SPLOST Update

Over the last several months, city council has been working to finalize the first set of infrastructure projects to spend its SPLOST funds on. Doraville can only spend these funds as they come in, so prioritization is important.

The council came to a consensus on these issues at its retreat in February, and we will be voting on them in a special meeting on March 4. I believe we all agreed that the city should focus on completing projects that had been started in the past and never finished (notably Oakcliff Road); projects that had been long-promised (demolishing derelict buildings owned by the city; making improvements in Brook Park); and focusing on needed safety improvements (upgrades to police systems, and fixing the cross walk at Buford Highway and Park Ave).

I have put the list of projects that council will be voting on into the spreadsheet below (it can also be accessed here). I ordered it based on completion/delivery date, which is what I’m most focused on (next to the cost).

I think this is a good list of projects that touches every neighborhood in our city. I’m hopeful we’ll see progress on many of them by the Summer. You can read the full city council packet here.

Addressing Speeding Traffic on Chestnut

Many people who live in Northwoods have been discussing traffic along Chestnut Drive, and talking about the need for better speed enforcement or else traffic calming. This has been a long-standing issue, as well as one with a lot of nuance.

Per state law, ​the Georgia Department of Transportation must approve any road where speed detection devices are going to be used. Before I was elected, in 2017, the Doraville council approved several reductions in speed limit: on Chestnut, Winters Chapel, Oakcliff and Tilly Mill. The changes were made because of legitimate safety concerns about the speed and volume of traffic in these areas – unfortunately, GDOT must approve any road where speed detection devices may be used. By changing the speed limit, Doraville lost its ability to use radar detection on these streets.

I have spoken about this with both Chief King as well as our city manager, Regina Gates. Both have told me that GDOT denied our first request to be able to use radar detection on Chestnut and the other streets. This decision is being appealed right now, but we do not know how the state will rule.

It’s important to note that I also don’t think radar detection is going to solve all the problems with this road. There are some rules that even police using radar detection must follow, which will make enforcement a bit difficult, including:

Ultimately, I think that there will need to be some kind of traffic calming installed on Chestnut if this issue is going to be resolved. Before that happens, though, I believe that the community that lives on and that uses that street needs to weigh in on what they would like to see. The city made several “traffic calming” changes to Oakcliff Rd a few years ago, and many people feel that it did not go through a good process for getting citizen input. Rather than move ahead with the same process for Chestnut, I have asked that the city hear from a wide range of people who use that street every day. This process will take longer than just jumping in and doing something, but I hope that the end-result will be better.

I am hoping that this is one of the projects people identified as a priority in the SPLOST survey that was done in December, and that we can get started on the community input process in 2019.

Recap: Doraville Council’s November Work Session

On November 14, Doraville City Council held a work session to discuss possible changes to our ordinances and fee schedules. The topics covered included:

Parking in Residential Neighborhoods: this was a follow up discussion related to code enforcement. We currently have codes on the books that restrict “commercial” vehicles. It is difficult to define what vehicle is or is not used for a business. We are considering a change that puts vehicles into different classes, and prevent certain types (dump trucks, tow trucks, heavy construction equipment) from parking in residential neighborhoods at all. Given the nature of our neighborhood, and the fact that most homes do not have garages, we are considering a allowing limited number of vehicles with ladders attached to be parked in driveways – none may be parked on the street. The goal is to make what is allowed and not allowed in our residential neighborhoods much clearer so that code enforcement does not have to try to interpret fuzzy concepts like whether a van with a ladder is “commercial” or not. I expect a draft of a new ordinance sometime early next year. I’m glad that the city is finally working on this – we need better written codes in order to be able to successfully enforce them.  View the presentation here.

Permit Fees: Doraville has run into some complaints from developers that our permit fees and processes are out of line with those of our neighboring cities. Our city staff is in the process of comparing what we charge compared to what other cities charge. The end goal is to have permitting fees pay the cost of administering the process, which is the same goal of other cities. I believe we should look at what successful cities like Brookhaven and Chamblee are doing and mirror their processes as much as possible. Staff is going to report back to us next year after doing more research. View the presentation here.

Zoning Updates: The Planning Commission and Community Development Director have been working for several months on an update to our zoning. Our codes are currently very difficult to read, and that makes it harder for a business trying to open in our city, or a developer interested in a project, to know whether or not they would require a conditional use permit. The zoning code would be moved into a grid format where you can easily see whether something is permitted by right or needs a conditional use permit. I fully support this, as it should make Doraville an easier place to do business in. View the presentation here.

 

You can watch the full meeting here, and download the agenda packet here.

 

Microbreweries, Microdistilleries and Brewpubs

Doraville is considering changes to its zoning for alcohol manufacturers. There have recently been several businesses that were interested in opening microbreweries or microdistilleries in many different parts of the city – but our current zoning does not allow them to operate.

The city’s staff has brought us a re-work of our zoning code that defines “microbreweries,” microdistilleries,” “microwineries,” and brewpubs. The proposal suggests that they be allowed to set up shop in areas that are zoned industrial.

