By Mariann Martin, contributor
A supporter of the Beltline since its inception, Atlanta mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard said the 22-mile loop around the city still represents the kind of Atlanta she believes in.
Woolard promises she will create affordable housing around the loop by rethinking how the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. works and engaging communities to find out what kind of development they want to see.
“I think the Beltline is still a powerful catalyst for how we grown in the city and how we can benefit everybody as we do that,” Woolard said. “We’ve lost the commitment to real community engagement, not just reporting. It takes effort to listen to what people say and figure out a way to try to reflect that back. We need to figure out what want people want to have happen.”
She added, “We are not going to sell Beltline land to the highest bidder to do whatever they want. We are going to plan with communities what is needed at those particular points.”
Woolard and Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel held a community conversation Sunday afternoon in Adair Park. About 50 people attended the meeting, most of them from communities near the Beltline.
Gravel initially proposed the concept of the Beltline in his graduate thesis and supports Woolard’s campaign. One Sunday, he described the early days of envisioning the Beltline in 2001. Back then, Woolard was the only elected official who believed in the Beltline and the two of them worked together to garner more support.
“We definitely need a course correction,” Gravel said during the discussion about the Beltline and affordability. “Embedded in the vision was that a Beltline for everyone is important.”
ABI CEO Paul Morris stepped down in August, amid questions about how the organization is meeting its goal of creating 5,600 units of affordable housing. On Sunday, Gravel and Woolard agreed that number had only been a starting point back in 2001, and the city’s need was much greater. Gravel stepped down from the board of the Atlanta Beltline Partnership last year over concerns about affordable housing.
It is time to rethink the role of ABI in creating affordable housing, Woolard said. The organization in charge of building the Beltline and keeping it maintained might not be the best organization to focus on affordable housing. She did not name a specific organization she would tap to assume that role, but she said the city already has organizations focused on creating housing.
“We should adjust our expectations of what a single organization can do,” she said. “Doing the same thing for fifteen years and expecting a different result into the future is probably not exactly the right way to think about it.”
Woolard promised she would address the issue of boarded-up homes across that city that are driving down property values in neighborhoods. The city would put together a plan that would give investors a specific amount of time to improve or develop a property. If that does not happen, the owners will begin paying more property taxes.
“The city of Altanta will not fund someone’s investment,” Wooldard said. “You can’t sit on a piece of property and bring down a neighborhood for ten years. That is not going to happen anymore.”
Two other priorities would be immediately adding five additional transit lines to the city’s transportation infrastructure and building grocery stores in food deserts, she said.
She is looking at a parking tax to generate revenue, Woolard said. She added that the city currently has a budget reserve that is “$40 to 50 million higher than we need to be.” That money could be used immediately to jumpstart her transit plan.
During the question and answer session, the community members voiced concerns about housing, transportation and revenue sources.
One person warned the Beltline was in danger of becoming “basically a bar crawl,” eliciting laughter from the group. Woolard assured him she would listen to the communities to create what they wanted, not what would make the most money.
“People have great ideas,” Woolard said. “People can come and tell me what they need, and I get great pleasure from making stuff happen. I can’t think of a more fun way to spend the next few years of my life.”