As the federal government continues to curtail funding for affordable housing development nationwide, the city of Berkeley, California is moving to create its own cryptocurrency in an effort to potentially replace outlays for affordable housing from Washington with municipally-backed crypto-bonds. The so-called “crypto-impact” proposal is the brainchild of Berkeley city councilperson Ben Bartlett and Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguín, who have partnered with the University of California, Berkeley’s Blockchain Lab and municipal public financing firm Neighborly for the effort. The proposal would create a municipally-controlled blockchain system that would back bonds issued by the city to help fund affordable or supportive housing and other city services, CityLab reports. Explaining the need for the cryptocurrency, Bartlett told CityLab, “The federal government has committed itself to [tearing] us apart, to dividing people by race and gender. And through its fiscal policies, it’s taking away the ability for cities to fund [things like] affordable housing.” Bartlett’s response is to remove some amount of fiscal control away from the federal government and place it instead in the hands of like-minded private investors with digital money. If successful, Berkeley’s Initial Coin Offering (ICO) planned for later this year would make the city the first municipality in the country to enter the risky cryptocurrency sphere. The plan would allow investors to use blockchain—a digital, crowd-sourced ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin—to purchase digital currency backed by city bonds. The program, according to Bartlett would augment municipal services and could potentially be used as a day-to-day currency by residents at some point in the future, as well. The effort comes amid the recently-passed, Republican-backed tax overhaul, which public accounting firm Novogradac & Company estimates could whittle the future production of affordable housing by close to 235,000 units over the next decade, Business Insider reports. The regressive tax bill would exacerbate the regional housing crisis that has overtaken Berkeley by putting a dent in the city’s ability to develop affordable housing. The new tax bill also comes amid growing—and concerning—threats on the part of the current administration to cut off federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities like Berkeley. Bartlett told Business Insider, "We have a jobs explosion and a super tight housing crunch. You're looking at a disaster. We thought we'd pull together the experts and find a way to finance [affordable housing] ourselves." Estimates for how much total funding or how many housing units overall could be created using the proposed cryptocurrency have not been released. It is also unclear if the municipality will change its restrictive zoning policies to make room for more housing units and better instrumentalize the new funding. The risky scheme could potentially play a role, however, in taking advantage of a recently-proposed state law that would loosen density, height, and parking requirements around transit in an effort to boost housing production in the state. The law—still in its draft form—could increase zoning capacity across California to the tune of millions of new housing units. A traditionally-financed $3 billion state-issued bond initiative is currently in the works, as well, as are various municipally-led housing bond initiatives. A committee dedicated to the cryptocurrency scheme is currently working to implement the city’s ICO by May of 2018.
Posts tagged with "Affordable Housing":
The on-again-off-again redevelopment of Willets Point in Queens is finally moving ahead, after an injunction early last year seemed to have doomed the project. As first reported in the New York Times, Mayor Bill de Blasio has struck a deal with the project’s original developers, and 1,100 units of affordable housing are now set to rise on the parcel. First announced in 2011 under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, the original Willets Point project would have repurposed 23 acres on the site of the former Shea Stadium in Flushing-Corona. Queens Development Group, a city collaboration with developers Sterling Equities and The Related Companies, would have built out 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development with 2,500 units of housing, 500,000 square feet of office space, 900,000 square feet of retail. The most contentious portion of the original redevelopment was Willets West, a one-million-square-foot-plus mega-mall that would have pulled land from the nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park. After a state court ruled in 2015 that the city couldn’t legally parcel up the park, Willets Point seemed dead in the water. With the announcement of a new plan for the Iron Triangle (as the neighborhood is known for the high number of auto repair shops), de Blasio has skirted around the state’s concerns by dropping the mall entirely. Instead, the Queens Development Group will now build 1,100 affordable housing units on the six acres that the city already owns, in addition to a 450-seat elementary school and front-facing neighborhood retail. 100 apartments will be set-aside for formerly homeless families, and another 220 will go to seniors. Other than the increased number of affordable units, 1,100 units versus the original 875, the city will retain control of the land instead of selling it to the developers as originally promised. Related and Sterling will also be responsible for remediating beneath the project site before construction on the residential buildings can begin; Willets Point has been used for manufacturing for a century. Most of the immigrant-owned auto shops and scrap yards are now gone, after the city seized the land under eminent domain in preparation for the redevelopment. The site clean up is expected to finish in 2020, with 500 of the 1,100 units to be completed in 2022. The plan for the remaining 17 acres is up in the air at this point, and Mayor de Blasio has convened a task force with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Council Member Francisco Moya to come up with further development plans. “Willets Point has been 12 years of bad politics and broken promises. With this deal, we can look to providing some great housing relief for a lot of people who need it. By securing school seats, deep affordability, and senior housing we have accomplished something none of the previous iterations have been able to,” said Moya.
