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Clayton pulls back on aerotropolis legislation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Needing more time to review plans and build a consensus, the Clayton County legislative delegation will abandon its push for a Metropolitan Atlanta Aerotropolis Authority until the next legislative session.

On March 17, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously adopted a resolution in support of legislation which would create a multi-jurisdictional authority to guide future development around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The aerotropolis concept, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and other sources, is a popular, urban-planning mechanism that seeks to group aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises near major airports, and influence development in those areas.

Mike Glanton, chairman of the Clayton County legislative delegation, said that as of Friday, he had not received the language of the proposed legislation and that the delegation as a whole had not discussed it.

"The Clayton County delegation has not sat down as a whole and looked at this together," he said. "As far as I am concerned, it is too late in the session to do something this complicated and huge. It is going to take some time to find some common ground, and make this feel like a win for all members involved."

Glanton said he discussed the Aerotropolis concept with "the chairman of the Fulton County delegation and one other member of the [Fulton] delegation, but had not discussed it with any Fulton County commissioners or the mayor of Atlanta. The authority could potentially involve several municipalities bordering the airport, as well as major investors, he said.

"I believe it is a good idea and it would promote the economic development that we need in the area," Glanton said. "This is something that really needs to be thought out, and fair for all parties involved. [BOC] Chairman [Eldrin] Bell told me that he was going to discontinue his effort at this time to push this legislation forward."

Bell said that in discussions with Fulton County, the Clayton County BOC encountered some opposition to the idea of the Clayton board selecting the majority of the authority members. Of the 20 members of the proposed authority, "my board wanted 11 of those members to be on the Clayton County side," he said.

"We had some difficulty agreeing on the number of the proposed members of the board," Bell said. "My board felt like, since 80 percent of the property was in Clayton County, that we should have more members. We were talking back and forth. ... I got some push back. Instead of allowing this to become a political squabble, we decided to pull back and better educate people on what the concept is."

Bell said that over the next year, the board would "bring in experts" to inform the public about the aerotropolis concept and build consensus with surrounding stakeholders.

Grant Wainscott, Clayton County economic development director, said an aerotropolis authority would serve as "a long-term planning mechanism" for airport-area development, as well as a tool with which to leverage resources.

"We all understand the importance of keeping Hartsfield-Jackson the world's busiest airport, and to do that, we all need to work together," he said. "To just say we want to cooperate is one thing, but this provides some kind of structure that could be a potential funding mechanism. Working together cooperatively, we may be able to apply for larger resources than if we were working independently and doing our own projects."

Clayton Commissioner Michael Edmondson said that if the aerotropolis authority concept is successful, the model could be applied to other regional projects, such as commuter rail. "Just the idea itself is positive," he said. "Working together could mean that we could be multi-jurisdictional in other things. We could apply the same idea to support commuter rail down the road."

Glanton said he would work to bring together the legislative delegations and county commissions of both Fulton and Clayton counties, to discuss the aerotropolis authority idea over the summer.