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.
Point: Time to revitalize, not sterilize Cheshire Bridge
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.
Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan represents District 6. He is also the first openly gay man to serve on the Council.