Time to re­vi­tal­ize, not ster­il­ize Cheshire Bridge

GA Voice - - Views - By Alex Wan

At a re­cent pub­lic hear­ing, a speaker de­scrib­ing Cheshire Bridge Road as “the most won­der­ful street in At­lanta” drew chuck­les from the au­di­ence. That the com­ment elicited laughs sadly cap­tures the dis­ap­point­ment many hold in how the cor­ri­dor falls far short of its real po­ten­tial.

Over a decade ago, nearby res­i­dents, busi­nesses, prop­erty own­ers and city plan­ners un­der­took a long, col­lab­o­ra­tive pub­lic process to de­sign a vi­sion for the area. Their work re­sulted in the Cheshire Bridge Road Study adopted by the city of At­lanta in 1999.

Six years later, the zon­ing changes cor­re­spond­ing to that plan were en­acted, cre­at­ing two neigh­bor­hood com­mer­cial (NC) dis­tricts along the street, but in the eight years since 2005, no more mean­ing­ful progress has been made.

Ad­mit­tedly, part is at­trib­ut­able to the eco­nomic down­turn. How­ever, an­other fac­tor, on which this leg­is­la­tion is based, is the pres­ence of “non-con­form­ing uses” in­con­sis­tent with the NC plan which pre­vents sig­nif­i­cant, trans­for­ma­tional in­vest­ments in the cor­ri­dor.

Fun­da­men­tally, I be­lieve when stake­hold­ers come to­gether and painstak­ingly craft a vi­sion for their com­mu­nity, the city should do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to help achieve that plan. Any less dis­en­fran­chises those who in­vested time, en­ergy and, im­por­tantly, hope into im­prov­ing our city, while fur­ther dis­cour­ag­ing sim­i­lar fu­ture ef­forts ev­ery­where else.

My leg­is­la­tion aims to achieve that by re­mov­ing cer­tain ob­sta­cles the city feels dis­cour­age new projects that could bring us closer to re­al­iza­tion.

Fears that the cor­ri­dor will lose its char­ac­ter are un­founded. Op­po­nents who claim th­ese ef­forts will “ster­il­ize” the area and make it more like Buck­head or sub­ur­bia demon­strate their fail­ure to un­der­stand the ba­sic NC district con­cept.

One needs look no fur­ther than to other At­lanta NC dis­tricts for bet­ter com­par­isons. Vir­ginia-High­land, East At­lanta Vil­lage, Kirk­wood and Lit­tle Five Points have clearly suc­ceeded in main­tain­ing their unique charm.

For clar­i­fi­ca­tion, lo­cal fa­vorites Heretic, Jun- gle and BJ Roost­ers lie out­side the NC bound­aries and are ex­empt from this leg­is­la­tion. None­the­less, NC dis­tricts ex­plic­itly al­low for bars and clubs, ev­i­denced by their pres­ence in those ar­eas men­tioned pre­vi­ously.

And while some warn that a sim­i­lar fate awaits th­ese es­tab­lish­ments as that of Back­street, the zon­ing dy­nam­ics in Mid­town are dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent (Spe­cial Pub­lic In­ter­est dis­tricts/ Com­mer­cial Im­prove­ment District), mak­ing it less likely for that to hap­pen here.

I have heard from those who sup­port and op­pose this leg­is­la­tion. While some are try­ing to paint this as neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the gay com­mu­nity, they would clearly be sur­prised at the large num­ber of LGBT folks who have shared with me their ex­cite­ment over the prospect of liv­ing, work­ing and play­ing near a re­vi­tal­ized cor­ri­dor con­tain­ing a broader mix of shops, restau­rants and other ameni­ties that the area really should have.

I fully ap­pre­ci­ate that even with this leg­is­la­tion, changes won’t hap­pen overnight. How­ever, I ap­pre­ci­ate that the com­mu­nity and busi­nesses that have stuck by the cor­ri­dor through thick and thin and have all waited pa­tiently — at least 14 years and count­ing — for some mean­ing­ful changes to be­gin hap­pen­ing.

This leg­is­la­tion aims to re­store their hope that their ef­forts were not in vain.

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