Monday, January 25, 2010

Georgia Perimeter College Fills The Room!

The big topic at tonight's City Council meeting was the Dunwoody campus of the Georgia Perimeter College (GPC). First, a little background. The GPC has six locations in metro Atlanta. GPC is a 2-year college offering Associate Degrees. It is also a stepping-stone to GA Tech, UGA, and other 4-year universities.

Seems like a lot of kids want to attend the Dunwoody campus of GPC. Too many kids if you ask neighbors living around the college.

At issue tonight was future expansion and current traffic.

Let's first talk about traffic. I've been over in that area a few times (yes, I do leave the West Side and dare venture to Dunwoody East Side on occasion, but I do not wear my West Side colors once I cross Chamblee Dunwoody Road) and traffic is ugly. When you combine college kids on the road in pimped out Toyotas with Dunwoody Blue-Hairs rollin' in Buicks you will have problems. The college kids are in a hurry, the Dunwoody folks just want to get home. Add in those pesky Gwinnett people cutting through our fine roads and you have a bigger mess.

The college has 9,500 students (12,000 if you ask any homeowner living on Tilly Mill Road) and nearly all of them drive to the college. How much of the traffic in the area is from the college? According to GPC president Dr. Anthony Tricoli, the college is responsible for about 27%. Tricoli (not related to Jeff Spicoli) revealed that their own traffic study showed that on a Wednesday between 4:45 and 5:45 PM, prime time, 27% of the cars at the college entrance area were for the college while the majority were not.

The GPC hearing started off with a PowerPoint presentation by Tricoli. Not sure if the college's media students put it together or if a paid staff compiled the slides. Either way, it was fairly boring - showcasing some attractive students leisurely resting on a well manicured campus. A few slides gave some statistics but the slides went by too fast for me to really take notes. Look for King John to post the presentation as I think they promised him a copy. But the PowerPoint was not really needed as Tricoli was a good presenter.

Tricoli started off by saying how he lives, shops, and dines in the community. He started off to clear up some mis-information out there. He said the Governor has eliminated all funding for GPC projects except for one building - a 120,000 square foot structure for some health sciences program. He went on to say that he wants to work with the city, to plan together for GPC's growth. He mentioned bicycle avenues. College kids are not going to ride bicycles to class. I guess that less than 50 students live within a mile of the Dunwoody campus, and few of those 50 would dare drive a bike. First, it's too dangerous. College kids need to carry books (heavy books), as well as some food, water, etc. Riding a bike to a park? Perhaps. Riding a bike to the Nature Center or to Publix? Perhaps. Riding a bike to Mellow Mushroom for a cold pitcher of Hoegaarden beer? Doubtful. That area is not even close to suitable for bikes. Our weather is too unpredictable for safe bike commutes and kids don't like getting all sweaty before going to class.

I wish Dunwoody had bike trails all over like in Hilton Head, but our city was not designed for it.

Tricoli spoke of his historic meeting with our beloved superintendent of DeKalb Schools, Dr. Lewis. DeKalb School District swapped a piece of 'their' land for a chunk of GPC land. The Dunwoody Elementary School now resides on the land acquired by DeKalb Schools. Around Christmas 2009 GPC demolished the former Occupational Education Center building on its recently acquired land. I bet some locals would like to turn back toe clock on that land swap.

Anyway, back to the presentation. Tricoli gave his David Letterman Top Ten list of things they (GPC) have done to be a good neighbor.

I missed a few because he was going too fast for me to write it all, so here goes my version:

1: GPC moved its security officers off the campus and on to the streets to help direct traffic
(he thinks this is a good idea, but I think it holds up local traffic while the college 'dumps' all at once)

2. ? (I was not really ready to write a Top 10 list and missed #2)

3. New parking spaces added

4. Monday-Thursday class times moved into a weekend pattern
(I do not know what that means, but perhaps its a good thing)

5. Made Tilly Mill Road exit wider (at their own expense)

6. Increased the amount of on-line (Internet) courses
(8,000 taking on line courses, up from 1,600)

7. Enrolled 1000 kids at Alpharetta campus instead of Dunwoody

8. Expanding Alpharetta campus so students can do more/all their course work there

9. ? (see #2)

10. Completed a traffic study
(see note above about claim that only 27% of car traffic is related to the college)

He went on to say that as Dunwoody grows, so grows GPC. He showed a chart depicting Dunwoody growth compared to GPC growth and they seemed to grow at the same rate)

He mentioned that GPC students pump money into local economy

Said GPC partners with local businesses, etc.

