UPDATE: Neighborhood associations vote to support Portman’s Amsterdam Walk redevelopment

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)

Update Tuesday, May 14

The boards of the Morningside Lenox Park Association (MLPA) and Virginia-Highland (Va-Hi) Civic Association voted Monday to support Portman’s plans to redevelop Amsterdam Walk. Their recommendations of support will be considered by NPU-F on Wednesday, May 15.

The boards’ recommendations include support for Portman’s rezoning application for the site and the developer’s request for a land use amendment to the city’s comprehensive development plan.

The vote to support includes 39 zoning conditions, such as Portman’s agreement to scale back the size of the office building and apartment high rise.

At the MLPA meeting, Mike Greene asked board members to not consider his or Portman’s stances against light rail on the Beltline as part of the Amsterdam Walk rezoning vote.

He also acknowledged his and the company’s participation with the Better Atlanta Transit coalition to lobby city officials to squash the light rail project and look at other transit options, like bikes, scooters, bus rapid transit, and autonomous vehicles.

The public was invited to both board meetings – MLPA was online and Va-Hi was online and in-person. Beltline transit was not a major point of discussion at either meeting.

Most people at both meetings raised ongoing concerns about the number of apartments and traffic.

The Va-Hi Civic Association put out this information sheet that explains why the board supported the project despite so much vocal opposition to the project.

Original Story

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 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 also a founder of the streetcar and light rail opposition group Better Atlanta Transit (BAT).

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.”

Mark Arnold is an architect who has lived in Virginia-Highland since 1996. He also supports the redevelopment of Amsterdam Walk with higher density because of its proximity to the Beltline and Piedmont Park. But not by a developer that wants to take away transit — the key component of Ryan Gravel’s Georgia Tech master’s thesis that is now one of the country’s largest urban revitalization projects.

“I don’t think any of the new projects that are increasing density under the guise of the Beltline overlay district should be allowed to continue forward unless there’s a firm and real commitment to the transit component,” Arnold 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. Most of the right-of-way along the 22-mile Beltline loop around the city’s urban core has been purchased for light rail transit. Voters approved a sales tax in 2016 to fund light rail.

Now that developers have miles of “beachfront property,” and the building of light rail is about to begin, they don’t want transit, Arnold said. Projects like Amsterdam Walk should not be allowed to move forward without the promise of light rail and city leaders should not “kowtow to the NIMBYism,” Arnold said.

“Their backyard came with the promise that there will be transit on the Beltline. And that’s what we should have,” he said.

Portman scales back plans

Portman agreed 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 1.18 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

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.

An Atlanta Beltline Inc. spokesperson said in a written statement transit is still planned along the stretch of the future Northeast Trail of the Beltline adjacent to Amsterdam Walk now under construction. She did not specify what kind of transit.

A transit stop has also been identified to serve this “activity center,” she said.

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

The site plan for the Amsterdam Walk redevelopment shows the pink arrow for the planned Beltline trail and the blue dotted line for future Beltline transit. (Image courtesy Portman)

Mike Greene said Portman’s site plan for the Amsterdam Walk redevelopment includes space for the light rail system as required in the RFQ.

“There is a transportation corridor that was specifically preserved by the Beltline when they decided that this parcel was no longer necessary. So [the project] is not replacing any transportation corridor,” he said.

He said he and his company don’t think the streetcar extension to the Eastside Trail is a wise use of money city taxpayer money. The streetcar would hurt established businesses on the Beltline — including Portman’s Junction Krog District on Auburn Avenue — by blocking the crowds of pedestrians from entering their doors.

Greene does want future residents of the planned redevelopment of Amsterdam Walk to be able to use the Beltline other than just by walking or cycling. But there are less intrusive and more modern options than light rail, he said. And building transit in a circle around the city also doesn’t seem wise when there is a need for an east-west connector, he said.

He said he looks forward to what the Beltline Transit Study says.

“I mean, [Beltline transit] is based on a master’s thesis,” Greene said. ” It’s like, what’s the coolest, craziest thing I can come up with? And how might it work?

“What got implemented was a trail system … and I don’t think anybody fully appreciated the success of the actual trail system like that,” he said.

“I’m not doing anything unethical. I’m not doing anything that is borne out of anything other than the best intentions for trying to get the best system for the city of Atlanta. That’s it,” he said. “And I have questions about whether or not building that rail system is the best system for the city of Atlanta moving forward into the future.”

#UPDATE #Neighborhood #associations #vote #support #Portmans #Amsterdam #Walk #redevelopment

Leave a Reply

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