Controversial transformation of Morland Plaza moving forward – SaportaReport

Written by John Roach

A controversial transformation of the sprawling Moreland Plaza strip hub in southeast Atlanta is moving ahead despite community objections that the plan is too car-centric.

The Empire Communities mixed-use redevelopment of the 30-acre site on Moreland Street and Custer includes 673 residential units and 19,500 square feet of commercial space. The city approved a site scheme in June and most recently a “consolidated development plan” for a two-phase construction that has yet to be scheduled, starting with the residential part.

Latest site plan for the Empire Communities redevelopment of the Moreland Plaza Sector Center. (Photo from file with the Town Planning Department.)

The plan runs counter to the community’s vision – set forth in a 2008 study – which calls for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use centers with new street and park networks.

“The approval of this plan represents many missed opportunities for Southeast Atlanta,” said Ronald Lall, president of Neighborhood Planning Unit W (NPU-W). “Lost is a true mixed-use development, which could have had a positive socio-economic impact on the region by providing needed services, jobs and business ownership opportunities in an underserved area. Lost is an opportunity for urban design and infrastructure that is forward-looking, climate responsible, and an essential component of the region.”

Lal says the approvals show that the city’s administrative permit process, through which the project was approved, has “completely failed and must be replaced”.

The Department of Town Planning said that it had hands tied in connection with the 2008 community vision because it was not specifically added to the zoning code for the area, particularly in a way that ties it to the site plan. The study was conducted by the Atlanta Regional Committee (ARC), which these days includes detailed zoning proposals in such studies.

Empire did not respond to a request for comment.

NPU-W has been baffled by Moreland Plaza’s plans since last year, when another owner and developer proposed another—albeit smaller—car-oriented concept. Then came the Empire’s plan earlier this year. After agitation from NPU-W in particular, Empire modified its plan, reducing the number of condominiums and parking lots and increasing commercial space.

But the overall design of private suburban-style streets and surface spaces is largely the same. Lall says the new plan “does not contain any significant improvements in site design or layout from previous versions.”

The approved plan includes 260 homes for sale and 413 apartments for rent, as well as 1,197 parking spaces. In the comments as part of the country’s review of regional impact, ARC estimated that the project would create a net of 4,204 new daily car trips in the region.

The city agreed to several zonal changes to the project as well as attaching some conditions. Among the differences were the lack of direct pedestrian access to a building from the street frontage, and reduced setbacks to allow units with a garage. Among the conditions are to allow public access to private inner streets and the proposed path along Intrenchment Creek at the rear of the property, which ties into the concept of a larger green space in the South River Forest.

The 2018 annexation of the property from DeKalb County to Atlanta came with a requirement that any new housing include an element of affordability. Empire suggests meeting this with some affordable middle-income housing: 10 percent of affordable units for sale to families that make up 100 percent of the area’s median income (AMI), 10 percent of the condo Affordable for those who make up 80 percent of AMI.

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