MARTA halts proposed Oakland City transit-oriented development project

Wednesday March 23, 2016 02:06 pm EDT

Transit-oriented development has been a key part of MARTA CEO Keith Parker's plan to boost revenues and increase ridership. Work is underway on TOD projects at five other stations: King Memorial, Edgewood-Candler Park, Brookhaven, Arts Center, and Avondale Estates. 

Six companies initially made on-site visits to consider the project but only one, Prestwick Companies, submitted a proposal. Amanda Rhein, the senior director of the TOD division, says the agency ultimately decided that Prestwick Companies' pitch for "wasn't in MARTA's best interest or the communities' best interests." MARTA's board of directors formally canceled the solicitation for bids and rejected the proposal on March 3. 

Rhein says the Atlanta-based developer had proposed building all affordable housing on the southwest Atlanta site with "very little retail." Based on feedback collected in 2014 and a recent planning process to update the area's Livable Centers Initiative, Rhein says, it "was clear that what the community wanted at the MARTA station was higher density, mixed-use with neighborhood-serving amenities, as well as market-rate housing." A phone message with Prestwick was not immediately returned. 

The Oakland City stop is in the middle of a ZIP code that was hard hit by mortgage fraud and foreclosures before and during the Great Recession. Despite the potential redevelopment of Fort McPherson — well, the acreage not sold to Tyler Perry — and construction of the Atlanta Betlline's nearby Westside Trail, along with new investment in surrounding neighborhoods, making the math work to build market-rate housing in the area is currently difficult without public subsidies. Rhein says developers "are going to need to see more activity and implementation before they can develop a project" that the community wants to see.

"Stations on the south and west lines are more of a challenge to get a TOD project underway," Rhein says. "It's still a priority. In order to make that happen it's going to require a lot of partnerships. In some instances we need to be more patient. I'm hopeful we'll figure out how to be the catalyst. But at least for now it's not going to happen at Oakland City. I want to be clear it's going to be something we are going to pursue and try to work on a consistent basis, it's just going to be difficult."

Alan Holmes, an Oakland City resident who serves on the city's Code Enforcement Commission, says he was disappointed in the news but he respects MARTA's decision. He says it is smarter to wait for the right proposal for the area, which he says has an ample supply of affordable housing and needs a mix of incomes. Holmes adds that the city must do more to tackle blight in the area. He says the high number of vacant homes nearby was cited as a reason so few submitted a proposal.

"They showed sound judgment in deciding against the only bid put forward," Holmes says. "The City of Atlanta in many cases (like Fort McPherson) decides to move forward on bad redevelopment projects just because they might receive one or very few bids. I am pleased that MARTA operates much differently. No development is better than the wrong development." 

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