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ARC pushes 'smart growth' using studies

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Atlanta Regional Commission is accepting applications for Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) studies, encouraging "smart growth" planning in city centers and urban corridors.

The studies show cities how they could develop, or redevelop, with mixed-use projects, and a mix of transportation modes, to achieve greater livability, sustainable growth, and transit-oriented development.

"Our region is going to grow," said Dave Reuter, the ARC's land-use chief. "The goal here is just trying to facilitate more of that growth ... get a lot of our jurisdictions up to a really high level of planning. Life is not dependent on the automobile, if you can just make some changes in zoning codes and changes in development, so there's a little more mixed use, little more density, and a little more walkable spaces," he added.

Reuter said the region has been booming since sometime in the 1960s, and the ARC has attempted, through planning grants, to direct future development in a more sustainable direction.

"At no [other] time in the history of our state has the state government, or anyone, given resources to do planning," Reuter said. "There was never money passed through to local governments to do local plans."

The LCI program was created in 1999 to "encourage increased residential development, mixed uses and connectivity in activity and town centers." There was an initial dedication of $5 million for grants, and the commission has recently extended the study program, adding another $5 million to be invested in studies.

So far, on the south side of Atlanta, there have been LCI studies in Morrow, Riverdale, Jonesboro, Stockbridge, McDonough, Griffin, Fayetteville, and Peachtree City. There have been a total of 94 studies completed in the last nine years, including studies of 41 town centers, 40 activity centers and 13 corridors. The studies cost an average of about $80,000, Reuter said, and take six to nine months to complete.

In the last round of grants, in February, $100,000 was given to Spalding Country for study of the Tri-County Crossroads Activity Center.

According to ARC Chairman Sam Olens, the studies have been "transformative," helping communities "retool and redesign to become higher quality magnets for residents and businesses alike."

Part of the power of the study, as Reuter sees it, is the way the process draws the community into the concepts of contemporary city design.

"It's a very inclusive, public process," he said. "If you can put the resources there and the facts out there, and have a more inclusive public process, you'll get a little more acceptance for these projects."

Despite recent efforts at fundamental changes in land-use planning, in the United States, automobile-driven design is still dominant and designers still have a lot of work to do, promoting smart growth.

"I think we've learned quite a bit and we know those [old] development patterns aren't sustainable," Reuter said. "The majority of development is still bad development, or whatever you want to call it. Unsustainable. A lot of that development is still being requested by developers and proposed and accepted. We think, geez, we thought we were done with that in the last century."

LCI grant application forms are available on the ARC website: www.atlantaregional.com. Applications must be submitted by Nov. 21.