Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Work Session Recap

Long meeting last night for council; nearly four hours.

Public Comment

Lady #1 - offered to work with city on walkways around schools. She serves on a DeKalb school cluster committee.

Man #1 (self proclaimed country boy) - doesn't like leaves being blown into storm water drains, opposes chickens in urban Dunwoody

Lady #2 - spoke against chickens, is afraid all four of her neighbors will max out with six chickens each, surrounding her with 24 chickens, called current chicken owners law breakers, says her dogs would bark more if chickens were on neighbor's property. Said her dogs would kill any chicken landing in her yard

Lady #3 - spoke in favor of chickens, distributed a packet to council and city staff (prompting Lady#2 to pass out something to council as well). Said council needs to separate fact from myth on the issue

Lady #4 - her neighbor has chickens. thinks chickens are fine and do not affect her home value, likes to eat eggs

Lady#5 -says logic shows chickens in Dunwoody are OK, said chicken coops should be treated like any other accessory structure (tool shed, dog house, etc)

Lady #6 - was not a fan of chickens until she visited a coop, now thinks it is OK

Man #2 - in favor of chickens, said council should govern on experience, not to the lowest common denominator

Kid Group #1 - spoke in favor of chickens (I was impressed that 11 year-olds have the courage to speak to a group like council)

Man #3 - spoke in favor of sidewalk/pocket park along Mt Vernon from Regions Bank down toward Chic Fil a (more on this later)

Topic 1 - EMS Response

A guy from DeKalb Fire/EMS spoke and answered questions from council. Gave some stats on the three fire stations in Dunwoody:

Station 18 - 12 full time staff per shift (near middle school)
Station 21 - 8 full time staff per shift (Perimeter Mall)
Station 12 - 3 full time staff per shift, maybe 4 (Roberts Rd)

Said always an ALS trained person on shift at each station, but when Councilman Shortal asked him directly about station 12, DeKalb guy seemed to retract the statement and said no, but basic life support would be on the way if needed.

Councilman Wittenstein asked for more details on response time, asking if the needed staff and EMS for the call were there at the stated time (example: you call 911 and a fire truck shows up in 11 minutes, but you need an ambulance. The ambulance shows up in 20 minutes. Does the response time get clocked at 11 minutes or 20 minutes?)

Councilman Heneghan asked if we (DeKalb) had mutual aid agreement with Sandy Springs. We do not. (a lot of us live among Sandy Springs homes and I did not know we do not have such an agreement)

Councilman Ross asked what percentage of calls do stations 18 & 21 go on outside of Dunwoody. Another good question as I thought those two stations were exclusive to Dunwoody. Only station 12 (the short staffed/short equipped station) on Roberts is 100% Dunwoody. DeKalb guy said about 35% of calls for those two stations are outside of Dunwoody, in other parts of DeKalb County.

A local lady who works in a nearby city's EMS department spoke. She thinks Dunwoody is under-served and is glad the city is looking into the data on our EMS coverage. Expect to see her on some newly formed committee.

I suggest the city find a way to get feedback form residents who have recently called 911 for a medical emergency. We can read letters in The Crier all day long in support of firemen, but let's here from folks who had a medical emergency and see how it was handled. The city may find a big problem, or it may find no problem.

I do know the city cannot afford its own fire department like our big brother neighbor Sandy Springs. All we can do is work with DeKalb on any weaknesses we discover in coverage and response times.

There was some discussion of 911 service and the issue closed with Mr Ross saying that the city needed to control its own destiny on this issue.

Topic #3 (I am skipping Topic #2 (changes to Class B airspace, as others are working on it)

Online Disclosure Reports

As of Monday afternoon, Dunwoody council members and those running for future council seats are required to fill out disclosures and various reports. These reports were filed then tucked in a drawer somewhere at city hall. Going forward these will be posted on-line.

Topic #4 - Agreement between city and the PCID

City will sign the agreement, but may change it form 50 years to something shorter, perhaps 20 years.

Topic #5 - First Read on Allowing Backyard Chicken Raising
Seems like no member on council likes the current ordinance (the ordinance approved by Dunwoody Planning Commission). Those in favor of chickens said the setbacks are too great, and if passed as written, no one could really have chickens. Those against chickens just want to move on to other topics.

Councilman Ross said that council has spent more time on this than any other subject (except signage) and he is sick off it. I agree with him that there has been lots of discussion on the issue. There are other major issues in the city, but this one has grabbed the attention of many.

This issue has strong emotions on both sides, and some on council want to get it right before voting on it. The issue for some is more than just chickens - the vote will send a message on the city's stance on land use, on how the city is viewed by other communities, and more. Too bad we don't already have our branding experts under contract. We could ask them. Warren (city manager) should have put a question in the city branding RFQ like this:

How will banning (or allowing) backyard poultry affect the 'brand' of Dunwoody with potential families and business owners looking to relocate in Dunwoody?

King John wants to treat chicken coops like any other accessory structure, with a 10 foot buffer.

Councilwoman Bonser agreed that a lot of time has been spent on this issue, and she feels it is important.

Robert wants to amend the text so that it stipulates the chickens cannot be raised for slaughter.

Bonser does not like the text as written, she thinks some of her ideas were left out (she cited the need for concealment from street view for coops as an example)

Some discussion on the number of chickens allowed. I was confused on the issue. I think the text requires a minimum and maximum of six. Mr. Shortal asked, "Why six?" Councilman Taylor explained that chickens are sold in six packs, just like beer (he was joking of course).

