Portman’s Amsterdam Walk development proposal met with opposition over light rail stance

The Atlanta Beltline adjacent to Amsterdam Walk and Piedmont Park is now being built. This sign says ‘The Carriage Trail/Northeast Trail from the Evelyn Street Bridge to the Beltline Transit Trail is closed construction.’ (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

Some Virginia-Highland and Morningside residents want to see Amsterdam Walk redeveloped. But they say they won’t support Portman Holdings’ proposal to do so because the prominent developer is against light rail on the Atlanta Beltline.

Amsterdam Walk, a small-scale retail district, sits on roughly 10 acres of property that fronts the Beltline and connects Piedmont Park to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

It is also located between the two high-profile neighborhoods where a battle has brewed for months over Portman’s plans to raze the existing structures to build a large mixed-use development, including hundreds of apartments.

“It’s an old grouping of warehouses and it would benefit the neighborhoods to have that rebuilt,” said Kay Stephenson, a 26-year Virginia-Highland resident, who said she was only speaking for herself and not as a member of any group.

“We do need more density. There’s no question about that. We need housing and we especially need affordable housing,” she said. “That’s where density makes sense — if you’re on the BeltLine, where we’re going to have transit.”

Portman is one of Atlanta’s most prominent developers. Company officials, including Senior Vice President Mike Greene, are outspoken critics of extending the Atlanta streetcar from Downtown to the Eastside Trail.

The company is a founder and member of the light rail opposition group Better Atlanta Transit (BAT). The group of some of the city’s most influential business and civicl leaders have apparently succeeded in getting Mayor Andre Dickens to pause before spending $230 million of city taxpayer money to build the streetcar extension.

Stephenson said she has talked with neighbors in her community and they agree it makes no sense for Portman, or any developer, to build a large project on the Beltline and not support light rail transit.

“It was clear to me Portman was going to try and kill transit,” Stephenson said. “Transit on the Beltline is the linchpin that makes it work. I just don’t see any way for the Amsterdam Walk development to work if everybody is coming and going from it in a car.”

Portman scales back plans

Portman did agree to scale back its proposal after lengthy negotiations with members of the Virginia-Highland and Morning-Lenox Park neighborhood associations.

The property, owned by Halpern, is currently zoned commercial and allows for 750,000 square feet of commercial and about 300,000 square feet of residential.

Portman’s downsized project is now proposed at 1.24 million square feet, down from 1.49 million square feet. Portman shaved off 250,000 square feet from nonresidential buildings and 60,000 square feet from residential buildings.

The original rendering of Amsterdam Walk redevelopment presented to neighborhoods last fall. (Image courtesy SOM)
The revised, and smaller, illustration of the Amsterdam Walk redevelopment. (Image courtesy SOM)

The reduction in the office building size is expected to cut traffic to the development by about 40%. A Portman traffic study estimated the new project at its original size would add 4,000 cars a day to notoriously congested Monroe Drive.

The 13-story office building is now planned at eight stories and the 17-story apartment high rise is now at 15 stories.

There are 840 units planned instead of the original 900. The project still has 1,400 parking spaces that would be shared between residential and commercial users. Some of the parking would be underground, but there would also be parking decks surrounded by the buildings.

Portman also agreed to include more open space, fund some traffic calming measures and follow design elements the neighborhoods wanted.

The Virginia-Highland planning committee agreed last week to support the project with the new conditions and smaller size. Both neighborhood groups are expected to vote today, May 13, on the proposed project.

Their recommendations are then slated to be considered at the May 15 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit F, which will then be forwarded to the Atlanta City Council.

Delivering transit on the Beltline

Mark Arnold is an architect who has lived in Virginia-Highland since 1996. He said the square footage of Portman’s plans for the redevelopment of Amsterdam Walk is not the primary issue.

“I’m all for increased density. I’m not against the Amsterdam Walk project out of hand, but I think it’s got to be done hand-in-hand with delivering the transit component of the Beltline,” he said.

Neighborhoods that border the BeltLine had their zoning changed to accommodate transit oriented density because of the promise of light rail transit on the BeltLine, he said.

Now that developers have miles of “beachfront property,” they don’t want transit, and developments like Amsterdam Walk should not be allowed to move forward without the promise of light rail, he said

As part of the Amsterdam Walk redevelopment, Portman is under contract to buy 2.4 acres of city-owned land near the future segment of the Beltline’s Northeast Trail now under construction.

Atlanta Beltline Inc. put out the request for proposal for a company to buy and redevelop the surplus land in 2021. The RFQ says the land was being sold “to further ABI’s goals for affordable housing, job creation and economic development at a scale that is transit-supportive.”

Portman’s agreement with ABI, if the redevelopment project is eventually approved by the city council, is to include 20% affordable housing and some affordable rents for retail tenants.

Light rail along this section of the Beltline was pushed to 2035 or later when the More MARTA project list was reprioritized.

An Atlanta Beltline Inc. spokesperson said in a written statement transit is still planned, but did not specify what kind of transit.

“Specific to Amsterdam Walk, adjacent to the current Northeast Trail Segment 1 construction between Monroe Drive to Westminster Drive, transit implementation is within Tier 2 of the MoreMARTA program and a transit stop has been identified to serve this activity center.

#Portmans #Amsterdam #Walk #development #proposal #met #opposition #light #rail #stance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *