Local Planners Examining Airport Issues

In its planning and visioning efforts, ARC regularly engages citizens and stakeholders around the region toward the development of a long-range vision. One of the stronger recurring themes during discussions, forums and meetings in the last five to six years has been the need for our region to sharpen its focus on a truly vital asset: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (H-JAIA). The airport is currently first in passenger volume among global airports and number four nationally in terms of cargo. It is also home to 58,000 on-site jobs, and it enables approximately 400,000 jobs regionally. This is all despite a size (5,000 acres) that is small compared to many major metropolitan airports (e.g., Dallas-Fort Worth at 18,000 acres, Denver at 30,000 acres).

Acting on this information, ARC added an Airport Investment Area (AIA) to its PLAN 2040 Unified Growth Policy Map (UGPM) and Regional Development Guide, and airport area work items were included in ARC’s PLAN 2040 work program. As an initial step in this program, ARC Land Use Division staff held a series of informal discussions with local government staff in the airport area (Hapeville, College Park, East Point, Atlanta/ADA/Department of Aviation, and Clayton County) as well as other organizations, including Georgia Power and H-JAIA Planning staff, to listen to their issues, concerns and ideas. The goal of these discussions was to begin a dialogue on better coordination and potential strategies, and to consider how the region treats its “front door to the world.”

On July 28, ARC’s Land Use Coordinating Committee—made up of local planning staff from around the region—came together at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park to open this conversation up to a wider group of planners.

Jon Tuley of ARC began the meeting with a look at the H-JAIA’s past and the challenges it faces going forward, including barriers to growth, existing and potential land use conflicts, and infrastructure needs in and around the facility. Shelley Lamar, Community Development and Land Use Planning Manager at H-JAIA, provided an overview of the airport’s rise to prominence and a look at its biggest upcoming change in the opening of the Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal (MHJIT) in April 2012. Accompanying the new terminal are myriad physical and operational changes, both “inside the fence” and beyond, such as the construction of a new access point from I-75 to the MHJIT; the updating of roughly 90 directional signs on surrounding roadways; and the introduction of shuttle service to move international travelers between the MHJIT on the east side of the property and the airport MARTA station and Rental Car Center on the west side.

Following Ms. Lamar’s presentation, Scott Condra, Senior Vice President for Development at the Jacoby Group, spoke about his company’s work on Aerotropolis Atlanta, a planned mixed-use development situated on the 130-acre site of the former Ford Motor Company Atlanta Assembly Plant in Hapeville, directly adjacent to the airport. Jacoby is developing the site to house a range of office, retail, hotel and other uses, hoping to capitalize on a concept popularized by UNC-Chapel Hill professor John Kasarda in his new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. In the book, Kasarda chronicles the increasing importance of smart development around airports as a key to the stability, growth and competitiveness of metropolitan regions in the 21st century and beyond. This type of development includes firms engaged in international trade, logistics, supply chain management, e-commerce and time-sensitive functions requiring easy access to global markets – as well as on-site or nearby supportive uses like retail and residential. In May of this year, Porsche North America announced its plans to enlarge and relocate its headquarters to Aerotropolis Atlanta.

To close the meeting, Ms. Lamar led many attendees on an in-depth tour of the MHJIT site, offering a unique view of this large-scale development. Abra Lee, Landscape Manager for H-JAIA, guided other participants on a tour of the perimeter of the airport grounds to illustrate the vast amount and wide variety of landscapes for which her team provides planning and maintenance services.

This meeting is certain to prompt questions that ARC staff, LUCC members and other area planners will be discussing in the coming weeks and months. What has been done right or wrong in and around H-JAIA in the past? Are current development patterns and land uses compatible with or taking advantage of their proximity to the airport? Do jurisdictions around H-JAIA work together? How well does the region “greet” its visitors who come to the area by way of the airport? What do local governments and the area in general need in terms of resources or assistance to be more successful? Does ARC have a role in the area? What could be improved in the communities that surround H-JAIA? What airport areas around the nation could serve as a positive example for Atlanta to follow? How could planning and development around H-JAIA be better coordinated? For planners, these kinds of questions highlight the need to think critically about existing and future land uses, transportation networks, infrastructure needs and investment decisions both inside and outside the airport fence. As the significance of our airport continues to grow, the time to plan is now.

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