VHCA Announces Process to Develop Neighborhood Master Plan

VHLogo_color_horiz_letterheadIn July of this year, the Virginia-Highland Civic Association announced the formation of a Task Force to guide the creation of a transportation plan for Virginia-Highland. This plan contemplated combining public input and review of existing factors with professional planning guidance to create an effective set of goals based on an overall vision. We asked for volunteers; the number of citizens who responded represented an impressive cross-section of VaHi residents.

As we tried to define the scope of such a plan, many closely related topics emerged that are fundamental to the community’s future, though not directly related to transportation. In order to make the most efficient use of the feedback processes and resources needed for any such public effort, it became clear to the Board that it makes more sense to broaden the planning scope beyond transportation to key topics like open space, urban design characteristics, historic resources, public services, demographic issues, development variables, environmental challenges, and educational concerns. The result will be a Master Plan for Virginia-Highland.

The advantages of a formal master plan are considerable. One is obvious: it’s a formal chance for citizens to examine alternatives and create goals in the context of existing development plans, policy and research. Visions that are formed absent such contexts have very limited chances of being implemented. Additionally, most governments – including the City of Atlanta – are far more likely to approve and fund projects that are broadly consistent with their own approaches and have been formally adopted through a recognized master plan process. Once just a very good idea, community-based master plans are now a practical necessity in large urban areas. Neighborhoods that have such plans are far better situated than those that do not.

Our neighbors in Poncey-Highland and Candler Park have recently completed master plans; they may be viewed at http://www.atlantaga.gov/index.aspx?page=767 and  http://www.candlerparkmasterplan.com, respectively.

The timeline and method for creating this plan is approximately 8 to 12 months, with public engagement and meetings throughout the process. The process will be led by our longtime planning consultant and partner, Market +Main, under the guidance of Aaron Fortner, who played such a key role in the adoption of the Neighborhood Commercial Zoning along North Highland Avenue.

Market + Main will facilitate a variety of focus groups on broad topics such as:

  • Neighborhood businesses and market conditions
  • School site analysis and planning
  • Historic preservation, zoning, and land use
  • Parks, green space, and environmental resources
  • Traffic and transportation

There will be many opportunities to contribute to this effort, and we would like to hear from you. Please keep an eye out for announcements throughout the fall season for public engagement, both in-person and online. Throughout the process, we will be compiling information on this website: http://www.vahimasterplan.org/. While no requirement other than residency is needed to be part of this process, you can let us know if you are particularly interested in serving on a focus group by providing this form to Jenifer Keenan at jkeenanvahi@yahoo.com by Sept. 9.

  • Name, address, and time as VaHi resident or business owner
  • Why are you interested in serving on the Focus Group?
  • What expertise/experience do you have in the area that will be covered by the Focus Group?
  • Focus Group (choose one):  1) Neighborhood Businesses 2) Schools 3) Historic Preservation, Zoning, & Land Use 4) Parks, Green Space, & Environmental Resources, 5) Traffic and Transportation

Some Thoughts on Teardowns and New Construction

VHLogo_color_horiz_letterheadSpurred by a recent wave of teardowns and new construction, there has been a lively debate over the last couple of weeks about historic preservation and the building characteristics that help define the neighborhood. While Virginia-Highland is a collection of smaller subdivisions built over a span of several decades, some local architects and residents identified and summarized many common and key architectural features during the community’s 2009 study of historic preservation guidelines. The students and faculty of the Heritage Preservation Program at Georgia State University summarized them in a reference document that may be viewed at https://vahi.org/planning/preservation/.  Scroll down to the section titled “Design Reference For Renovation.”

Its level of detail is fascinating; it formalized and summarized for me a wealth of personal observations formed over years of long strolls, porch conversations, neighbor interaction, and study. But I also think a shorter summary might be useful. To that end, here is my own list of five key do’s and don’ts that go to the heart of what makes some renovated houses fit in nicely and leave others looking like they belong on a 1-acre lot.  Many people will find these points painfully obvious; some may disagree with them. I’ll be glad to hear your thoughts.

