Two sides debate the future of 'the most wonderful street in Atlanta'

The battle of Cheshire Bridge Road

Point: Time to revitalize, not sterilize Cheshire Bridge

by Alex Wan

At a recent public hearing, a speaker describing Cheshire Bridge Road as “the most wonderful street in Atlanta” drew chuckles from the audience. That the comment elicited laughs sadly captures the disappointment many hold in how the corridor falls far short of its real potential.

Over a decade ago, nearby residents, businesses, property owners and city planners undertook a long, collaborative public process to design a vision for the area. Their work resulted in the Cheshire Bridge Road Study adopted by the city of Atlanta in 1999.

Six years later, the zoning changes corresponding to that plan were enacted, creating two neighborhood commercial (NC) districts along the street, but in the eight years since 2005, no more meaningful progress has been made.

Admittedly, part is attributable to the economic downturn. However, another factor, on which this legislation is based, is the presence of “non-conforming uses” inconsistent with the NC plan which prevents significant, transformational investments in the corridor.

Fundamentally, I believe when stakeholders come together and painstakingly craft a vision for their community, the city should do everything possible to help achieve that plan. Any less disenfranchises those who invested time, energy and, importantly, hope into improving our city, while further discouraging similar future efforts everywhere else. 

My legislation aims to achieve that by removing certain obstacles the city feels discourage new projects that could bring us closer to realization.

Fears that the corridor will lose its character are unfounded. Opponents who claim these efforts will “sterilize” the area and make it more like Buckhead or suburbia demonstrate their failure to understand the basic NC district concept.

One needs look no further than to other Atlanta NC districts for better comparisons. Virginia-Highland, East Atlanta Village, Kirkwood and Little Five Points have clearly succeeded in maintaining their unique charm.

For clarification, local favorites Heretic, Jungle and BJ Roosters lie outside the NC boundaries and are exempt from this legislation. Nonetheless, NC districts explicitly allow for bars and clubs, evidenced by their presence in those areas mentioned previously.

And while some warn that a similar fate awaits these establishments as that of Backstreet, the zoning dynamics in Midtown are dramatically different (Special Public Interest districts/Commercial Improvement District), making it less likely for that to happen here.

I have heard from those who support and oppose this legislation. While some are trying to paint this as negatively impacting the gay community, they would clearly be surprised at the large number of LGBT folks who have shared with me their excitement over the prospect of living, working and playing near a revitalized corridor containing a broader mix of shops, restaurants and other amenities that the area really should have.

I fully appreciate that even with this legislation, changes won’t happen overnight. However, I appreciate that the community and businesses that have stuck by the corridor through thick and thin and have all waited patiently — at least 14 years and counting — for some meaningful changes to begin happening.

This legislation aims to restore their hope that their efforts were not in vain.

Counterpoint: Save Cheshire Bridge from Alex Wan and the gentrifiers

by Matthew Cardinale

Cheshire Bridge Road: alluring, risque, diverse, authentic, vibrant, alive, and now… endangered because of people like Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan, the openly gay official whose District 6 includes both Cheshire Bridge Road and Midtown.

Recently, we learned of a zoning effort to change the character of Cheshire Bridge by getting rid of restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores that were grandfathered in as part of a 2005 rezoning. Now Mr. Wan wants to go back and get rid of grandpa.

The legal aspects of this do not bode well for Wan nor for the neighborhoods he purportedly represents, as they have proposed an illegal “taking.”

This “taking” is about the ongoing project of gentrification, homogenization, sterilization and capitalization of a historic neighborhood.

I have been fortunate enough to live off of Cheshire Bridge since 2011, in a jewel of a multi-racial community on Woodland Avenue, that is one of the last bastions of affordable, multifamily rental housing in all of Buckhead and Midtown. 

This is what Wan and his second-wave gentrifiers wish to destroy the most, so they can make way for more repulsive condos and luxury apartments made of ticky tacky that no working family can afford. 

Cheshire Bridge, in my view, became the new Midtown several years ago after the second wave of gentrification in Midtown entered full swing, displacing the working class homosexuals who fixed up the place.

So, do we, the gay community, allow the Jungle and the Heretic to go the same way as Backstreet? Do we allow another community to be yuppified, buppified, and sterilized — forcing us, the gays who wish to party, to some industrial area in the outskirts like Mr. Wan envisions, perhaps Fulton Industrial, where we can dance the night away in one of the worst pollution hotspots in all of the metro Atlanta area?

These neighborhood associations who want so desperately to see porn stores shuttered, working families banished, and their property values skyrocket, should not get their way. 

The fact is, they knew exactly what neighborhood they were moving into when they chose to move here. Their complaints are not valid now.

In Wan’s vision of Atlanta, people come home from their corporate jobs to their 2.5 dogs cheerily barking at their white picket fence, then they have dinner and watch television. 

In the real Atlanta, people have sexual needs and desires that they sometimes wish to act upon, sometimes involving bars, strippers, and dance clubs. Cheshire Bridge, our red light district, is a natural outgrowth and expression of our very humanity, which we should take pride in. 

Finally, gay voters need to be more critical and introspective about the politicians we support. Gay does not mean progressive, and Mr. Wan is Exhibit A.  Sometimes, having an openly gay elected official can result in the pursuit of policies that actually harm the gay community.

The Zoning Review Board will soon consider this proposal, and we should organize to defend, protect and preserve our historic neighborhood.


Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan represents District 6. He is also the first openly gay man to serve on the Council.

Matthew Cardinale is news editor of Atlanta Progressive News. A resident of the Cheshire Bridge Road area, he identifies as homosexual.