A nonprofit affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York has revealed plans to build a new, all-affordable apartment complex on the Lower East Side. The Grand Street Guild will build two 15-story towers, one specifically for seniors and the other for families and individuals. The group has hired New York's Handel Architects, the same firm behind San Francisco's sinking Millennium Tower, to design the project. Local blog The Lo-Down reported that District Leader and Grand Street Guild resident Paez said one of the towers will be built on the site of a parking garage at Broome and Clinton Streets, and the other will be replace a Broome Street daycare, one block over. Both sites are just a block south of the Williamsburg Bridge on-ramp. The complex is being built in collaboration with New York City's Housing Preservation and Development and the city's Housing Development Corporation, along with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Grand Street Guild has built and maintained affordable housing in the neighborhood for decades. In 1973, the organization build three towers with 600 units on the land surrounding St. Mary's Church on nearby Grand Street. This time, there will be 400-plus rental units total, and construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2019. The project will rise amid Essex Crossing, the massive mixed-use development at Essex and Delancey streets whose first phase will wrap in 2018.
Eager to combat a serious housing shortage in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, State Senator Simcha Felder (D- Southern Brooklyn) announced Tuesday that the MTA would be opening a Request for Proposals (RFP) for developing a 3.8-acre stretch of rail bed that runs through the area. Decking over the site and building residences, similar to what’s happened in Hudson Yards and proposed for Sunnyside Yards, could bring thousands of units to an area of south Brooklyn that’s grown rapidly in recent years. The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) Bay Ridge Branch section cuts from 61st Street between Fort Hamilton Parkway, and 8th Avenue, and is seldom used apart from the freight trains that might pass through once or twice a day. Looking to create a long-term revenue stream from the site, the MTA released their RFP for developing the site’s airspace, at least 22 feet over the rail bed, on Thursday, available here. Calling for private developers to apply, the RFP demands that teams would not only be responsible for the architectural aspect of the residential buildings on the site, both market-rate and affordable, but also retail and office space as well as parking lots. Additionally, any scheme has to leave the rail track in place, and engineering solutions must be included for decking over a gap that ranges from 82 -feet wide in some places to 118 feet in others. This is no easy feat, especially as utilities must also be supplied to the site and would presumably run through the decking; it’s no wonder that the MTA is requiring the entire project to be privately financed. The cost of decking over the much larger, 180-acre Sunnyside Yards has been projected to cost up to $19 billion for similar reasons, though no cost estimates have been released for this stretch of the LIRR yet. The fight to build over this stretch of tracks has been going on for years, with local community groups only recently embracing the plan. Senator Felder stressed that any new construction would have to fit the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. “The vision is to create residential development that is consistent with the character of the neighborhood,” said Felder. “The location of this project presents a significant opportunity to create additional housing units on a gigantic parcel of land that covers a few city blocks.” Interested applicants have until April 27th, 2018, to submit a proposal.
After rounds of contentious public hearings and protests from those on both sides of the debate, the New York City Council unanimously approved a wide-ranging rezoning for the East Harlem neighborhood on November 30th, as well as the 750,000-square foot, mixed-use Sendero Verde development. The latest rezoning plan covers a 96-block area from East 106th Street to East 138th Street and is meant to address the looming affordable housing crisis facing the neighborhood. Proponents of the move have said that East Harlem, where half of all residents are rent-burdened, or spend more than one-third of their income on rent, will lose 200 to 500 units of affordable housing per year without intervention. Officials from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development have argued that, by allowing higher density development, mandatory inclusionary housing requirements will be triggered and necessitate that 20 to 25 percent of the units in new developments will be affordable. After Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Viverito formed a neighborhood plan in 2015 that laid out what the community wanted out of a potential rezoning, neighborhood groups and Community Board 11 later pushed back after they felt their recommendations had been ignored. A new deal, struck by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio before the final vote, now caps building heights at a maximum of 325 feet along the neighborhood’s transit corridors, to limit density and address pushback from East Harlem residents. Other than the new development limits, city officials included a $222 million investment into improving the lives of current residents, including a $50 million concession for New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) East Harlem buildings and $102 million for a new public park between East 125th Street and East 132nd Street. Still, some residents feel that the new deal doesn’t hew closely enough to the Neighborhood Plan, that the city should have taken rent-stabilized buildings out of the rezoning area, and that the definition of “affordable housing” will need to be more reflective of a neighborhood with a median income of $30,000 a year. Also on the City Council’s docket was the approval of the Handel Architects-designed Sendero Verde project, a 680-unit, fully affordable mixed-use development built to passive house standards. Anticipating that the rezoning would pass, Sendero Verde will occupy an entire block, from East 111th to 112th Street, between Park and Madison avenues. Although the development will replace four existing community gardens, it also includes a DREAM charter school, grocery store, YMCA, restaurant, and Mount Sinai-run health facility. East Harlem is already changing rapidly, with several new projects from well-known studios, such as Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) Gotham East 126th Residential having broken ground in recent months. The full, finalized list of changes made to the East Harlem rezoning plan can be read here.
