Microsoft officials promise the redevelopment of the massive Westside property they recently acquired will produce much-needed affordable housing and other amenities for the community, and neighbors of the 90-acre site aim to hold them accountable to those commitments. 

On Wednesday, Microsoft representatives, leaders of the Grove Park Neighborhood Association and other stakeholders digitally convened for the tech giant’s first community engagement meeting, during which Westside residents outline their wants and needs for a development project that’s sure to change the landscape of the area for decades to come. 

“Microsoft wants to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” Michael Lawings, Microsoft’s regional director of real estate and facilities, said at the meeting.

If the community has its way, that empowerment will include new residences for people living on low incomes, jobs for the locals and other community-centric additions, such as workforce training programs, grocery stores, retail and much more. 

Microsoft officials said the property is located ideally to recruit from neighboring education institutions, including Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and the Atlanta University Center — schools that, in theory, will provide abundant recruitment opportunities for students studying for tech jobs and other fields. 

Eric Pinckney, an executive with developer Integral Group, emphasized this is just the beginning of the team’s community engagement initiative, and that the coming months would hold discussions  with the site’s neighbors about what exactly is needed when it comes to shops, restaurants, housing and other components. 

As for the residential element of the plan, Microsoft has announced that 25 percent of the project site would be dedicated to affordable housing, although details about the plan remain scant. Community members Wednesday made clear they want the tech company to reveal its intentions for rent pricing (relative to the area median income), property tax assistance and environmental sustainability, among other metrics soon.

For instance, what does Microsoft intend to do about trees on the site? What happens when they uproot some to make way for new construction? Will more be planted? What about greenspace in general? 

“The people who are going to be most affected by this project are likely not on this call,” one community member exclaimed. How will Microsoft address them, he wondered.

“It’s part of our core values to be a giving company,” said Terrance Herron, Microsoft’s senior director of government affairs assured the dozens who had tuned in, later adding that the company is taking an “aggressive approach” to engage local nonprofits who can help with every step of the process. “We’re not turning our back on anybody. We want to hear from everybody.”

Now, Microsoft is on the hook to keep its promises, not just as they pertain to housing affordability and community resources, but transparency also, as the company seeks to transform a prime piece of Atlanta real estate.

(Header image, via Microsoft: The area around Bellwood Quarry is primed for a revamp.)

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