Every year in Atlanta, hundreds of public meetings are held that are not reported on or fully documented, even though important decisions are made in those meetings. In 2022, Canopy Atlanta will be sending fellows and reporters to more of these meeting to inform communities what is happening in their neighborhoods. Canopy Atlanta also trains and pays community members, our Fellows, to learn reporting skills to better serve their community. Adrian Coleman, a former Canopy Atlanta Fellow, now fills the role of Community Engagement Coordinator.
EVER SINCE THE U.S. Army base Fort McPherson—also called Fort Mac—closed more than a decade ago, surrounding Southwest Atlantans have clamored for plans that would open up the fortified base to the larger neighborhood.
In June 2021, T.D. Jakes Real Estate Ventures, owned by pastor and evangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, acquired the remaining roughly 100 acres of the shuttered Army base (that is not owned by Tyler Perry), a crescent-shaped swath of land bordered by Lee Street and Campbellton Road, major thoroughfares in Southwest Atlanta.
In mid-December 2021, approximately 50 masked attendees gathered in the state-formed Fort McPherson Local Redevelopment Authority office on Walker Street for a charrette-style session (an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development), where the developer shared its master plans to tear down the walls on Lee Street for affordable housing, retail and workforce development amenities.
The master plan was drafted based on community input through meetings and community engagement sessions throughout 2021.
Representatives of TDJREV lead the community engagement session, fielding questions and soliciting more suggestions from community stakeholders.
In attendance were then Atlanta City Council District 12 incumbent, Joyce Sheperd, and then Councilmember-elect, Antonio Lewis; as well as representatives from NPU-R and NPU-S.
The office walls were lined with maps, artistic renderings, and site plans, alongside post-it notes, pens, and notepads for resident attendees to submit suggestions and comments.
Attendance was small relative to the population of affected neighborhoods, but those in attendance were inquisitive and vocal—exchanging ideas and suggestions for redevelopment and voicing concerns sometimes in the larger group, and others in hushed-tones and side conversations about gentrification, proposed land-use dedicated to parking lots, transit, and sky-rocketing home values in surrounding neighborhoods in advance of the redevelopment.
Attendees responded most favorably to news of plans for a grocery store built on-site and the fence coming down around the fort, with multiple entrances opened to the community on Lee Street and Campbellton Road.
The TDJREV team was responsive to community questions while balancing expectations, often reminding attendees that the draft plans were subject to change.
Both the Fort Mac Board of Directors and Community Engagement Subcommittee meetings had been canceled for January. In February, to date, only a Fort Mac Board of Directors meeting remains on the calendar. No additional Community Engagement Subcommittee meetings are currently on the calendar. In 2021, the Community Engagement Subcommittee held meetings nearly monthly, via Zoom or in-person.
From right to left: Joyce Shepherd, former Atlanta City Council member District 12; Antonio Lewis, her successor, newly elected District 12 Councilmember; and Debra Scott, CEO of Georgia Stand-Up; all speak to residents to answer questions about the development.
Asked and Answered
Community Members in attendance asked a number of questions ranging from Greenspace (will parks for children be available? How about football, baseball fields and water features?) to Community accessibility (will redevelopment be open and accessible to non-residents?)
Per plans, diverse housing options including single family homes, townhomes, and apartments.
2. Project timeline:
Proposed project includes five phases with an estimated timeline of 5-7 years to complete all phases.
T.D. Jakes REV is meeting with MARTA to share and coordinate development plans.
4. Project Transparency:
Several attendees asked about how to access project documentation such as survey results. (An online survey was made available for interested parties through October 31, 2021. Residents had the opportunity to fill out surveys in person on Sunday, October 17th and Monday, October 18th at East Point’s First Mallalieu United Methodist Church.)
5. Community Benefit Agreements:
Joyce Sheperd fielded questions about modifying Area Median Income (AMI) requirements to model Grove Park community rather than planned Atlanta Beltline inclusionary zoning requirements for T.D. Jakes’s REV redevelopment. Antonio Lewis told the community he welcomes their questions and would research Grove Park and ABI zoning plans and make recommendations in the best interest of the community.
New roads will need to be built and extensive environmental remediation of Fort Mac required. Some existing entrances to the base may be relocated to facilitate traffic and access from Lee St.
7. VA Medical facilities:
Several veterans were in attendance that currently use Fort Mac VA medical facilities. Plans are to maintain a VA medical clinic with possible expansion to provide urgent care services.
8. Next steps:
T.D. Jakes REV team and Joyce Sheperd assured attendees additional opportunities for community engagement and feedback are planned. ♦
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