Said GPC transfers more students to GA Tech than any other 2-year college

He also mentioned that the college has cultural programs that are available (no charge) to the community.

After his presentation folks lined up for Public Comment (Public Comment Joe was not in attendance tonight).

When the meeting started I thought the college guy was in for a long night. I envisioned person after person hammering him on traffic, noise, etc. But this guy did not become a college president by merely attending a few night classes at the University of Phoenix! The audience was NOT an anti-college audience as I anticipated. I counted 17 speakers, 10 speaking in favor of the college! (chicken lovers take note)

The college had students and faculty members speak on its behalf. And not just any ordinary faculty members, but faculty members who reside in Dunwoody. Of course it plays in a person's favor to speak FOR (not against) their employer, but I was still impressed that the college got folks up to the microphone.

Here's a brief run-down on the speakers:

1. In favor of college, traffic is from Gwinnet folks cutting through Dunwoody

2. (Celebrity Public Comment from Rep Fran Millar) He does not seem to be a fan of GPC Dunwoody Camous. He said Dunwoody has grown 12% while the college has grown 34% over a certain time period. Said the Dunwoody campus is over capacity now. Said Board of Regents turned down GPC's funding request for a Roswell campus and that is why GPC is expanding the Dunwoody campus. Said there is no money at the state level for any new buildings for GPC. He suggested the city and college work together to solve traffic issues. Don't look for Fran to vote in favor of any funds for GPC expansion.

3. Honor student from GPC, studying to be an orthodontist, drives 60 miles round trip to attend Dunwoody campus. In favor of GPC

4. Does not want city to open Luray Drive to college kids, said college kids throw trash onto his street, said that Dunwoody has "all the downside of a college campus without any upside of a college"

5. Local resident opposed to college, says it grew from 3000 to 12,000. Said Dunwoody roads not designed for all that traffic. Said students use center turn lane as a passing lane

6. another long time resident, but in favor of college. Is a faculty member. Said the college is a great way for kids to live, learn, work, live in community

7. in favor of college, feels bad for the few home owners affected by traffic but feels overall the school is good for Dunwoody

8. Lady from Bunky Way, works at college and likes it

9. 20 year resident in favor of college, his kids went there. Said city should work with college and not attempt to constrain its growth

10. student in favor

11. local resident accepts that college is there, thinks the roads should be widened to 4 lanes to help traffic woes

12. 32-year Dunwoody resident and faculty member, he made a good point when he said that Perimeter Mall creates more traffic than the college yet no one is calling for the mall to be closed (of course the mall is zoned and planned differently, but still a good thought)

13. Student/Resident who said traffic has always been bad here and not the college's fault

14. A person said it was bad idea to add classrooms without adding parking spaces. Is concerned students will soon be parking on residential streets (in front of his house)

15. Guy said the college is a blight in the community and that GPC should roll back to 3,000 students instead of growing to 12,000. Said the college president was right that the college is great, but that it should be somewhere else, not in a residential area. He added that the college is for 'outsiders' (Soda Pop, PonyBoy, Darrel, Two-Bit, etc.? or is this code for some other outsider?). He said the city was built by folks like him investing in their homes, and that the college is damaging the goodness of Dunwoody. He said he wants the elected officials to do everything in their power to stop the college from growing.

16. Suggested a limit on parking at the college and the college should offer incentives for car-poolers and those taking MARTA.

17. A mom stating that the area is dangerous due to college drivers. Has safety concern for her children.

After Public comment the Mayor and Wittenstein wrapped things up by saying they (council) will review these comments from tonight's meeting.

Councilman Ross thanked everyone for attending.

Councilman Shortal said, "some hard decisions will need to be made on this issue" an suggested a traffic study to see what the local roads can handle. He favors turn lanes and intersection improvements.

Councilwoman Bonser stressed that the city and college need to have a working relationship

Councilman Heneghan reminded college representatives that they promised to do research on the topic of MARTA, bikes, etc. He wanted the college's report before the end of the evening. Here it is.

King John now has the video uploaded to his site. I need to get a different seat next time so I am in the camera shot. I was up front, first row, but behind the speaker from the angle of John;s camera. Thanks to John for posting this video. Hopefully we'll soon broadcast live on Comcast. If the city council wants to do some branding, how about using that $50,000 for a couple of cameras, a couple of microphones, and a video mixer. I'll be the host, commenting like they do at a golf tournament on CBS.

A guy I'll call Dunwoody Anarchist emailed me the missing two items from the Top Ten list. #2 was a new one-way loop road on campus and #9 was longer hours at the campus (to reduce traffic at peak times).

The Dunwoody Anarchist made a great observation in relation to the speakers of the Public Comment section. As I sat there last night, speaker after speaker mentioned something like, "I've been a Dunwoody resident for 28 years....." or "I am a long-time resident....." or my favorite, "I've lived here my entire life.....". This tenure is stated up front, attempting to sway council's opinion based on your longevity in the community. Often times these same folks will throw out issues from yesteryear (back when the Farmhouse was a farmhouse I suppose) that have no bearing on an issue at hand. As Dunwoody Anarchist puts it, "And be sure to bring up issues completely tangential to the issue at hand (how great GPC is to community, great education opportunity it provides, how long you've lived in Dunwoody, etc.). It's best to confuse and obfuscate the issue and play into emotions (such as the "Tilly Mill is a post-apocalyptic wasteland of drag races and loud GPC drivers" lady)."

Public Comment can be both informative and entertaining to Council and the others at the meeting. Regardless, I encourage readers to give it a try. Don't worry, I won't put your name here. I only put up names of council and famous folks like Farmer Bob and Sustainable Patti and Public Comment Joe (who is in jeopardy of losing his moniker).

In first place for award of Public Comment of the Year happened last night as the discussion All Saints Church had ended. After a discussion of storm water runoff we had this gem, . “I really don’t think the water is generated by the church, but by God himself”. Tonight I'll post about the All Saints issue as well as a couple other items from last night's meeting.

DeKalb Fire Department Investigation

Recently a Dunwoody resident died in a structure fire. I'm not sure, but I think the home was in Dunwoody Club Forest neighborhood. See here for the AJC story. This is a real sad story. At the start of tonight's City Council meeting Councilman Ross offered his condolences to the family. Terrible that this happened. Hopefully an investigation can keep it from happening again.

DeKalb fire chief is now investigating the response to the blaze. The 'ScanDeKalb' web site is no longer in existence (too bad, I liked that site) and nothing about an investigation on sister site ScanGwinnett or ScanCobb so we'll need to wait and see what's going on.

Do you feel safe with DeKalb Fire Department serving Dunwoody? Do you think their manpower is adequate here in Dunwoody? Back when the FFF's (Farmhouser Founding Fathers) were discussing the financial points of setting up a city, having our own fire department was briefly kicked around. Seems like folks were more interested in having a police department instead of our own fire department. Will this tragedy change some minds?

I rarely see structure fires in Dunwoody so I am not convinced we need our own fire department. I do know fire departments are expensive to start up. And since the city cannot yet pave roads (but they can spend $50,000 to an ad firm to promote city hotels and restaurants) don' t look for anyone to suggest we have our own fire department. Dunwoody would need some serious equipment to handle a potential fire in the PCID (If there ever is a major blaze in the PCID look for Sandy Springs to respond in full, with DeKalb). Although there are lots of grants out there for fire trucks, a fire department would be too pricey for residents. DeKalb Fire also includes the 'Rescue' and paramedics as well. Without a major tax increase Dunwoody will never have its own fire department. I'm not convinced we need our own fire department. Until this last incident DeKalb Fire seems to have been doing an OK job.

Back when ScanDeKalb was up you could listen to radio calls on your computer (for those of you out there without a scanner). Interested in reading some juicy tidbits on our former police department? head over to DeKalbOfficerSpeak and do some reading (DeKalb is dropping their 9mm and getting .40 Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. They should have purchased the .45 in Glock and issued some nice Corbon DPX rounds. City of Atlanta has had issues with S&W and so will DeKalb. DeKalb paid less than $180 per gun/holster after trade. You get what you pay for). Nearly as good a site as the DeKalb School Board Watch site. Be warned! Reading these DeKalb sites can be depressing and may cause you to put your home up for sale.

The big issue I hope council will address is, 'How soon can we join the Sandy Springs / Johns Creek 911 Center'? I've called 911 a few times in my years in Dunwoody. Nearly each time I was put on hold or redirected incorrectly. Forget about spending $50,000 on advertising for city hotels and restaurants and let's put that $50,000 toward joining ChatComm. Ask your council member what's more important to its residents; branding the city or serving/protecting its residents?