From Sprawl to Smart Growth in North Druid Hills
County commissioners are one step closer to amending their comprehensive plan to make the North Druid Hills corridor more livable and urban.
How do you turn traffic-choked suburban sprawl into a livable urban community with greater income diversity, mixed-use development, and more transportation options? DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader thinks he has the answer: The North Druid Hills Road Corridor Livable Centers Initiative.
The North Druid Hills Road Corridor LCI is a proposed amendment to the DeKalb County Comprehensive Plan that links public transportation improvements to private development. If implemented, the plan would transform the North Druid Hills Road corridor into a more urban, smart-growth model for the rest of DeKalb County. Key features of the LCI include improving traffic flows along North Druid Hills Road, improving connectivity and infrastructure to encourage walking and bicycling and encouraging infill construction and redevelopment that is compatible with the community’s character.
"I think that it is going to make the area a more livable and attractive place," Rader said. "I think that it will lead in the direction of development that is more compatible with the evolving character of the area now that it is closer to the center of the region."
In 2009, DeKalb County won a $120,000 LCI grant from the Atlanta Regional Center. According to the ARC website, LCI grants are awarded to local governments and non-profits to promote smart growth and to “create and implement innovative plans for the improvement of their town centers, activity centers and corridors.“
DeKalb County was required to contribute $30,000 in matching funds under the terms of the 2009 grant. These came from the DeKalb Development Authority ($15,000), DeKalb transportation division ($12,000) and Toco Hills Promenade co-owner Edens & Avant ($3,000).
The money was used to produce the North Druid Hills Road LCI Corridor Study, a report tailored to conform to DeKalb County’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan divides the county into categories that land use planners call nodes and corridors. Nodes are commercial and institutional locations where people cluster. Corridors are the roads, sidewalks, and trails that provide connections within the community and link it to adjacent areas.
The North Druid Hills LCI is divided into four nodes and one corridor: The I-85 Node, Briarcliff Node, Toco Hill Node, Mason Mill Park Node and the Residential Corridor. The LCI contains detailed land use recommendations for each of the nodes that include standards for building heights and density in addition to proposed permitted uses. Recommendations for transportation improvements include on-street bicycle lanes, multi-use trails, six-foot sidewalks, and dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit.
The county’s goal is to bring development and land use regulation into the 21st century by getting residents and developers to think beyond single-family houses, low density development and a reliance on cars for trips to work and recreation. By reworking housing, shopping and commerce, the county hopes to engineer smarter growth that will improve the quality of life for all age groups in the North Druid Hills corridor while protecting established neighborhoods.
"I think that you can’t remake the area on a wholesale basis,” Rader said. “One of the biggest mistakes that we made in the past is that we have allowed the development pressure to creep beyond the areas where redevelopment is appropriate and possible."
The LCI passed its first legislative hurdle last December when the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted to accept the 271-page LCI corridor study. In February, the Board of Commissioners referred a resolution to adopt the plan to the Planning, Economic, and Public Works Committee. Rader expects the resolution will return to the board for a final vote in April.
Whether the Board of Commissioners moves forward with the plan depends on state funding and the real estate market.
“If the regional transportation sales tax passes with some of these projects in it then implementation has to occur within ten years,” Rader said. “As it relates to development, we continue to have some interest in development as time goes on, and certainly the more that the real estate economy comes back, you can expect them to be interested in this area and we hope to use it to shape what is permitted there.”