As the Beltline plans to pass through Buckhead, it’s become neighbor vs. neighbor

Views of the existing Northside Trail of the Beltline surrounding Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Views of the existing Northside Trail of the Beltline surrounding Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

For the better part of the last year, the Beltline has been studying how to build its most complicated stretch, which will wind through northwest Atlanta and the southern part of Buckhead.

When finished, the segment will complete the 22-mile paved loop around the city. But Beltline officials have run into a common response from residents, neighborhoods and HOAs in Buckhead: Don’t build it on my street.

The pushback ranges from environmental concerns around Peachtree Creek to privacy worries and fears about crime, according to interviews and internal Beltline documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s a response Beltline officials aren’t used to, in part because the Northwest Trail is the only part of the Beltline that doesn’t have an existing abandoned rail corridor and predetermined route. So the Beltline’s options include traversing alongside active rail lines and cutting through neighborhoods.

ExploreBeltline to start planning for key but complex section of trail in NW Atlanta

Since revealing the possible paths, a host of residents and neighborhood groups in the southern part of Buckhead have urged selection of an option that’s further from their homes — feedback that could factor into what path is chosen.

The Peachtree Battle Alliance sent a letter to the Beltline in November opposing the option that would have the trail traverse the northern edge of Peachtree Creek, adjacent to some of the neighborhood’s single-family homes and E. Rivers Elementary School.

Residents of a townhome complex sent a petition to the Beltline urging the agency to not select an option that would run next to their patios and down their street.

And some even believe an online mapping system meant to provide feedback to the Beltline was manipulated by a handful of residents to make it seem like other neighborhoods want the path more than theirs.

“It pitted neighbor against neighbor and community against community,” said Caldwell Zimmerman, the president of the Springlake Civic Association, one of the neighborhoods where the future Beltline could pass through. “Certain streets were against each other.”

ExploreAtlanta Beltline news and updates from the AJC
Combined ShapeCaption
Part of the Northside Trail of the Beltline surrounding Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Part of the Northside Trail of the Beltline surrounding Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Part of the Northside Trail of the Beltline surrounding Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Not all feedback is negative. Zimmerman’s neighborhood didn’t take an official position on the issue, in part because opinions within the community are mixed.

“I hear conversations on both sides,” Beltline CEO Clyde Higgs said in an interview. “Some are just very powerful about making sure that we get the Beltline connected. Some (say), ‘Hey we love the Beltline, but could you take it in a different direction?”

Buckhead neighbors stressed that they support the Beltline, see the path as an amenity, and are simply taking advantage of the rare chance to provide feedback on where it should go next.

In other neighborhoods, especially those that have historically seen a lack of investment from the city, many have viewed the Beltline as welcome development, though worries about gentrification, residential displacement and affordability have loomed large.

In Buckhead, “most concerns centered around potential disruptions of the tranquility of their neighborhoods, as well as there being too many barriers to successfully complete either of those corridors,” a Beltline community engagement manager wrote in a late February email, summarizing comments received from residents who live just east of the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

Beltline officials are expected to reveal their preferred choice for the trail during a Thursday meeting.

‘Tale of two cities’

The Beltline hopes to build the remainder of the Northwest Trail by the end of the decade, extending from both ends of an existing 1-mile Beltline trail that runs near Tanyard Creek and Bobby Jones. It is working with the PATH Foundation to study the area and determine the most feasible path.

Beltline officials say they have held 15 individual neighborhood meetings, four study group meetings and conversations with individual stakeholders, like businesses and land owners.

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A map created by the Beltline shows all of the possible routes for the Northwest Trail.

Credit: Atlanta Beltline

A map created by the Beltline shows all of the possible routes for the Northwest Trail.

Credit: Atlanta Beltline

Combined ShapeCaption
A map created by the Beltline shows all of the possible routes for the Northwest Trail.

Credit: Atlanta Beltline

Credit: Atlanta Beltline

In many northwest Atlanta neighborhoods, including Underwood Hills and Blandtown, residents are mostly eager for the Beltline to eventually come through, internal Beltline documents show.