Most of the concern I have heard comes from residents of neighborhoods that are adjacent to industrial zones. To address this, Councilmember Koontz has proposed a buffer of at least 500 feet between any micro-alcohol producer and a residential neighborhood. We will be deciding this at the August 20th meeting.

At the same meeting, we will be deciding on whether or not to allow an open container district in Assembly, along with a question about allowing a large microbrewery. I support allowing the open container district, but need more details on what they are proposing for the microbrewery before making a decision on that.

I want Doraville to be a place that welcomes business and that allows start-ups to thrive. I also want it to be a place where residents can walk to local establishments and enjoy a drink together. I hope we will have taken a step in that direction when we finish voting on the proposed legislation.

You can read more about the proposed legislation in the packet for the August 20th meeting agenda.

Notes from Doraville’s 2018 Council Retreat

On August 4th, Doraville’s council held its first retreat in several years. This was a great session where we identified some of our core values and top goals. Our city manager had expressed that it was important for her to get some direction about what issues are most important to us – I think we were able to accomplish that in this meeting

We spent a full day in a room together, hashing out a vision and finding common ground. My notes from the session are what follow.

Our core values as a council were the first thing we discussed. These are the the principles that we will operate by as a body, and keep in mind when working on legislation. They are:

  • Transparency
  • Honesty & Trust
  • Respect
  • Ethics
  • Equality (All people are Equal)
  • Courage
  • Considering Future Generations
  • Responsiveness
  • Communication
  • We are a Welcoming City

Our goals for the day included:

  • Defining a path forward for how we operate
  • Defining priorities
  • Identifying our common goals as a group
  • Having a path to implementation
  • Having measurable goals
  • Being on the same page
  • Having discussions ahead of action
  • Being able to communicate and bring up new ideas
  • Allowing staff to know the council’s collective thinking
  • Defining our “lanes” in terms of what council and admin do

The council members did an exercise where we did multi-voting to determine which goals are most important to us as a group. These goals will help the city staff determine how to allocate resources. Here is the ranked list (including some specific goals for each one):

Economic Development

  • Market the city to businesses
  • Make zoning codes more efficient
  • Speed up time it takes for us to approve businesses
  • Enable easier permitting
  • Publicize our openness, diversity and inclusiveness
  • Utilize commissions more effectively
  • Understand what other cities do with developers
  • City should invest in itself (including development projects)

Transportation / Transit

  • Ensure a comprehensive multi-modal plan
  • Bike trails to connect to MARTA
  • Connectivity between all segments of our city
  • Work with the state, GDOT and other governments where it makes sense
  • Connectivity to ourselves, our neighbors and the region. Be more focused on projects that have regional drivers when appropriate
  • Improve pedestrian access
  • Improve sidewalks – especially around bus stops
  • Look at improving bike paths and making wider sidewalks

Infrastructure

  • Do something with private sector to fix up and decorate unsightly buildings
  • Need a city wide stormwater plan
  • Include a sidewalk plan
  • Replace horizontal buildings at the city complex to build a town center (near MARTA). Should become a cultural center and create foot traffic
  • Plan to tie septic properties into the sewer system – educate homeowners about options
  • Require tie-ins to avoid having to re-patch roads
  • Demolish derelict buildings
  • Evaluate city’s assets and decide what to keep, fix or get rid of

Well Managed Government

  • Responsiveness to questions from residents, businesses and developers
  • Show respect to staff; offer incentives and recognition
  • Fill vacant positions and retain the talented individuals we have
  • Research best pay practice
  • Report to the public on a monthly basis
  • Put any typical open records request items on a website

Neighborhood Preservation

  • Maintenance and installation of sidewalks
  • Have a plan for infill development
  • Historic preservation – develop a plan
  • Develop a policy on burnt down or blighted properties; have a processs to address
  • Develop a list of problem properties
  • Define the enforcement priorities of code enforcement
  • Identify codes that are poorly written or that are unenforceable

Housing

  • Research developable tracts within the city
  • Consider “Small Houses”
  • Consider allowing inlaw suites
  • Consider allowing smaller square footage minimums
  • Incentivize developers to build workforce housing
  • We need an overall housing policy that covers all types of housing
  • We must protect the integrity of our existing neighborhoods
  • Produce flyers to help people make their homes ADA compliant

When it comes to capital projects, there are many that have been identified, and we need a way to prioritize them. We agreed to use the following criteria when deciding which ones to focus on first:

  • Align with strategic focus areas (including adopted planning documents, comprehensive plans and LCIs)
  • Consider the health and safety impact
  • Look at asset preservation vs asset expansion – consider preserving first
  • Look at return on investment
  • Complete a project before starting on a new one
  • Look for public private partnerships and prioritize those to leverage funding
  • Look for projects that will have the highest private good, but don’t let any neighborhoods be left out
  • Consider the ongoing operational impact of projects (we need staff feedback on this)
  • Invest in quality – if we are going to do something, do it well or else shut it down
  • Coordinate with developers

The retreat was extremely positive, and I feel like we have a team that has laid the groundwork to accomplish great things.

A shot of the mayor, council, and city manager at the 2018 retreat