Project update: July 31st, 2017

Background

The Harp Transmission project originated from development partners Pellerin Real Estate and Clark Property R+D living and working in Grant Park and growing increasingly disappointed with the blighted and underutilized Memorial Drive Greenway. Upon doing research into previous urban plans, we found 5 different plans conducted over the past 16 years for the area that recommend varied and inconsistent types of active uses for the property. The last plan was completed after we purchased the property in Summer 2016. The proposed uses ranged from a cultural/interpretive center as part of a mixed-use development to low-density commercial, activity center and a restaurant/beer garden. The Harp Transmission site is currently zoned SPI-22, Subarea 2, which allows for a variety of commercial uses with a minimum development height of 3 stories and a maximum height of 5 stories, along with required off-street parking spaces.

Project Design

In light of these contradictory visions and regulations, the development team conducted an 18-month community design and stakeholder listening tour to reconcile the plans, the existing zoning as well as the neighborhood feedback. We also secured design and programming feedback from the City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks & Recreation. Drawing inspiration from revolutionary urban parks like Klyde Warren Park and Bryant Park, our goal has been to create a unique park-oriented project compatible with community needs that activates the Memorial Drive Greenway and provides a public plaza meeting place for the surrounding community.

Community Response

The most recent plans and renderings designed by Square Feet Studio represent the culmination of that stakeholder feedback into a project that activates and connects the Greenway while embracing its transit-oriented location. The project received support from many neighborhood residents who are excited about its potential to be an amenity and catalyst for the completion of the long-neglected Greenway. Concerns from surrounding neighborhood residents primarily regarding density, parking, public benefits and rezoning have been resolved as described below.

Developer Response

After numerous public meetings, we have incorporated the constructive aspects of community feedback in order to produce a development that neighborhood residents, the City of Atlanta, and we as local developers can be proud of. We took the noted concerns to heart with further adjustments in the project design and programming. These concerns and our corresponding responses for the project are included below:

1. Density:

Our previous design requested an increase of the allowable density from 2.0 FAR to 2.5 FAR (Floor Area Ratio), which would increase the size of the building to 43,000 square feet. Some residents felt that this density bonus would set an uncomfortable precedent for the Greenway and the allowable density of 2.0 FAR was a more appropriate scale.

  • Response: We have decreased the density from 43,000 square feet to 34,500 square feet to stay within the existing zoning’s allowable density of 2.0 FAR. This equates to a 4-story building with 3.5 floors, leaving a rooftop deck that will establish the city’s premiere skyline view. This density will be more pedestrian-friendly while satisfying the current zoning’s minimum building height of 3 stories and maximum height of 5 stories.

2. Parking:

While most residents preferred our “zero parking” proposal in light of the King Memorial MARTA station two blocks away and the advancing transit technologies, immediate neighbors expressed concern about increased street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

  • Response: We conducted a parking study to explore this issue in greater detail. Within walking distance of Harp Transmission, there is an average of over 170 public street parking spaces and over 600 private lot parking spaces available at any given time. There are a couple of local parking “hot spots” in SPI-22 that are often close to capacity, but these are primarily focused on a few target areas (The Jane, Crown Candy Lofts) with a spatial mismatch of underutilized public parking in areas within walking distance of Harp. We will be sharing this parking study for the City of Atlanta and surrounding community’s review.
  • While we continue to believe zero parking to be ideal, in response to the surrounding neighbors’ concerns we are willing to agree that no parking exception will be sought if the property is rezoned. We intend to provide 40 off-street parking spaces through either a shared parking arrangement with a nearby lot or construction of underground parking on-site.

3. Public Benefits:

Most residents we spoke with said they would support the project as long as the building provides a public benefit and amenity to the park.

  • Response: In addition to providing family-friendly restaurant and retail at the ground floor, we have further enhanced the public benefits to include the following:

Park Improvements

  • $100,000 donation toward lighting, trees, seating, and beautification improvements in the adjacent park space between George St. and Oakland Ave.

Public Building Amenities

  • Public restrooms at the ground floor of the building available for park visitors
  • Free public Wi-Fi
  • Public Safety – Accomplished through overnight security, cameras and onsite lighting to improve park safety at night
  • Publicly accessible building breezeway and plaza space connecting to the Memorial Drive Greenway and providing shade and shelter from the elements
  • Improved pedestrian safety and connectivity via repurposing George Street to a public pedestrian/bicycle promenade with brick paving and ample shade trees
  • Area wayfinding map of surrounding destinations and public transportation

Cultural Programming

  • Rotating outdoor programming of movie screenings, concerts, festivals, and art/food markets connected to the building, George Street and breezeway
  • Rotating arts & cultural/interpretive programming in the building’s entry atrium
  • Interpretive installations along George Street highlighting the Memorial Drive Greenway, Oakland Cemetery, and the history of Memorial Drive
  • Coordinated events with Oakland Cemetery for their Tunes from the Tombs, Run Like Hell 5k, etc.

Construction

  • 35% Minority and Women-Owned Businesses contracting goal
  • 30% of leasable space set aside for local businesses
  • LEED Certified environmentally sustainable building

4. Rezoning:

Some residents questioned the proposed rezoning to allow for office and whether that would meet the original intent of the SPI-22 zoning district. Others were concerned that the rezoning would set a precedent for other properties in the Memorial Drive Greenway and increase their property value, jeopardizing the remainder of acquisitions needed to complete the park.

  • Response: The overwhelming majority of development activity in SPI-22 over the past 2 decades has been multifamily residential and restaurants/retail. This imbalance has created a predominantly meal time, night and weekend demand – which strains transportation infrastructure in the immediate area and has created parking issues at the peak demand hours for meal time and when residents are home. Additionally, this pattern runs counter to the intent of the SPI-22 zoning district to: “Create a diversified 24-hour urban environment where people can live, work, shop, meet and play.” Thus, the development of office as opposed to more restaurant, retail and entertainment uses will add a needed employment center to balance the corridor and better meet the original intent of the SPI-22 zoning district.
  • As there is already precedent for rezoning in SPI districts throughout the City of Atlanta (and our development application includes multiple limiting conditions and public benefits that decrease its market value and make it very difficult to replicate) there is no factual basis to suggest that rezoning for office use increases a property’s market value above existing permitted commercial uses (restaurant, retail, bank, etc.). Furthermore, the remaining privately-owned lots within the Memorial Drive Greenway are not similarly situated to the Harp Transmission property. The land area of the other parcels is too small to support development. Rezoning this site simply will not create an impediment to completing the Greenway. In fact, the public benefits package identified above presents a unique opportunity to add an exciting landmark that both invites use of the park and supports the community’s evolving needs.

Conclusion

It has always been our goal to create a a unique park-oriented project compatible with community needs that activates the Memorial Drive Greenway and provides a public plaza meeting place for the surrounding community. At the end of the day, "placemaking" leverages a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being. We believe the community feedback has helped shape this project into a "park-integrated" place unlike any other in the City of Atlanta. Our hope is that the Harp Transmission project will enhance the underutilized Greenway and create a central meeting point for surrounding neighbors of all ages and backgrounds to meet, connect and interact with each other.