Auto Oriented Business in PIB Marketplace – Feedback Requested

In 2016, Doraville completed a Comprehensive Plan that lays out its development roadmap for the next 20 years. To formulate this plan, the city put together a committee made up of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders (I was actually on this committee) – there were also meetings in different parts of the city that solicited broader resident input. The end result is a strong document that I believe accurately reflects what our residents would like to see Doraville become.

At the North part of our city, the plan identifies an area it calls the “PIB Marketplace” – it is adjacent to the Tilly Mill and Winters Chapel neighborhoods that has been identified for future mixed-use development, with an emphasis on walkability. Auto related businesses (gas stations, repair shops, etc) are not a part of the vision for this zone, and may hinder its creation. I have circled the Northernmost portion of the PIB Marketplace area on the city map below.

PIB Marketplace

On January 16, 2018, the council considered a request for a Conditional Use Permit for an auto glass repair business that wants to go into a spot on the access road that runs along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. It requires a Conditional Use Permit, because auto oriented businesses are no longer allowed in this zoning area. The adjacent businesses are a sign business, a liquor store, and some offices in the back. The business currently using this building is a used tire store:

CUP1705

These are some photos I took of the property that Lightning Auto Glass business would like to move into:

Council Member Koontz made several suggestions including:

  • Removing the chain link fence and replacing with a double-sided wood fence
  • Demolishing the free standing building in the back (currently used to store tires)
  • Making the sign in the front of the business code-compliant

Council Member Naser also made a couple of suggestions for his support:

  • Remove one of the driveways, eliminating a curb cut
  • Add/widen a sidwalk in front of the business.

Several nearby businesses spoke out in favor of the windshield repair business moving into this space. The owner made a passionate statement about wanting to invest in our community. Council Member Fleming indicated her support for the project if the changes above were made, and the case was sent back to staff to re-work the Conditional Use Permit request.

You can view the council meeting video of this hearing at this link. The portion that discusses the CUP for this auto glass business starts at 46:00 minutes, and ends at 1:14:40.

Council is going to vote on this on February 5th. While I think the changes above will be improvements to the site, they still do not support the comprehensive plan (which suggests that mixed-use residential should go in this location). I would like to hear from residents – particularly ones who live in the Winters Chapel and Tilly Mill areas – to hear what they would like to see in this area. I can be reached at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us.

 

Addressing Mayor/Council Salary Increase & Charter Change Questions

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I’ve received a few emails about the salary increase that went into effect this year for Doraville’s city council and mayor. The city council members’ salaries went up from $8,400 per year to $14,800. The mayor’s salary went from $14,800 to $18,000.  The council voted on this change in August 2017. While she was not able to vote on this item because she was caring for her dying husband, Dawn O’Connor introduced this agenda item and spoke with me about it at length earlier this week. She told me she sponsored this legislation because she wanted to restore the cuts that had been made to council salaries during the recession.

Most of the emails I have received have been concerned about the mayor’s salary increase. I think this concern needs to be looked at in context with what neighboring municipalities pay their own part-time mayors:

  • Brookhaven – $16,000
  • Chamblee – $18,000
  • Dunwoody – $16,000
  • Tucker – $20,000
  • Average: $17,500

With the increase, Doraville is finally back in line with what other cities in this area pay their Mayors.

No one is going to run for mayor or council for the pay.  That said, underpaying for these jobs makes it more likely that only people who are wealthy or retired can afford to run for office. We need to pay enough to be sure that the best people for the jobs are able to afford to run and serve.

 

Along with the email questions about the salary increases, some people have been advocating a charter change that would eliminate the mayor’s position and have the council members take turns as “acting mayor” with the goal of saving $18,000 a year.

If the council considered this, we would have to figure out a way to ensure there are no tie votes, while maintaining a balance between the districts. A majority of council would have to approve the change in our form of government, and then we’d need to get the majority of the city to vote in favor of it in the next general election. Changing the charter is a big deal, and I am not sure that the government we would get from the change that’s being discussed would be any better than the one we have now.

I’m much more interested in working with the council we have today to bring Doraville’s zoning and ordinances into line with those of our neighbors, in identifying landlords who are evading our city’s taxes, and in redeveloping the former GM Plant as well as our downtown.