A housing development in Manhattan that was designed with the help of noted urbanist Jane Jacobs is threatened with demolition. New York-based developer Madison Equities has offered to purchase the West Village Houses, a low-rise development in the West Village containing 420 coop apartments, and wants to tear down all or part of them and replace them with high-rise housing, according to residents and preservationists familiar with the proposal. Bounded by Bank, Morton, Washington and West streets, the development consists of 42 five-story walkup buildings connected by gardens and other common areas. It was planned with Jacobs’ help in the 1960s, and designed by Perkins + Will. The first residences were completed in 1974. Madison Equities made the unsolicited proposal to redevelop the community this fall, and residents have been holding meetings this month to decide how to respond to it. The community’s board of directors has surveyed residents about the proposal and indicated it will seek competing offers before making any decisions. “We find ourselves horrified that such a proposal would be put forward,” one group of residents said in a statement. “We wonder why anyone would want to destroy the fruits of Jane Jacobs’ dream. We know that we have the greatest luxury of all, right here, right now; the luxury of living in the world Jane Jacobs imagined.” Jeffrey Lydon, an architect who specializes in preservation and a former board member who has lived at the West Village Houses for 35 years, said, “This is an enormously successful community. It’s been a great incubator for families, a great investment for people, and a great demonstration of what Jane Jacobs was talking about.” Beyond the residents themselves, preservations are also sounding the alarm. According to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, “It’s the only development that [Jacobs] had a hand in designing. That gives it significance that extends far beyond Greenwich Village.” What distinguishes the houses is their site planning, which was oriented towards “simple, low-scale buildings with communal space rather than the high-rise options that were considered de rigueur at the time.” The plain brown brick buildings were constructed under the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing subsidy program. In 2002, the owners of the complex announced they were opting out of the program, and many residents faced enormous rent increases. A conversion to cooperative housing was completed in 2006, enabling most of the residents to remain either as owners or renters. Building high-rises on that site would be the “greatest disgrace to what Jane Jacobs wanted,” said architectural historian Francis Morrone. Morrone acknowledged that the buildings themselves are not great architecture, due to a tight budget intended to keep costs down. “It’s only a very pale reflection of what she had in mind.” What’s significant, Morrone said, is that Jacobs and the other planners were concerned about how the West Village Houses embody “a model for housing in the West Village.” He added, “The scale and color of the materials help that area of the Village keep the character it has.” Madison Equities’ offer comes one year after urbanists around the world celebrated the centennial of Jacob’s birth, on May 4, 1916. Despite their connection to Jacobs, the Houses are not protected by local landmark designation. The development was left out of the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension designated by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006. Madison Equities declined to discuss the company’s offer. An overview of the proposal released by the community’s board of directors states that Madison Equities has promised guaranteed sale prices for those wishing to sell, and luxury amenities for those wishing to stay. It calls for the residents who wish to stay to move out of their residences while construction is underway, and then move into the new high-rise housing once it's completed. “The fact is, 1,000 people live there, roughly speaking, and 1,000 lives are at stake,” said Robert Kanigel, author of Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, published last year. “It’s set against the pattern of Manhattan becoming unaffordable for the middle class, and that’s one of the things Jane Jacobs tried to address.” With the expiration of a community-wide tax abatement slated for March 2018, residents have been looking for solutions to keep the apartments affordable. They say they fear they won’t be able to afford the high real estate taxes the now-sought-after neighborhood commands. Residents say they’ve tried to get help from the Mayor’s office and state legislators, but no solutions are forthcoming. They also referred to a 20-year plan suggested by the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development that would limit sale options for owners, but many owners in their sixties and seventies expressed reservations about it. The Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, did not respond to a request for information. A plan to sell a parking garage the coop owns in order to preserve affordability, put forward by a previous board of directors, is currently still theoretically open for a vote by the owners. But that vote is now being discouraged by the current board members while they decide how to respond to the developer’s offer, say opponents of the demolition plan. Berman said the current “contextual zoning” for the community allows buildings to rise no more than 60 to 65 feet along the street wall and 80 feet within the block, so any proposal for high-rises would require rezoning approval from the city before construction could begin. He said his organization would prefer to see the existing buildings remain and the residents not displaced. Ultimately, he said, “it is our hope that we will be able to find a solution that preserves as much as possible of the original design and the affordability.”