But crossing I-75 into Buckhead, it becomes “a tale of two cities,” the Beltline community engagement manager wrote. Residents in Springlake “expressed deep concerns about the Beltline being too disruptive to their community and upsetting the tranquil environment of Springlake Park and the surrounding community overall.”

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The space behind the Townegate Townhome being considered for a possible future Beltline trail. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The space behind the Townegate Townhome being considered for a possible future Beltline trail. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
The space behind the Townegate Townhome being considered for a possible future Beltline trail. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Zimmerman, the neighborhood president there, said the true sentiment of residents is more nuanced. The neighborhood association surveyed over a hundred residents, about half of whom were in favor of the Beltline coming through. Folks who live closest to the proposed path were more likely to be opposed.

“It’s happening right in their front yard and potentially changes the character of the neighborhood,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know anyone in our neighborhood who doesn’t like the Beltline. When it’s coming through your neck of the woods, it becomes sort of a tougher decision.”

It’s a similar story in Peachtree Battle, just east of Bobby Jones. To get from the golf course across Peachtree Road to the Peachtree Hills neighborhood, the Beltline is considering three different options.

ExploreHardest part saved for last: Plans begin for Beltline northwest trail

Peachtree Battle residents who live closest to two of those potential corridors oppose those options “based on the negative environmental impacts and misalignment with (the Beltline’s) stated mission of improving property values and economic opportunity,” resident Chuck Tilis said in a statement.

Juan Johnson, a board member for the Peachtree Battle Alliance, said his neighbors feel the option located furthest south, which would traverse along Bennett Street, provides the chance for more economic development. That path would be closer to more commercial and multifamily properties, rather than the single-family homes closer to the creek.

During a December meeting with Peachtree Battle residents, feedback included environmental, privacy and safety concerns for neighbors and the nearby elementary school, according to a Beltline document summarizing the meeting.

“E. Rivers safety concerns expressed and for safety and security of adjacent homeowners (even within a gated community),” the document stated.

Homeowners in Buckhead had similar concerns about security in 2015, when PATH was previously building public trails in the area, according to news reports. But since then, the trails in the area have not become hotspots for crime, police data shows, and residents said they are a popular amenity.

On the other side of Peachtree Creek, townhome and condominium complexes line Peachtree Memorial Drive, which juts off of Peachtree Road. One of the possible Beltline options would traverse a narrow strip of land between the Townegate Townhomes and the creek bed, before turning and going down the street.

Residents there said they are also worried about the impact on parking, privacy and the environment.

“We’re just a quiet, dead-end street with older condos here,” said Robin Sickle, a resident on Peachtree Memorial. “I feel like we were snowballed.”

The Peachtree Memorial corridor was announced as a possible option in late January, months after the others were disclosed. The Beltline said that’s because of environmental and feasibility concerns with the remaining options, and calls from surrounding residents to explore additional routes.

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A Beltline rendering shows the proposed trail next between the Townegate Townhomes and Peachtree Creek in Buckhead. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A Beltline rendering shows the proposed trail next between the Townegate Townhomes and Peachtree Creek in Buckhead. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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A Beltline rendering shows the proposed trail next between the Townegate Townhomes and Peachtree Creek in Buckhead. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Some neighbors along the newly released corridor feel the Beltline hasn’t done enough to listen to their concerns, and have filed multiple Open Records Requests seeking more information about their plans, including communication between Beltline officials and other neighborhoods.

Higgs said the agency has done “extraordinary engagement,” and is doing what it can to listen to residents. The Beltline has stressed it is still in the early planning stages for the Northwest Trail, and even after a preferred path is announced, it’s still subject to change. And as planners field a range of responses from residents, it’s unlikely the final decision will make everyone happy.

“We’ve always been in this mindset that we make decisions not necessarily on the next five months,” Higgs said, “but what is going to be good for the health of our city for the next five decades.”