Inside City Hall: Dutch king and queen visit Atlanta Beltline

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Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail

Credit: Erin Sintos

Credit: Erin Sintos

The BeltLine has several trails that make it convenient for skating all around Atlanta. (Courtesy of Erin Sintos, with permission from Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.)

Atlanta has recently played host to a string of high-profile international visitors who come to Georgia’s Capitol to take in the city’s history and talk business with influential leaders.

Last month, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto ahead of their trip to the White House. And just last week, the first-term mayor took a stroll down Atlanta’s iconic Beltline trail with the king and queen of the Netherlands.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima joined Dickens and Atlanta Beltline CEO Clyde Higgs on the east side trail near Krog Street Market to show off the city’s 22-mile pedestrian corridor while discussing issues like affordable housing, urban mobility and climate change.

Our friend, Sam Gringlas at WABE said that as the group stopped near Shake Shack, Wilhelm-Alexander inquired about the city’s plans to install public transit along the paved loop — plans that have been up in the air as Dickens has slowly backed off the long-standing idea of installing a light rail system along the Beltline.

“Ultimately we will have transit on the Beltline as well,” Higgs told the king. “We’re still trying to identify what’s the best technology mix for the Beltline.”

“Where we’re standing here, this will be with public transit? You going to take out the trees?” Wilhelm-Alexander asked, after which Higgs assured the international visitor that a majority of the trees would be untouched.

“That’s what we’re looking at,” Dickens chimed in.

It’s unclear if the Dutch king’s question highlighted the uncertain future of public transit along the Beltline.

After Dicken’s announcement that the city will build four new MARTA infill stations across the city, the transit agency said it is still moving forward with plans to extend the east side streetcar — a project that’s seen as the first step toward installing light rail along the Beltline.

More recently, MARTA and city officials have been batting back and forth over plans to close pedestrian access to the Five Points station for years during its renovation.

Atlanta City Council is also having a work session Tuesday to review the city’s “dockless mobility” devices — such as e-scooters and bicycles. Current permits for the transportation modes expire at the end of the month unless council members renew the legislation.


The numbers on the AtlantaÕs Population Now sign located at Brookwood Valley Circle and Peachtree Road in Atlanta keeps on growing as seen here on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Atlanta is surpassing other cities in population growth. (John Spink/AJC)

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

Every five years, Atlanta goes through a meticulous process of crafting its Comprehensive Development Plan — a state-mandated document that outlines how the city’s growth will be guided through policies. Also called “Plan A,” the planning initiative tackles issues like Atlanta’s zoning codes.

Here is a good rundown from the Atlanta Civic Circle on what the plan is all about.

But the process is being challenged by environmental groups who say the city sidestepped public outreach on one of its most massive projects: the 95-acre public safety training center in unincorporated DeKalb County.

The South River Watershed Alliance — an environmental advocacy group opposed to the project ― along with other organizations filed a complaint with the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Department of Community Affairs that says Atlanta did not specify plans for the facility during early stages of the comprehensive review.

The complaint says that versions of the plans released for community input in 2021 and 2022 didn’t outline the city’s vision for 300-acres within the South River Forest that — before the training center came to fruition — was earmarked as a public park.

“What is missing from Plan A however, is documentation of the community involvement process that coincides with the decision by the City of Atlanta to destroy the last remaining 300-acre parcel of public green space in the entire city,” the complaint reads. “The importance of and commitment to South River Park is touted time and time again in 2021 CDP, Plan A as ‘our last chance for a massive urban park in the city.’”

The complaint requests that the regional commission file a lawsuit challenging the validity of Atlanta’s 2024 Comprehensive Development Plan and that the city fulfill its early plans to turn the former site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm into a public park.

If not, the organizations want the city start fresh by releasing a new plan that accurately describes the use of the land as a training center facility for public input and review.

The public safety training facility is well on its way to being finished. City officials say that it will be in full operation by December this year.


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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's City Hall reporter Riley Bunch poses for a photograph outside of Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez