June 23, 2003

$2.2M awarded for Emory Village redesign

By Michael Terrazas

For several years, there has been no shortage of ideas when it comes to revamping and (hopefully) revitalizing Emory Village; the only thing in short supply was cash. Not anymore.

In late May the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) decided to make the renovation of Emory Village eligible for funds under its Livable Centers Initiative, and just like that some $2.2 million over the next two years was made available to study, design and implement improvements to public spaces at the University’s front gate.

Though the funds actually will be awarded to DeKalb County, any work will be contracted through the Alliance to Improve Emory Village (AIEV). A consortium of University officials, Druid Hills neighbors and village property owners, AIEV has since 1999 been sifting through constituents’ opinions and commissioning expert analysis of the best way to redesign the village and the five-pointed intersection that has come to define it.

“This is highly significant,” said Davis Fox, AIEV chair. “A year ago, we completed a master plan [for Emory Village], a guide for future development.”

But that master plan, which calls for a mixed-use zoning area that combines residential, retail and commercial spaces, still lacks one major component: a workable redesign for the village intersection.

At a meeting in May 2002, AIEV received widespread enthusiasm for a plan that would convert the busy and often dangerous intersection into a traffic roundabout. With funding from the county, a temporary roundabout in combination with a “road diet”—which meant changing N. Decatur Road to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane—was supposed to have been installed last winter to study the reconfiguration’s effects, but that plan was shelved, and Fox said a new computer model will enable AIEV consultants to gauge a roundabout’s effectiveness using data of traffic volume and patterns.

“We decided [the mockup] was not the best way,” Fox said. “Unless you spent a tremendous amount of money, the temporary roundabout would have had some compromises to it, and those compromises would have affected safety and to a certain extent traffic flow. And safety is what we’re trying to fix in this intersection.”

Emory officials who sit on AIEV’s board are not convinced a roundabout would work. Facilities Management’s Hector Morales and Jen Fabrick, capital program manager and director of campus planning, respectively, are concerned the traffic volume is too high for a roundabout to handle.

“It won’t work without the road diet,” Fabrick said, admitting she is skeptical about a roundabout’s feasibility. “I still don’t understand how it can be pedestrian-safe during the critical hours of the day—which are also car rush hours.”

Fabrick said she would withhold final judgment until she sees the results of the computer modeling, which will be conducted by the national consulting firm URS.

The ARC money is split into two grants: $192,000 to be allocated in fiscal year 2004 for design work, and $2 million in FY05 for implementation. Both grants require a 20 percent match, which Fox said DeKalb County already has agreed to provide.

Once a reconfiguration is agreed upon and improvements are made to the intersection, Fox said he expects development to quickly follow.

“We’re getting a lot of phone calls from developers,” said Fox, a Druid Hills resident and commercial realtor for Coldwell Banker. “If you make significant improvements to the public infrastructure and environment in the village, private property owners will realize there’s a new economic incentive for them to do something.

“It won’t happen overnight,” he said, “but we’re confident that over a period of time the village will evolve into what the master plan envisions.”