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Transit-Oriented Development Keeps Communities Moving

October 17, 2017
This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
An artistic rendering of the transit-oriented development project at the King Memorial MARTA Station

It’s been 20 years since the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) started transform­ing the Atlanta-located Lindbergh MARTA Station into one of the country’s first transit-oriented develop­ment (TOD) projects—complete with housing, retail and rider amenities. Today, MARTA is taking this TOD project and four other stations to the next level of de­velopment.
 
MARTA officials have diligently worked on these TOD projects to not only generate fare revenue and new ridership, but to encourage local development in and around the communities where the TODs are based, said Amanda Rhein, MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit-Oriented Development and Real Estate.
 
“Our objective is definitely to provide amenities to both the people that are currently living in the com­munities as well as bring new people into the com­munities,” she said.
 
As defined by the Reconnecting America organiza­tion, TOD is a “type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and lo­cated within a half-mile of quality public transportation.” In a recent study the California Department of Transportation identified 10 po­tential benefits of TOD including an increase in public safety, which is made possible by the amount of “eyes on the street.” The study also noted reduced rates of vehi­cle miles traveled, reduced rates of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 to 3.7 tons per year for each household, and an increase to households’ disposable income— one estimate shows a household saving $3,000 to 4,000 per year— all thanks to TOD.
 
Though all of the current MARTA TOD projects are still in the negotiation or construction phase, com­munities across the region are seeing benefits already. The Avondale Estates MARTA station was named 2017 Project of the Year by the DeKalb Chamber of Com­merce. This TOD is currently under construction and will feature a pedestrian-friendly development com­prised of 378 market-rate apartments as well as 92 affordable, independent housing options for seniors and 22,000 square-feet of commercial space for fu­ture entertainment, dining and retail businesses.
 
The Avondale Estates station project sits on 7.7 acres of previously underutilized parking. The con­verted site will connect visitors and residents directly to the East Decatur Greenway PATH and a designated greenspace, creating a more walkable community, and is scheduled for completion in 2018.
 
An artistic rendering of the transit-oriented development project at the Edgewood MARTA Station
The remaining MARTA TOD projects include the King Memorial MARTA Station, a multi-story modular project—the first of its kind in Atlanta to be co-locat­ed with a transit hub; the Chamblee MARTA Station, which will include two buildings with approximately 70,000 square-feet of office space, 10,000 square-feet of retail space and 4,300 square-feet of greenspace; and the Edgewood/Candler Park MARTA Station, which will be constructed in two phases to include apartments, cultural space and street-level commer­cial space. The Arts Center MARTA station is currently in pre-development stages.
 
MARTA TOD planners work to meet these goals and encourage community involvement in a variety of ways from relying on resident feedback to partner­ing with municipalities.
“We consult with people in the communities to see what they’d like to see on the property before we en­gage a developer,” Rhein said.
 
This consultation process is typically done through the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) grant program, which incentivizes lo­cal jurisdictions to re-envision their communities as vibrant, walkable places that offer increased mobility options, encourage healthy lifestyles and provide im­proved access to jobs and services.
 
MARTA also relies heavily on buy-in from munici­palities that are home to the TOD projects. This valu­able relationship was illustrated through the planning and development of the Avondale MARTA Station. The city of Decatur and its Downtown Development Authority served as assets in identifying possible de­velopers for the project and spearheading community engagement.
 
“Through our partnership with the city of Decatur we were able to rely on their processes and staff resources to go through that selec­tion processes,” Rhein said. “They also continue to work with us to address problems as they occur on the site and with the sewer moratorium program in DeKalb County.”
 
Bringing TOD to Other Communities
For cities interested in implement­ing transit-oriented development in their communities, Rhein rec­ommends focusing on three areas to jump start development efforts: zoning, education and engagement, and public financing.
 
“Zoning is incredibly important and is entirely in control of the local municipality” she said. “One of the challenges we [transit authorities] face from the community is the resistance to have a higher amount of density at a transit station. While we understand why that apprehension exists, it’s really contingent upon the municipality to take the leadership role and educate residents on the need to have a higher densi­ty of use at our transit stations. This creates ridership that supports the transit.”
 
A municipality’s ability to make a financial contri­bution to the TOD project can also determine a proj­ect’s success, Rhein said.
 
“These TODs can be very complicated and costly on a ‘normal’ site because of the need to integrate the transit functions and make sure you have a public realm with sidewalks, plazas, parks and green space.”

To assist cities with existing or new development, MARTA has created Transit-Oriented Development Guidelines. These resources include transit station typologies for specific types of uses, densities and public spaces, which can be found at www.reconnect­ingamerica.org.
 
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