  1. The Golden Rule:  Build to the neighborhood scale. Find an architect who will work very hard not to plunge the neighbors into perpetual shade or make them feel they are living in the shadow of a castle. A common contributing factor to the feel of excessive height are basements that are above ground enough that they feel more like a first floor. In this vein, if you’re adding a second floor next to a house that already has one, try to line up the bedrooms windows so that they don’t face one another.
  2. Modify the existing roofline as little as possible, especially in front. There are numerous examples in this neighborhood of homes with greatly expanded capacity that do not dwarf their neighbors or appear grossly out of scale when viewed from the street.
  3. Don’t put garages on the front of the house. They stand out like a sore suburban thumb, and exiting your car directly into the house reduces interaction with your neighbors.
  4. Matching the existing front setbacks on your street will help any house fit into its setting.  While this may require an extra administrative step, the variance process was created to consider exactly this sort of challenge.
  5. Be thoughtful about your choice of exterior building materials; use the predominant historic ones on your block.

A final wish list item is mentioned separately because it’s not historically specific; it’s relevant to all remodeling and new construction, independent of the factors listed above. Capturing and reusing your stormwater is a practical and civic-minded act that ensures that your development will not cause stormwater issues for your neighbors and it will provide a return on your investment sooner than you think. Most of northeast Atlanta (including Virginia-Highland) has combined sewers – the stormwater on the street goes into the same underground pipes as our wastewater. In big storms, it’s a big problem, one we pay for every day with astronomical water rates that are primarily linked to the cost of treating stormwater. Addressing this issue benefits both your neighbors and your wallet.

You can write me at planning@vahi.org.

Lola Carlisle

Vice President, Virginia-Highland Civic Association


VHCA Announces Creation of Neighborhood Transportation Task Force

By: Jenifer Keenan and Jess Windham, VHCA Planning Committee

This spring members of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association Planning Committee met with City of Atlanta transportation planner Josh Mello to review a number of the transportation initiatives that have the capacity to impact our neighborhood in the next decade. Some of these proposals – the plans for Ponce de Leon, the Connect Atlanta plan, and the BeltLine – have been openly discussed with formal public input. Others were undertaken from more focused perspectives; the Midtown Alliance is studying 10th Street, Piedmont, and Juniper Roads and the Piedmont Heights Neighborhood Association last winter completed and adopted a plan that envisions (among other features) changes on Monroe west from Ansley Mall.

Each of these efforts has its own goals, levels of details, projected funding, timelines, relationship with one another, and probability of implementation. Some of the resulting impacts on traffic and transportation in Virginia-Highland are predictable; others are not. Given this context, VHCA is forming a task force to develop a comprehensive transportation plan for our neighborhood. The plan will complement city and regional plans (including BeltLine planning) to ensure that Virginia-Highland remains walkable, livable, and cohesive.

The transportation plan will seek to address both new and longstanding traffic and transportation issues that impact the quality of life and viability of Virginia-Highland as a single-family neighborhood. An initial list of specific concerns voiced by citizens in the last year includes volume and speed of traffic on Monroe, similar challenges on Briarcliff (including the need for new and improved crosswalk access to SPARK), cycling and pedestrian safety and usage on the BeltLine, the impacts of the upcoming opening of Ponce City Market, future new commercial development along North Highland in the Neighborhood Commercial Districts, traffic volumes and parking issues around Inman Middle School, and cut-through traffic on secondary roads within the neighborhood. Without doubt, there are others.

We have asked longtime VaHi planning consultant Aaron Fortner of Market + Main to assist us in developing this plan. Fortner has a graduate degree in City Planning from Georgia Tech and spent five years working at the City of Atlanta’s Planning Department before starting his own firm. At the city, he was part of the team that wrote the original Neighborhood Commercial zoning guidelines, and he led our neighborhood’s successful adoption of that zoning along most of this neighborhood’s North Highland Avenue commercial districts. Market + Main is currently in the process of developing a transportation model for Candler Park.

