualify as upscale, others fall into the affordable range. James Alexander, the Beltline’s housing policy and development manager, said offering options to low- and middle-income buyers has always been part of the Beltline’s vision.

“We’ve established a program of incentives for builders to build affordable housing,” he said. “Our goal is to continue on having affordable housing be a part of the Beltline.”

Alexander points to the Lofts at Reynolds Crossing, where prices average $150,000, as a good example. But many buyers were able to secure down payment assistance that made living there financially realistic. Having that assistance is making the Beltline a magnet for first-time buyers. The city’s InvestAtlanta office offers three options for buyers, said Frank George, the homeownership manager:

  • Neighborhood Lift: Buyers can get up to $15,000 toward a down payment, and if they stay in the property for five years, the full amount is forgiven. Income guidelines apply: For a two-person household, the maximum income is $59,250; for singles, $51,850. The deadline to apply for this program is Feb. 28.
  • Home Atlanta 4.0: This grant gives buyers back 5 percent of the amount of their loan and is forgiven at the closing table. The maximum income for a two-person household is $72,100; singles, $63,100.
  • The Atlanta Affordable Homeownership Program: This gives buyers $10,000 in down-payment assistance, provided they remain in the property for five years. Maximum income for a two-person household is $41,200; singles, $36,050.

It's possible, George pointed out, that Beltline buyers could qualify for all three programs. Details and applications are online at www.investatlanta.com; 404-614-8280.