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Proposal for giant Downtown parking deck hits opposition

Several months ago, Emory Healthcare proposed a hulking parking deck with over 3,000 spaces on the northernmost end of Downtown Atlanta, off of West Peachtree Street — now Atlantans are voicing opinions against it.

The Downtown Neighborhood Association has written a letter in opposition to the proposal (included below, in full). We hear that the project is in limbo now after the City essentially allowed Emory to go back to the drawing board in hopes that they will create something more urban-appropriate that the City can support. Here’s the empty spot where the parking deck would go, below.

Empty spot where the Emory parking deck would go
The empty spot off of West Peachtree Street where Emory Healthcare has proposed a gigantic parking deck.

It’s worth noting that the empty space above is only two blocks from the Civic Center MARTA Station, and from the proposed Stitch cap over the interstate. It also sits within the boundaries of Downtown Atlanta. The Downtown Atlanta Master Plan approved by City Council calls for no new car trips in the city center, near these places with so much potential for growth in walking, cycling, and transit use.

A massive beast of a parking deck will no doubt work against those goals. It would also, arguably, work against our goals for addressing climate change in the wake of studies showing vehicle emissions to be the biggest contributor to C02 in the U.S. And it’s worth asking how a 3000 spot parking deck 2 blocks from transit in an urban core aligns with Emory’s own often-promoted sustainability vision.

Below is a photo of one of several large parking facilities that already sit next to Emory and the Civic Center MARTA Station and the proposed Stitch cap. In front, you can see people waiting for a MegaBus.

Parking Deck on West Peachtree Street
Crowds waiting for a Megabus on West Peachtree Street, in front of one of several large parking facilities that sit near the Civic Center MARTA Station (just out of view to the right) and the proposed Stitch cap over the interstate. Two blocks north of here, Emory Healthcare has proposed a hulking parking deck.
Here’s a copy of the 30-day deferral regarding the Emory proposal. It looks like October 18 is the end of that period, so we may learn something soon about what’s happening next.
deferral on Emory parking deck
Recommendation for deferral on Emory parking deck
And below is the full text of the letter that the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association (ADNA) sent to the City in opposition to the proposal. Kudos to them for being so well-informed on the detrimental effect this deck would have, and for being defenders of the Master Plan, a document that involved an impressive amount of community input and good ideas (as ThreadATL has previously stated).

The opposition letter from ADNA

My fellow Atlantans,
As President of ADNA, I’m writing you to explain and enumerate our organization’s opposition to the proposed Special Use Permit to construct a staff-only parking deck on Emory University Hospital Midtown’s property (U-18-022).
The basis of our opposition is the project’s negative impact on the neighborhood in the near-term and for decades to come. Neighbors are rightly concerned that this project will:
  • Increase traffic on overburdened streets
  • Hamper any improvement in Downtown’s walkability by continuing a “car-first” mentality
  • Further contribute to negative health effects that car pollution has on Downtown residents
  • Diminish what it means to live Downtown as folks continue to see Downtown as merely a place to drive in and out of as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, our interest in growing Downtown’s unique potential for human-scale development is encapsulated in the Downtown Atlanta Master Plan which covers both our homes and EUHM’s campus.
Background on the DAMP
  • 922 people contributed their views to the plan in face to face sessions
  • 9090 people contributed their views via online surveys
  • Steered by CAP a private, non-profit community development organization funded by businesses in Downtown Atlanta.
  • Adopted as part of the Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan in December 2017
In brief: the neighborhood –both residents and businesses– built this plan, and it has been adopted as law by the city. We see no reason why its provisions should be reversed.
We appreciate the expansion that is taking place at EUHM will require more staff at the hospital each day. However, based on the Master Plan, we believe that other options should be pursued before adding parking.
To quote the Master Plan:

As Downtown continues to grow, the solution is not to build wider roads or more parking. We do not have the space to do so without sacrificing the very things that add economic value to Downtown like more housing, growing businesses, and new destinations.

