Businesses could see better-planned growth and motorists might find themselves less frustrated along the North Druid Hills Road corridor if a DeKalb County study works the way local officials are hoping.
The $150,000 study, known as the North Druid Hills LCI study, is designed to improve livability, mobility and accessibility for residents and businesses throughout the neighborhood north of Decatur. In short, that means a big facelift to sidewalks and walkways, expanding housing options and better connecting residential communities and shopping centers.
“I think, generally speaking, people think the more understanding of the area, the better, and the more certainty that we can squeeze out of this process, the better,” county Commissioner Jim Rader said in an interview this month.
The commission approved the study Nov. 19, and it is expected to be done in next year’s first quarter, he said. The region has grown from a rural byway 60 years ago into a traffic nightmare and a central home for workers commuting to Buckhead and the county’s Clifton corridor, according to the study’s proposal. It’s also become one of metro Atlanta’s most congested neighborhoods, according to a 2005 Atlanta Regional Commission study.
“The commercial stock of the corridor has declined… as leading businesses are replaced by more marginal enterprises in obsolete structures,” the proposal said. “Conventional multi-family developments are likewise aging and facing the necessity to redevelop or reinvest in order to avoid stagnant rents and physical decline.”
As the area’s residential population becomes denser, business owners are adapting to redevelopment pressures. Owners of the Toco Hill Shopping Center plan to renovate the exterior of their buildings this year in anticipation of larger growth in the future, the proposal said. The county also sees opportunity in the DeKalb County School System’s demolition of the Jim Cherry Center, the DeKalb School for the Arts and the DeKalb Alternative School on North Druid Hills Road.
Since the school district is planning a new arts school serving students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, including a performing arts center, county officials believe the redevelopment could spark renewed interest in the arts, “a key element of a livable community,” the proposal said.
Land at the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads has been cleared for development, beginning with a Walgreen’s drug store. County officials have spoken with developers about making the area a transit node, including a bus or taxi station and a possible Zipcar location. Zipcar, based in Cambridge, Mass., allows residents to reserve and rent cars parked in locations across the cities they serve.
Once it’s finished, the study will recommend a series of goals to the county commission, including a five-year plan of projects and cost estimates that will meet the goals. Among those goals are a plan for the community’s growing seniors community and how to incorporate it into the redevelopment.
The county provided $120,000 of the study’s cost. The rest was provided by three outside groups.
Rader said after the study’s finished, he would like to expand it to other similarly fast-growing communities countywide.
“It would have been great to run this thing all the way down to Stone Mountain Freeway,” he said.