Today the New York City Council voted to approve a controversial redevelopment plan for Brooklyn's Bedford-Union Armory. The plan, Bedford Courts, proposes revamping the vacant, city-owned armory with a 67,000-square-foot recreation hall, 330 rental apartments and 60 condominiums. The recreational facilities would include multi-purpose courts, a swimming pool, and an indoor turf field.The project still must be approved by the Mayor's Office before it can begin development. The project is designed by Marvel Architects, with Bedford Courts LLC and BFC Partners as the plan developers. CAMBA, a local non-profit, will manage the recreational facility and administer the initial affordable housing program. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) will administer leases and provide project oversight. The New York City Housing Preservation and Development agency (NYCPHD) will serve as an advisor to NYCEDC and Bedford Courts on affordable housing and regulate the affordable housing program after construction, taking over CAMBA's responsibilities. Although 50 percent of the rental units and 20 percent of condos would be made affordable, the plan's opponents have argued it does not include nearly enough affordable housing, given rising rents and the potential for displacement as Crown Heights gentrifies. City Planning Commission member Michelle de la Uz told DNAinfo, "Given that this is publicly owned land, the community has come to expect more." When the City Planning Commission greenlit the plan on Monday, de la Uz was the only Commission member to vote against it. Monday's decision was also met with public opposition, with protesters gathered outside and within City Hall. Two demonstrators were arrested at the meeting.
Today the City Planning Commission (CPC) heard development updates from East New York, the first city neighborhood to be completely rezoned under comprehensive affordable housing rules passed in 2015. To achieve the goals of the rezoning, the East New York Neighborhood Plan was approved in April 2016, and now, a year and a half later, there are 1,000 affordable units in the pipeline, plus an 1,000-seat school, and safety-in-mind streetscape improvements along major thoroughfares like Atlantic Avenue to link new developments together. The rezoned area spans 190 square blocks and is the first to apply Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a suite of rules that require a certain percentage of housing be designated as permanently affordable. In addition to building affordable housing, the East New York plan aims to preserve existing affordable units, while offering legal services to tenants, providing support to homeowners at risk of displacement, and transitioning families in the shelter system into local permanent housing. As far as new construction goes, the city estimates that 6,000 units of affordable housing will be built over the next 15 years. The latest—and largest—of these developments is Chestnut Commons, a 274-unit complex by Dattner Architects on a vacant city-owned site on Atlantic Avenue, near busy Conduit Boulevard. In the affordable housing world, Dattner is best known for Via Verde, an ecological housing complex in the South Bronx it completed with Grimshaw in 2012. Here, the New York City firm is kitting out a 300,000-square-foot complex, called Chestnut Commons, with solar panels, specially-glazed windows, natural lighting, and other design features from the passive house movement that improve building performance by minimizing solar heat gain and thermal bridging. In addition to shared roof terraces for tenants, amenities will include a black box theater operated by a local arts nonprofit, a kitchen incubator for jobs training, and a CUNY Kingsborough satellite campus. The ground floor of the 14-story building will sport retail spaces, and new streetscaping will connect the complex to a cleaned-up Atlantic Avenue corridor (map). The apartments will be geared towards families, though there's no word yet on the units' sizes. At the CPC meeting today, though, a representative from the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) confirmed the development will be 100 percent affordable. Half of the units at Chestnut Commons will be available to households making 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $51,540 for a family of three. After that, 15 percent of the units will be open to families making 30 percent of the AMI, 20 percent of the units will go to households at 40 AMI, and 15 percent will be available to those at 50 AMI. HPD is working with MHANY Management, the Urban Builders Collaborative, and the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) to develop the project. The levels of affordability were a major point of contention when the neighborhood plan was passed last year. According to a 2015 report from Comptroller Scott M. Stringer's office, more than half of the affordable units to be developed under the neighborhood plan are too pricey for current residents. (The mayor's office disputed the findings.) Last year, the city confirmed that any HPD-sponsored project in East New York will be 100 percent affordable to families earning between 30 and 90 percent of the AMI.