EUHM is a mere 4-minute walk from Civic Center MARTA station which has both heavy rail and GRTA bus service. Yet EUHM’s current strategy to encourage transit ridership is seriously lacking. EUHM’s transit riding staff pay $17.10 for a monthly MARTA pass; staff who drive and park pay $10 a month. This is seriously flawed for a business so well-served by transit options.
  • EUHM should transition from an 80% subsidy for transit users to 100%.
  • Their current monthly parking fee for those who opt to drive should be raised from its subsidized rate of $10 to something in line with the market rate.

We understand that MARTA’s service hours will not serve everyone at a hospital that requires 24/7 staffing. However, by increasing the share of their staff which opts for transit –currently a dismal 13%– the hospital’s existing parking can be freed up sufficiently for those who cannot use transit due to schedule constraints.

Additionally, for those who cannot take transit, we know from the DAMP that our neighborhood has 96,000 parking spaces about 1/3 of which sit empty during an average workday.
The answer to getting more workers into Downtown is unequivocally NOT more parking. Again from the Master Plan:

What is needed is better management of the parking that exists to free up land for new uses and reduce the costs of development.

Getting people to change their commute habits is not easy. However, we strongly disagree with any suggestion that now is not the time to work aggressively and creatively to spur that change. There are abundant commute options already serving Downtown. 3000 more parking spaces are not needed. We need the right incentives and the right attitude to make alternatives to driving more attractive and more feasible.
Fundamentally, we are not anti-development and nothing about our opposition should be confused as such. If EUHM wants to develop this land in a way that not only complies with the goals of the Master Plan but augments the neighborhood as a whole, they should consider developing the land as workforce housing for medical residents, nurses, custodians and their families. One of the expressed concerns of the EUHM team is the need to continually out-recruit other hospitals. What better recruitment than the chance to live in vibrant Downtown Atlanta, mere steps from your job, transit, great neighbors, and all the amenities the neighborhood has to offer?
The Master Plan has it again:

Downtown is home to a significant number of employees and some of the region’s largest corporations. Currently, almost 99% of Downtown employees commute from outside of Downtown. Many will continue to do so, but others may be interested in owning or renting a home Downtown, close to where they work, with the right incentive. Employee Assisted Housing programs offer ranges of financial incentives to make the case for living near the office. Partnerships with major corporations could result in an incentive package for employees to choose housing options in or near Downtown.

I trust that the interests of the neighborhood –which are Atlanta development law by their inclusion in the CDP– will be heard and respected by all those involved in decisions related to this permit.
The neighborhood appreciates that EUHM has been forthcoming with their plans and we look forward to supporting the team on efforts to develop their property in a manner that keeps with Downtown Atlanta Master Plan.
Thanks for all you do for Atlanta,
Stephen Krauska, President

Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association

Thanks much to ADNA for giving us permission to publish the letter above. Let’s all keep an eye on this proposal as it evolves, and let’s also take this letter as an example of how we can be involved in the built environments of our neighborhoods and push for good urbanism, and support master plans.

Interested in getting involved in your own neighborhood association? The City of Atlanta has a list of the names of all of them here, with links for many.

UPDATE! Zoning Review Board approves deck

We’ve learned that the Zoning Review Board (ZRB) voted just a few days ago to approve the 3,000 space parking deck with conditions, based on recommendation from staff at the Department of City Planning. You can see the full approval notice about 30 pages into this packet from the City.

Here are the conditions, which include bicycle parking, a prohibition of pedestrian bridges, and the termination of a parking lease that Emory holds on another nearby deck.

Approval conditions for the parking deck.
Approval conditions for the new Emory parking deck.

We don’t know all the facts, and we’ll update this post if we find out more. At this point, we don’t think this should be interpreted as a “loss” or as a failure on the part of the residents who spoke out. We just don’t know enough about it to say what happened.

In the mean time, you can continue reach out to your city council members and the mayor, who will ultimately decide if the deck project proceeds!