MARTA, go west (of Ga. 400)

When the enemy — in this case, big-city transit — seems intent on invading your neighborhood, you can bet the opposition will be out in force.

That’s how it started, at least, when MARTA held an information session on a potential rail expansion north on Ga. 400. About 100 local residents packed the meeting room at Dunwoody Community Church. It was standing room only.

Before the transit agency made its presentation, the locals, most of them older residents, streamed past maps that showed a potential route along the east side of Ga. 400, with stations placed at Northridge Road and all the way to Windward Parkway.

Curiosity tempered by skepticism ruled the day. Concern furrowed brows. A few breathed fire. Some comments were impossible not to overhear:

“Do we need to move?”

“I want to know who to throw out of office.”

“I thought we took a vote and soundly defeated tax money for this.”

Before the introductions even started, it sounded like a MARTA massacre.

Then MARTA representatives took the stage. The transit agency, they explained, is looking to expand in three corridors: North on Ga. 400; on Clifton Road to Emory University; and I-20 to Stonecrest Mall. They told the audience that, while a study process was under way, the agency has no money for any of this. Nothing is etched in stone. Any expansion in these parts is at least 10 years out.

“We got a long way to go, folks,” said Janide Sidifall, a MARTA senior project manager.

Some wished they would just go. They weren’t buying what MARTA was saying.

“You (MARTA) are in favor of this,” one fellow said as a microphone was passed around. “You are trying to pitch this to us. And we’re telling you that we don’t want it.”

Another man: “People in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody want to live in the suburbs. People want to drive out here. So fix the roads!” (Applause).

But as the meeting wore on and more residents spoke, another picture began to emerge, one that wasn’t so black and white.

It seems many residents’ opposition is really opposition to a rail line running up the east side of Ga. 400, a heavy residential stretch that includes a number of schools. Nobody wants that, they said. And yet, that’s what MARTA’s early preliminary plans showed. Cue the pushback.

Some voiced support for MARTA expanding along Ga. 400 if it ran up the more commercial west side, thus saving their neighborhoods and providing easier transit access to businesses on Roswell Road and folks living in east Cobb County.

“I think that they need to have MARTA come north,” Nancy Lesser, a consultant and Sandy Springs mom, told me later. “The congestion is terrible on 400. It does need to go out to the northern suburbs, Holcomb Bridge in particular, and the technology sector in Alpharetta. They need access. That said, going up the east side is a really bad idea.”

Lesser is especially opposed to any station at Northridge Road near two elementary schools. “(A MARTA station) is easy access to the children for strangers and easy access back out. Strangers close to our schools is not what we need in the neighborhood.”

John Mason, a Sandy Springs real estate agent, lives in a house “35 feet” from the Ga. 400 right-of-way where an east line expansion would run. As a real estate professional, he sees both sides to the debate.

“From a seller’s perspective, if you are going to be close to a MARTA rail line, it definitely would impact your property value in a negative way,” Mason said. “But there are a lot of younger people or people that come from cities like I did – Chicago, Boston or New York — who are used to using mass transit and would like to be close to a MARTA station.

“I just placed a Georgia State professor from Phoenix into a home in Dunwoody,” Mason said, “where he could be within short driving distance of the MARTA station at Dunwoody. So there are advantages in property values that are close to MARTA, but negative property values if it’s right along the track or next to a station. It’s a double-edged sword. But I do believe it would benefit a lot of people if (MARTA) crossed over 400 to the west side.”

MARTA reps reminded residents to provide feedback, and that nothing — east side or west side — had been determined.

That didn’t convince one man who said he knew neighbors who couldn’t sell homes because of MARTA’s too-early projected maps up the east side.

“If you haven’t picked a spot, don’t show a spot,” he said. “Listen to us, keep up the good work, and move it to the west side.”

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