AECOM has a bold, transformational vision for the areas immediately surrounding the Los Angeles River in Downtown Los Angeles. The firm’s recently-published Los Angeles River Gateway proposal envisions a dense web of newly interconnected neighborhoods and recreational areas surrounding a four-mile stretch of the river between Elysian Park and the Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Arts District, and Civic Center neighborhoods. The plan calls for nearly 300 acres of publicly-accessible riparian areas surrounding the river. Those recreational and flood-control areas would be joined, according to the plan, by 36,620 residential units, including at least 7,874 affordable homes. The plan calls for making 100 percent of the riverfront areas accessible to the public by absorbing the surrounding industrially-zoned lands and converting those parcels to park areas. The unsolicited study seeks to join “the city with [the] river and nature” by physically connecting the neighborhoods surrounded by the L.A. River with the river itself. It also works within the confines of existing neighborhood plans and leans on already-approved proposals to paint – not a radical vision for the future – but something more akin to a visualization of what the built-out area might eventually look like under current plans. AECOM proposes a series of approaches for bridging over privately- and publicly-owned rail yards surrounding the river’s banks on either side, including plans for underground tunnels that would serve high-speed rail, public transit, and private freight trains. Other potential options include the erection of an elevated trestle system for trains that would allow pedestrians to walk below the tracks and a fill-and-mound system of terraforming to span over the tracks. The River Gateway proposal also calls for adding nearly 150,000 jobs to the area, a 200% increase over the existing number of jobs currently contained within the study areas, according to the authors. Under the plan, 97% of the area’s jobs would be located within a 10-minute walk from the handful of existing and forthcoming light rail stops that serve the area. Renderings for the scheme depict sweeping, tree-filled vistas of the areas surrounding the river, with the areas around Union Station particularly transformed by new structures. The renderings show the City’s brutalist Piper Tech records and police facility being replaced by mixed-use housing towers, for example. Low- to mid-rise apartment blocks would flank the riverbanks on both sides and ultimately bleed into realized visions projected under the new Civic Center Master Plan. The Los Angeles River Gateway plan calls for a 40-year implementation schedule, with many of the improvements either begun or partially completed in time for the 2028 Olympic Games. Under the plan, the downtown section of the L.A. River would act as a “gateway” for Olympics visitors. A full version of AECOM’s proposal can be found here.
Denver, Colorado–based affordable housing developers Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) and Medici Consulting Group (MCG) recently revealed plans to move forward on a project that aims to establish a transit-oriented development at the heart of the city’s booming River North Art District (RiNo) neighborhood. The so-called Walnut Street Lofts—an architect for the project has not been announced—would bring 65 affordable housing units pegged for residents making between 30- and 60-percent of the area’s median income. When the development comes online in 2019, it is expected to provide affordable rents, with one-bedroom units going for roughly $400 per month and three-bedroom apartments running up to $1,200 per month. The 1.5-acre site for the project was purchased by ULC in 2011 as part of the developer’s long-term land-banking strategy, which entails purchasing cheap land in gentrifying Denver neighborhoods as a means of embedding affordable housing in growing areas. When the non-profit acquired the Walnut Street Lofts parcel in 2011, for example, the lot came out to a sale price of about $30 per square foot, a bargain considering a site nearby recently sold for roughly $200 per square foot, the Denver Post reports. For the project, ULC sold the development rights to the land to MCG but will retain ownership of the land via an automatically-renewing 99-year ground lease. The complex, according to a rendering released by the developers, features simple, rectilinear massing with punched openings with operable window assemblies. The complex will also feature ground floor retail spaces and is laid out with a central courtyard. The project will benefit from funding provided by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, which awarded Medici $1,198,115 in low-income housing tax credits to help finance the estimated $17 million project. The project also received funding from Colorado-based development firm McWinney, which chipped in $1.5 million in funding as part of a deal to win a density bonus for a development located on a nearby parcel. The Walnut Street Lofts are expected to break ground in late 2018 and will be completed in 2019.
