Thursday, October 20, 2011

What is a TOD, and does it make Dunwoody Sustainable?

I wrote a couple days ago about my opposition to the TOD for Dunwoody.  Some people have asked for more details on the TOD, and some suggest I am incorrectly representing the TOD.  All I can do is direct you to the MARTA web site on the topic, and have your read the PCID LCI plan. 

A TOD is a Transit Oriented Development.  The TOD comes in many sizes and colors.  TODs have been built around the world, some successful, some not. To those of us in Dunwoody, the specific TOD being discussed is high-density, mixed use development built surrounding the Dunwoody MARTA station.  Is this in the best interest of Dunwoody?  Does it make us 'sustainable'?  Regular visitors recall the term 'sustainable' is defined as 'enduring'  So, does adding a TOD to the MARTA station by Perimeter Mall make our city more enduring?  I don't think it makes our city enduring.  But I won't throw the project under the MARTA bus just yet.  A mixed use project with 100% owner-occupied housing, sustainable enduring construction materials (not pine 2 x 4 stick construction), Class A office space, and destination retail could be acceptable and enduring to our city.

But that is not the TOD of today.  Today's TOD was born from the United Nations Agenda 21.

Here's a little taste of that UN chatter:
Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.
Our very own MARTA is eager to implement the TOD in Dunwoody.  After all, with the TOD encouraging people to not own a car, they are dependent upon MARTA. Look HERE. When developing a TOD in metro Atlanta, one of the largest stakeholders is MARTA.  When you play with MARTA, you play by MARTA's rules:
As stated on page 48 of the TOD Guidelines, MARTA believes that residential and mixed-use TOD projects should include a significant component of affordable housing. Achieving this will require a collaborative effort among multiple stakeholders—the municipal and county zoning jurisdictions in the MARTA service area, their housing authorities, the state of Georgia, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for-profit and non-profit developers, lenders, community groups, and MARTA itself. Together, these stakeholders must be prepared to apply a diverse affordable housing “toolbox”, including land availability, zoning, housing finance subsidy programs, and infrastructure improvements. MARTA intends to be an active participant in this process.

To that end, MARTA will apply a policy goal of 20% affordability, on average, to joint development projects undertaken subsequent to the adoption of the TOD Guidelines. As defined by MARTA, affordable housing includes workforce housing, as well as housing affordable to seniors with low, moderate, or fixed incomes and persons with disabilities. Workforce housing, in turn, is defined as rental housing affordable to households earning 60% to 80% percent of the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area Median Income (“AMI”); or for-sale housing affordable to households earning 80% to 100% percent of AMI.
Within the density allowed by zoning (including any zoning relief or modification which may be associated with a project), MARTA will use both higher densities and reduced parking requirements as financial incentives for the inclusion of workforce units. MARTA will encourage zoning jurisdictions to adopt reduced parking requirements for TOD housing in general and affordable housing in particular, reflecting lower average car ownership among transit-dependent households.

The MARTA document states "Workforce housing, in turn, is defined as rental housing affordable to households earning 60% to 80% percent of the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area Median Income"

From the HUD web site
Section 8 rental subsidies are provided to project owners on behalf of families that are eligible low-income families at the time of their admission by the project owners to the program. Under the Housing Act, "low income families" are defined as those families whose annual incomes do not exceed eighty percent (80%) of the median income for the area in which the project is located, adjusted for family size, as determined by HUD at least annually
 Zoning approvals, relief, or modification. MARTA joint development projects, like all development in Metro Atlanta, are subject to zoning and land use controls at the county or municipal level. MARTA will support zoning approvals for its joint development projects, and may at its discretion advocate for zoning relief or modifications which are needed to facilitate specific joint development projects, or project objectives such as mixed uses, affordable housing, or sustainability. MARTA may advocate for such outcomes on its own initiative or in support of a designated developer, as appropriate in a given circumstance.
As a city we need business growth in the PCID, but that growth needs to be in the form of Class A office space and jobs.  The past decade we have seen  excessive permitting for apartments in the Dunwoody part of the Perimeter business district.  The official PCID area (including Sandy Springs) has inventory to fulfill future needs.  Adding in the huge number of rental units on the outskirts of the PCID, the area has plenty of inventory.  I would be in favor of owner-occupied condos, built using stringent guidelines and premium construction materials.

Partnering with MARTA (and the other Federal stakeholders interested in creating mass transit villages), whose goal is to simply increase ridership, is not how I envision Dunwoody growing.

As a Dunwoody Councilman, I will work to discourage the development of an unsuitable TOD.  The developer's 'sustainable village' is the Dunwoody homeowner's 'unsustainable city'.

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