The proposed Virginia-Highland plan will be based on a combination of public input and review and professional planning approaches. It will occur in phases, with the first beginning late this summer. The final product will be ready in the first quarter of next year.  The first step is gathering public input – both online and in public forums – on existing conditions and issues. This process will identify elements that are functional and desirable, and problem areas that may require action in order to maintain the livability of the community.

There will be a variety of ways to contribute to this effort, and we would like to hear your concerns and thoughts on methodology and content. If you are interested in serving on the VHCA Transportation Task Force, please send an email to Jenifer Keenan at jkeenanvahi@yahoo.com by July 25 with your name, address, background in Virginia-Highland, and a brief – one to two sentences – description of what your interests are and why you would like to be involved.


Piedmont Heights Master Plan To Be Presented at January VHCA Board Meeting

By: Jack White, VHCA Board President

Bill Seay from the Piedmont Heights Civic Association (PHCA) will make a brief presentation on that group’s proposed new master plan at this month’s regular VHCA board meeting. The meeting is scheduled for Monday January 14 at 7 PM at the public library on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Piedmont Heights, Virginia-Highland, Morningside/Lenox Park, and Lindridge/Martin Manor are the neighborhoods that comprise NPU-F. The PHCA defines Piedmont Heights’ boundaries as being roughly I-85 on the north, the (future) BeltLine on the southwest, and Piedmont Road on the south and east. The association is seeking NPU approval for their master plan, and part of that process involves giving adjacent neighborhoods the chance to hear about the plan first-hand.

The plan merits our attention, partly because the VHCA Planning Committee has been examining the planning implications of traffic issues on our major streets for some time, and specifically because the PHCA’s plan supports the BeltLine-adopted future recommendation of reducing Monroe Drive from 4 to 3 lanes north of Piedmont. The PHCA has had to contend with Monroe as a choke point for decades. Their thinking is shifting away from expanding that street’s capacity and toward trying to making it more pedestrian and cycling-compatible, characteristics it emphatically does not possess at this point anywhere along its length.

Given the new pedestrian/bike usage and increased crowds at the new BeltLine connection with Monroe in VaHi, this challenge is increasingly front and center for us as well. BeltLine usage is likely to increase dramatically this spring. As Monroe is currently the only formal entrance point the BeltLine trail from our neighborhood, pedestrian safety is a real concern.

Click here for more details on Piedmont Height’s proposed master plan.



BeltLine Master Plan for Sub-area 6

The BeltLine Master Plan for “sub-area 6” includes the western edge of Virginia-Highland along Piedmont Park and Monroe Drive. These include proposals for improvements to the intersections of Monroe and 8th; Monroe and 10th/Virginia/Kanuga; and for converting Monroe to two lanes with a median/turn lane. Diagrams cover proposed bike access and transit.

The download can take a while as it’s 45 MB large: download main document here; there are also appendices (72 MB).

BeltLine master planning homepage

Here are some pictures from the document:


Voice – Spring 2002

Download as PDF (1.3 MB)

– VHCA unveils new web site for the new year and years to come, by Gina Davis
– PEDS update, by billie jo
– Summerfest committee introduces new chair of the Summerfest Artists’ Market, by P.K. Trettel
– President’s Address
– Ask Officer Dave
– Intown Women’s Group to host charity fundraiser, by Laurie Dugoniths
– Taking care of the trees in your neighborhood, by Kenyetta Lindsey
– Fire Station #19 dedicated new state of the art engine, by Jenn Ballentine
– THe history and future of John Howell Park, by Stephanie Coffin
– Taste great, less filling: population density and Virginia Highland in context, by Chip Gallagher
– The Highland Ho-er by John Wolfinger
– Fight Back Against Crime, by Beth Marks