Several bills aimed at alleviating California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis advanced through the state legislature late last night, re-igniting the state’s housing activists and raising hopes that housing relief is on the way. The six initiatives address different facets of the crisis, but have been seen as a collective success and an initial step toward more full-fledged efforts by the state to rein in skyrocketing rents and reverse the housing shortage. The California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2)—the most controversial of the batch—a proposal that adds $75 to a $225 fee to mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions, excluding home and commercial property sales. The fee is projected to raise $250 million per year for low-income affordable housing, and provide a permanent and consistent funding source to rehabilitate and expand that market, the Los Angeles Times reported. When matched with federal, local, and private funds, it is estimated that the fee could raise over $5 billion for such housing over the next five years, according to The Mercury News. Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), also passed Thursday night, paves the way for a $4 billion bond designed to finance low-income housing development and provide mortgages to military veterans to go onto the 2018 statewide ballot. Providing housing for formerly-homeless veterans has been a particular focus of ongoing housing efforts across the state. Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) would streamline the approval of housing development, requiring cities and counties to develop land use plans that include a housing element and hold municipalities accountable to those figures. Senate Bill 166 would also pressure municipalities to meet their housing goals while also forbidding them from lowering residential density in their respective zoning codes to reduce the overall number of required units. Senate Bill 167 would strengthen the state's Housing Accountability Act—which compels municipalities to approve low-income housing projects, among other types of housing—by fining municipalities automatic fines of $10,000 per unit of unbuilt housing resulting from their violation of the act. Various municipalities around the Bay Area have caused controversy in recent years for violating the act, which in turn, has resulted in lawsuits from housing activists. Senate Bill 540 incentivizes “workforce housing opportunity zones” by allowing municipalities to adopt specific plans for local areas that are particularly in need of housing. The bill would streamline redevelopment efforts, especially in relation to California Environmental Quality Act approvals. Both SB 2 and SB 3 cleared the California State Senate earlier this year; those bills and the four additional measures will head back to that chamber for final approval today before being sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has until October 15th to veto or sign the bills.
Last week, the City of Atlanta announced that the first phase of the Atlanta BeltLine's keystone project – a 400-foot deep former granite quarry proposed as a new reservoir and public greenspace – will open to the public in 2019. The Atlanta Beltline is a ring of former railways around the southern capital that is being redeveloped into a 22-mile ribbon of parkway that will eventually connect 45 neighborhoods. It is the single largest economic development project the city has ever undertaken. The Bellwood Quarry itself is an impressive site at a monumental scale, and has been featured in shows and movies like The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and The Hunger Games. The re-use of the quarry and parkland surrounding it, spanning 280 acres, is no small task. In partnership with the BeltLine, the Department of Watershed Management has drained the mineral pit of its standing water and is now boring a massive mile-long tunnel connecting it to the Chattahoochee River, with the end goal of providing Atlanta with 30 days of reservoir water rather than its current 5-day supply. Although the quarry is closed to the public for construction, it seems to be proceeding at a clip, and this announcement may be a hint that the process is being expedited in line with the end of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's term in November. After all, the quarry is a highly-anticipated legacy project. The RFP for design proposals for the park surrounding the reservoir closed yesterday after opening in late July. According to an anonymous source close to the project, the first phase of the Westside Reservoir Park will likely be a smaller prototype park on a small fraction of the total property, meant to garner public enthusiasm and draw investment while the larger reservoir project undergoes construction. Whether this pocket park will be completed by 2019 is a matter of skepticism within the organization, according to AN's source. One factor complicating matters is a recent shakedown in leadership: Paul Morris, the former CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., stepped down three weeks ago after a heated public controversy surrounding the organization's shaky commitment to affordable housing in new development around the park. However, Morris' replacement, Brian McGowan, brings a hefty amount of experience in civic and economic development to the seat, having formerly served as the Executive Vice President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, CEO of Invest Atlanta, and is now leaving a position as a Principal at international law firm Dentons. Whether the first chapter of Bellwood Quarry's extensive refurbishment will be open to the public by 2019 or not, the BeltLine and its partners have, at least for the time being, redirected public attention away from what's sure to be a long and drawn-out debate about what the BeltLine – with all its ecological, recreational, and economic benefits – will mean for surrounding neighborhoods in the long term. This is not a question limited to the BeltLine. Hopefully the project will spur lawmakers to push for more affordable housing than is currently proposed by ABI, which now works in tandem with the Atlanta Housing Authority. For the scale of the project – which circles the entirety of Metro Atlanta with a population of 5.7 million – 5,600 affordable units seems like a low bar.