2018 Capital Budget – Parks in Northwoods

In 2015, Doraville published its Parks and Recreation Master Plan,  laying out a framework of improvements needed for every park in the city. Here are the improvements that were called for in the Northwoods neighborhood’s parks:

Brook Park

  • Renovate tennis courts
  • Add perimeter walking loop with paved access to park amenities
  • Consolidate playground area, make ADA
  • General maintenance is needed on pavilion
  • Provide a restroom facility

Autumn Park:

  • Provide perimeter walking loop with paved connections to park amenities
  • Address ADA
  • Clear invasive species from stream corridor
  • Provide a restroom facility

Unfortunately, the city never developed a strategy for implementing the plan, and thus improvements for the Northwoods parks have remained in limbo since 2015. This is despite the fact that, at the time the plan was published, Brook Park was the 4th most used asset within our city’s Parks system (behind the Civic Center, Forest Fleming Fields, and Forest Fleming Arena). It was also listed as one of the most underdeveloped parks in the system.

On Saturday, the city’s staff emailed Doraville council members with a finalized capital budget for the rest of this fiscal year (through June 30, 2018). A lot of the items in this budget are repairs or maintenance that must be done for safety or legal compliance. There are also a few items listed that we have received ear-marked grants for, so we’re limited in how we can spend that money.

I was happy to see that there was some money devoted to a park in Northwoods, but it was $30,000 for a walking path in Autumn park (the line item also mentions stream improvements, but these will cost a lot more than $30,000 and are unlikely to happen this year). The city also is proposing to spend $10,000 on playground equipment in Autumn Park and English Oak Park – even though the playground equipment in both these parks is fairly new.

The city council has to vote on this budget on Monday night. I think that residents in Northwoods might prefer to see some improvements in Brook Park rather than in Autumn Park. I’m open to making an amendment to this capital budget to reallocate the money if it looks like there is lot of support in that direction.

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Focus on improvements to the pavilion at Brook Park – including updating the tables, adding tables and benches around the pavilion area and renovating the grill.
  • Focus on accessibility to the pavilion. You currently have to walk down a steep slope covered with pine needles to get to it. This is difficult and even dangerous for people who are mobility challenged.
  • Spend some of the money on a conceptual design that engages the Northwoods neighborhood on conceptual designs for both parks.
  • Go ahead with the plan to build the path around Autumn Park

Some of the other recommendations in the 2015 Parks Plan (fixing the tennis courts and removing ivy from the stream in Autumn park, in particular) are good – we just aren’t going to realistically accomplish them for $30-40,000.

I’m interested in hearing thoughts from Northwoods residents about what kind of improvements they’d like to see with the parks. Please feel free to email me at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us. I know that my fellow District 2 Council Member, MD Naser, would also like to hear from you.


Addressing Sanitation Issues

This week, I had a conversation with our city manager about several of the complaints regarding trash collection that people have posted to social media or sent to me directly. Among the biggest issues:

  • Sanitation drivers throwing cans into driveways or yards without consideration for the damage they may cause to landscaping or the annoyance they cause when people get home from work and can’t pull into their driveway
  • The recycling buckets that are not enclosed and allow refuse to blow away and litter the neighborhood – many people would prefer rolling bins for recycling
  • Items left out on the side of the street for long periods of time, not getting picked up when they were supposed to be
  • Doraville residents don’t know who to call when they are requesting something related to trash-pick up. Sometimes they’ve been directed to call Advanced Disposal, and sometimes they’re re-directed by Advanced to call City Hall.

The city manager will be meeting with Advanced Disposal’s representative in the next few days to address some of the service issues we’ve experienced – including skipped pick-ups and carelessness with bins. At the same time, the city is going to work to improve its own processes related to garbage pick-up, scheduling and issue-tracking. In the coming weeks, I expect we will see some communication directly from the city about this plan and what it will mean for us.

In the meantime, the city should always be your point of contact for sanitation-related issues, and I’ve been given renewed assurance that our administrative staff will be following up on any requests they receive regarding complaints. The number for city hall is 770-451-8745.

If you would like to have an appliance, sofa, or other bulk-item picked up, please call city hall at 770-451-8745 to request the pick-up. They will give you a date when they are able to sche​dule Advanced Disposal to come pick it up. Do not place your items on the curb before this date. If the pick-up doesn’t happen, please let the city know immediately so they can address that with the vendor.

Please feel free to reach out directly to me at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us if you have any trash-collection related issue that does not get addressed in a timely manner or a question that city hall has not been able to answer for you.


Progress at Assembly

I’ve received emails from some people who complain that there is no quality development at the site of the former GM Plant – now known as “Assembly” or “Assembly Yards.” While things have moved more slowly at Assembly than I would have liked, it’s not fair to say that there is no quality development happening.

In fact, the world headquarters of Serta Simmons Bedding (also known as “SSB,” the largest mattress manufacturer in the world!) is currently under construction at Assembly, and slated to open in 2019.  I ride MARTA to work, and can see this development happening on a day-to-day basis from the platform of the Doraville station. It’s been very exciting. There are already 2 stories built, with more to come – the final facility will be 210,000 square feet and will house 500 employees on a 5-acre campus. This is a big company that believes in the city’s vision for that site – having them on board makes it more likely that other companies will decide to move here.

I was recently at a BisNow forum where Andy Barfield, a Vice President at Holder Properties (which is developing the SSB campus) spoke about the site selection process.  They wanted to consolidate along the I-85 corridor, and liked Assembly because of its vision, its proximity to MARTA — and because it was one of the only sites in the area with that much contiguous space:

Barfield did refer to some challenges to an evolving master plan like the one at Assembly. Since the site is still under construction and there aren’t other large tenants, you are sometimes figuring out where roads and utilities are as you go:

Real Estate development projects are extremely expensive, and take a long time to get off the ground. Assembly is going to be “under construction” for some time. With that said, I think that Serta Simmons Bedding deciding to settle in Doraville is extremely good news, and a sign of momentum picking up for the project.


Council Hires a City Manager

Doraville has a City Manager form of government. This means that the city council sets policy, passes ordinances, approves the budget, and develops the overall vision of the city. Rather than having the mayor or council manage day-to-day staff and operations, the council hires a city manager who oversees all administrative operations and implements the policies of the council. The City Manager is arguably the single most important job in the city.

When the council met on January 16th, Doraville had been without a permanent city manager since May.  We did have an extremely qualified interim city manager – Regina Williams-Gates – whose resume included long-term stints at San Jose, California and Norfolk, Virginia. The “interim” status, however meant that she wasn’t fully empowered to make some important hiring decisions or to do much more than stabilize day-to-day city operations. I had identified this as a problem during my campaign for office, and it continued to concern me after being sworn in.

I heard from some residents who thought the city should conduct a new job search to get candidates we could interview. I can only speak for myself, but I was against this approach because I felt like it would take too long and potentially add more instability for the people who work at city hall, The time for an extensive search was in the Summer, shortly after this position opened up. At this point, I felt that we already had a capable interim city manager who was interested in coming on as the permanent city manager. We need someone in the city manager position now so that person can start filling several other open positions immediately (Finance Director, Public Works Director, Parks Director, and Clerk among them).

For these reasons, I voted along with the rest of the council to extend an offer to Ms Gates to be our permanent City Manager – an offer I’m pleased to say she accepted. There is a lot of work to be done, but I think we have made one step forward toward making it all happen.




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:


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.