Understanding How the Virginia-Highland Master Plan Was Drafted

VHLogo_color_horiz_letterheadBy: Jenifer Keenan, VHCA Board Member & Co-Chair, Master Plan Steering Committee

The Virginia-Highland Civic Association (VHCA) is pleased to announce that, after six months of community input, the initial draft of the Virginia-Highland Master Plan is being released today on the Master Plan website: http://www.vahimasterplan.org/.  At 140+ pages, the document provides detailed information on all the public input that has been received over the past six months.  As with all other phases of the Master Plan process, residents and business owners will continue to have an opportunity to provide input on the Plan through the Master Plan website.

Overview of the Community Input and Drafting Process

There seems to be confusion among some residents about how the VaHi Master Plan has been developed and drafted.  Some people assume that the VHCA Board has drafted the Plan.  That assumption, however, is incorrect.  The Plan was not drafted by the VHCA, and the VHCA has in no way dictated the Plan’s content.

To develop the Plan, the VHCA hired Aaron Fortner of Market + Main.  Aaron is a former City Planner and has served as the Planning Committee’s consultant on zoning and municipal issues for many years. He has led the Master Plan processes for a number of neighborhoods, including Edgewood, Brookwood Hills and Candler Park. To read Aaron’s biography, visit http://www.marketandmain.net/aaron.html.

Aaron and his team used the following process to develop the draft VaHi Master Plan:

  • Phase 1:   A Master Plan website was developed to allow residents to review concepts and provide input 24 hours a day.  The first phase of the website had a Survey and an Interactive Map where people could identify what they like most (and least) about VaHi.  The Interactive Map allowed people to make specific comments about specific locations in the neighborhood.
  • Phase 2:  Input from the Survey and Interactive Map was used to develop some Preliminary Planning Concepts for the neighborhood.  The Preliminary Concepts were presented at a public meeting and all-day design charette where people had an opportunity to talk to Aaron and his team and provide in-person input on the Preliminary Concepts.  The Preliminary Concepts were also presented on the Master Plan website so residents could provide input and comment on the Preliminary Concepts via the website as well.
  • Phase 3:  The Preliminary Concepts were modified based on the comments in Phase 2 and refined into some Proposed Concepts.  The Preliminary Concepts were presented at a January 22 public meeting and again on the website.  As in Phase 2, people had an opportunity to provide input both in person and on-line on the Preliminary Concepts.
  • Phase 4:  The Proposed Concepts were again modified based on public input and used to develop the initial draft of the Master Plan.  This draft of the Master Plan will be presented at the Virginia-Highland Civic Association Board meeting on Monday, March 10th.  As with all stages of this process, people will continue to have an opportunity to provide comments on the concepts in the Plan.  The draft plan concepts will continue to be modified based on public input until the Final Master Plan is published.

In addition to the four phases noted above, five focus groups – consisting of residents and business owners in VaHi – were conducted throughout this process to obtain input on specific issues.  Aaron and his team also met with officials of the City of Atlanta’s Planning Department to provide updates on the Plan and discuss the feasibility of the concepts that were evolving from the public input process.

Examples of the Process in Action

In order to fully understand the process, it is helpful to look at a couple of small-scale examples of specific concepts and how they evolved during the Plan development process.  In Phase 1, residents of Cooledge, and several other streets, indicated that they would like to reduce cut-through traffic and speeding on their street.  In Phase 2, “bulb outs” were proposed for several streets that expressed these concerns, including Cooledge.  During the public input part of Phase 2, the residents of that street almost unanimously indicated they did not want bulb-outs on Cooledge, deciding that they were inconsistent with the historic character of their brick street.  Residents of other streets, however, embraced bulb-outs and other traffic calming measures for their specific streets.  In Phase 3, based on the input provided in Phase 2, bulb-outs were part of the Preliminary Concepts for some streets, but were no longer proposed for Cooledge. Also, bike lanes on North Highland Avenue were proposed and considered in the opening stages.  Based on an array of public comments – many supportive – and identified challenges, the Draft Master Plan does not recommend bike lanes for North Highland.

Where varying and multiple shades of opinions were expressed – which is in a number of areas – Aaron’s team looked first for overall impacts on the community, the goals and reasoning used in existing plans (where they applied – the city’s Connect Atlanta Transpiration Plan is such an example) and offered its best judgment of how to proceed for each subject.  In some cases – changing the code to allow accessory residential structures or design guidelines, for example – the plan recommends further study of the topic and monitoring the City’s anticipated revisions.  All transportation recommendations are based on existing municipal and state laws and standards, and none conflict with city policy; many ideas reflect insights gleaned from city staff about the municipality’s evolving approaches on many topics.

Moving Forward 

As with other phases of this process, there will be ongoing opportunities to provide input, including 24 hours a day at the Master Plan website.  Our residents and neighbors have made an extraordinary number of suggestions on both broad and specific topics, and Aaron and his team have expended a huge amount of work trying to filter and synthesize everyone’s comments and aspirations for this community. Many diverse ideas have been expressed, but there are a significant number of well-identified challenges and strongly expressed wishes.

I hope everyone will review all the draft’s concepts and recommendations and provide specific comments through the website.

Best regards,

Jenifer Keenan, VHCA Board Member & VHCA Master Plan Steering Committee Co-Chair




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