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Beltline passes City Council, but hurdles remain

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For several weeks, neighborhood activists grumbled that the city was putting the cart before the horse while deciding whether to fund the Beltline, a proposed 22-mile loop of transit, greenways, and paths that circle intown Atlanta.

But on Nov. 7, just before Atlanta City Council voted 12-3 to approve the funding mechanism for the Beltline, Cary Aiken of the Beltline Neighbors Coalition stood before the Council and praised some 11th-hour changes to the legislation.

Amendments added on Nov. 1 eased most critics' fears that the city was moving ahead gung-ho on the legislation without considering safeguards against the rampant development that could accompany the project. For example, one amendment calls for the creation of an advisory committee that will make recommendations to the Atlanta Development Authority, the agency that will oversee the Beltline's construction.

Several intown groups, including the Beltline Neighbors Coalition and Neighborhood Planning Unit-W, had complained that Beltline boosters were asking the city to approve funding for the $2 billion project without seeking enough input from the community. And the groups worried that approving the project would leave single-family neighborhoods vulnerable to development such as the two 38- and 39-story condo towers proposed for the corner of 10th Avenue and Monroe Drive.

But there was not much grumbling from critics or the majority of Council after the amended legislation passed.

Council approved the creation of what's called a tax allocation district, which generates revenue through incremental growth of the appraised value of commercial properties adjacent to the Beltline; a TAD does not involve increases in property taxes.

The TAD is projected to raise $1.6 billion of the Beltline's estimated $2.6 billion cost. The remaining funds will come from federal transportation dollars and private fundraising, according to the Atlanta Development Authority. If the Beltline is built, it will connect 46 neighborhoods, link to MARTA, and add 1,401 acres of park space to the city.

"By passing this TAD," Councilman Lee Ivory Young said shortly before the vote, "the city is in the driver's seat of this transit proposal, not developers."

Council members Natalyn Archibong, Felicia Moore and Clarence T. Martin voted against the TAD, saying they wanted more time to study the proposal and address what they saw as some of the Beltline's shortcomings. Those three Council members voted in favor of a motion to send the legislation back to the Community Development Committee -- a move that essentially would have killed the Beltline's prospects.

With one major obstacle cleared, the Beltline TAD legislation will go before the Fulton County Commission and the Atlanta City School Board for approval.

The Fulton Commission likely will be a difficult hurdle for the Beltline, mainly because of the historically strained relationship between City Hall and the more conservative members of the commission.

Neither the school board nor the commission had scheduled a vote on the Beltline TAD as CL went to press.

For more info on the Beltline, visit www.beltline.org.

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