 

Ideas for: Buford Highway

On November 28th, I attended the Buford Highway “Ideas Fair.” This was an event sponsored by Generator Labs  and We Love BuHi. The two organizations’ founders (Ryan Gravel and Marian Liou) had taught a class at Georgia Tech aimed at getting students to envision ways to help Buford Highway maintain what makes it special, while also focusing on making it a more human-centered place.

My favorite idea was called “Restoring the Right of Way.” It was from a former Northwoods resident who suggested connecting the informal paths that connect Pinetree Plaza to Northwoods in a more formal way (removing fences, adding stairs, etc). It was a good, simple idea that would help make it easier for to cut from the neighborhood to Buford Highway without so much walking – just by using already existing right-of-way space.

There were other good ideas about making bus stops more pleasant, creating apps that would tell the stories of restaurants along the strip, and enabling small business through food carts. Some of the ideas may not have been so practical, or may require a lot of work to make happen, but the best thing about the whole event was that a group of enthusiastic young people were focusing their attention along this road that is so important to Doraville.

Finally: a Solution to the Septic Situation

It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1950s – when many of our neighborhoods were built – Dekalb County’s sewer system was pretty new. In fact, many people thought the expense of getting their home connected to the sewer was not worth the money when compared to installing a simpler septic system. To some extent, those people were correct – their homes have gotten almost 70 years of use out of the septic systems they installed – and they didn’t have to pay for sewer fees on their water bills for all the years between then and now.

Today’s challenge is that many of those original septic systems are beginning to fail and this is affecting whole streets inside Doraville that had originally opted not to connect to sewer back in the 50s. Unfortunately, many of the lots that these systems were installed on are now considered too small to put in a newer septic tank. So homeowners are stuck with failing systems that are dragging down their property value and that are a risk to public health. Unfortunately, the cost to run a sewer line to an area that didn’t have it already has been prohibitive – sometimes over $100,000 per household. It was a no-win situation for everyone involved.

The Dekalb County Board of Commissioners – including our own commissioner, Nancy Jester – understood how important this problem was, and has done something about it. The county recently capped what homeowners will pay to have a sewer line extended to their house at $7500. Not only that, but the cost for this will be amortized over 10 years, so that $750 a year will be added to your tax bill for the next 10 years if your street chooses to take advantage of the program. While still a lot of money, that’s probably going to be easier for most people to handle on an annual basis than a one-time $100K hit. There would still be a separate cost to connect to the sewer from your house, which may run about $2500. Overall, though, this is still a huge benefit to residents who have been wanting to connect to the sewer for many years, but who could not afford the huge investment that it would have previously required.

A huge thank you to Nancy Jester, and the other commissioners for making this happen. Nancy’s Chief of Staff, Mike Davis, has compiled an amazing map of all the homes that are currently on a septic system in our district – which is also very helpful.  Feel free to reach out directly to the Watershed department at 404-371-3000 or  customerassurance@dekalbcountyga.gov to get the process started. If you end up needing help navigating the system, I’m happy to help – just send me an email at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us.

You can read more about the County Commissioners’ decision in this article from the Dunwoody Crier.

Chestnut Traffic Calming

I know that many residents in Northwoods and Gordon Heights are concerned about traffic on Chestnut Drive. The city does have a plan for addressing this – one that would look very similar to the calming done on Oakcliff Road earlier this year.  The plan is available online at the city website – you can also see it below.

Chestnut 160324 11x17

If you’re curious about what this plan would look like in action, take a drive down Oakcliff Road.

Maybe this is the answer to slowing things down on Chestnut. Whatever the city does, though, we need to make sure we have plenty of input from residents. Just because this plan exists, we shouldn’t think that it’s the only

There are other ways to calm traffic that should be considered.

  • More stop signs – if you look at the plan above, there are several long stretches where cars don’t need to stop at all – why not add more stops at the 3-way intersections?
  • Lower the speed limit – does Chestnut really need to be a 35-mph street? Why not lower it to 25, so that traffic goes at the same speed as the other streets in the neighborhood? (actually – it looks like the city council already voted in favor of this, and it may have been vetoed by the state. I am researching)
  • Install roundabouts instead of stop signs – roundabouts are proven to reduce accidents and make drivers slow down, while not actually stopping traffic

I’m open to all options – including proceeding with the city’s current plan or going with some completely new idea. I want to make sure I hear from the citizens who live Northwoods and Gordon Heights, though, to understand what they would like to see. What ideas do you have for slowing down traffic in our residential neighborhoods? E-mail me those ideas at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us.