I think the chicken issue may be a 'GO' now, perhaps by a 4-3 margin. Another observer thinks it will pass 5-2. But the Chicken Posse needs to remain focused on the task at hand, working with city staff and Bonser in getting the text written in a way that a majority can agree upon.

Item #6 Taxi Cab regulations

The issue will pass easily, requiring taxis picking up in the city to register with the city. Hopefully this will go smoother than getting Dunwoody business licenses. If the city wants this done right, hire someone to handle it. Pay that person a set fee per cab, and see the private sector work. Council should hire a private for-profit person to track down every business in Dunwoody, paying them a spiff of $10 per 'new' business found. You'll see results that way.

If the council really wants to protect residents, inspect and license those nasty ice cream trucks (we refer to those as Amber-Alert Ice Cream Vans in my neighborhood) roaming Dunwoody. Talk about a danger to community - ever look inside one of those things?

Item #7 - Discussion of linear park/path along Mt Vernon Road

I give this item the 'Scam of the Week' award. In an attempt to get a sidewalk, someone came up with the idea of a $200,000 linear park, whatever that is. This plan is an attempt to vault Mt Vernon to the front of the line for sidewalks. Thankfully a few on Council, lead by Councilwoman Bonser, saw through this attempt to get a sidewalk before me and the west side Spalding folks.

You all know the stretch of Mt Vernon Road, coming from Michael's craft store and Chic Fil a, up toward Dunwoody Baptist church. There is about 20 feet between the road and the yard fences. The area could use a sidewalk, I'll agree. But not a meandering 10-foot wide concrete runway. Talk about overkill.

King John suggested the city wait and put in a sidewalk in 2012 when that road gets resurfaced. Warren said he would draw up some ideas on his SimCity Creator. City staff estimated the project at $50k up to $200k. I think they should spend $0k on it. There is a sidewalk on the north side of Mt Vernon. People need to use it and take their chances on the Mt Vernon cross walks.

As Ms Bonser pointed out, there are higher priority areas in the city than Mt Vernon Road (where a sidewalks and cross walks already exist). Plus, I have yet to see a person using the 'pocket park' further down Mt Vernon where it meets Ashford Dunwoody Road. Nor do I expect to see someone sit there. People usually don't like their parks next to 4 lane roads with lots of traffic. What parent would encourage kids to play in a pocket park next to busy Mt Vernon Road? Sidewalk? Yes, but wait your turn, please.

See the photo above? Click on it and enlarge the image. That is an example of a road in need of a sidewalk. Look at the well-worn foot path, inches from busy Spalding Drive (a very busy road). The folks on Mt Vernon should be thankful they have a sidewalk on the north side of the road. Some of us have none. I know the city is working on a sidewalk plan. Hopefully this piece of pavement will be included.

Item #8 - Five Year Plan for road resurfacing

I think this may be one issue members of city council will soon (or maybe already) receive the most complaints about, regarding poor road conditions.

According to city staff, we need to spend $2.5 to $3 million a year maintaining roads. 70% spent on the busiest roads with poor and fair conditions, 10% of the money on the worst roads, regardless of how many cars travel on them.

Trowbridge Place is near the top of the list for paving. it will cost $25,000, with the state of GA chipping in $5000 in LARP funds. Councilman Ross says this road does not need resurfaced, and that the city's $20,000 should be spent elsewhere. Hats off to Mr. Ross for suggesting a road near his home be taken off the list. He thinks Trowbridge Drive needs the new surface. He suggests leaving the $5k on the table (LARP funds must be used where the state says). I agree. Some other street in Dunwoody will get that $20k in asphalt.

I took a drive to Brooke Farm subdivsion today as I see they are in line for some extensive road work in 2012. I was surprised because that is a newer subdivision. The roads in there are not great, but I see a lot worse around town. My little slice of Dunwoody will get resurfaced in 2013. Like everyone else, I think the stretch of road near me is the worst in town (Spalding near Chamblee Dunwoody Road).

I'm also not happy with Dunwoody Club Drive getting resurfaced, just because Sandy Springs plans on paving that road in 2011. I drive that piece a lot, and its a smooth ride for the most part. I'd like to see how much we save by paving that road (by doing it with Sandy Springs). I'm sure that $500,000 spent on Dunwoody Club Drive will irk lots of folks elsewhere in the city. Can someone tell me where the county line is on that road? Is it the center line of the road? Or does the line not follow the road? Either way, 20% of our budget for 2011 will be spent paving a road that is rated 'good' for the most part. At least I'll have a smooth ride over to Los Rancheros.

Item #9 Multi Family (apartments and condos) code compliance

The city staff stated that much of the city's apartments are in bad shape. Lots of code violations, even some dangerous conditions. City staff is working with some places, trying to get them to fix certain things. At least one council member wants the city to write more citations, making the owners take responsibility for code compliance. I agree. Rules are rules. All need to be enforced equally. Why let building owners off the hook with warnings? The police do not do that on major infractions, and neither should code inspectors. It is the city's responsibility, in part, to make sure its residents are safe. Residents meaning apartment dwellers and home owners alike. The apartment folks want to live here, so hold the building owners responsible for providing a code-compliant complex. If they don't fine them repeatedly, then yank their business license.

I suggest employing some well-trained employees on a part time basis and making a six month long inspection of all 9000 apartments (Sandy Springs did this over an 19-month period) to make sure these folks have a safe environment as their home. Here is what happens when code enforcement is lacking.

Item #10 - Economic Development Plan for Dunwoody
At first I did not know what this issue was about, but after listening to Councilman Ross I had a good feeling about this. I was (and still am) opposed to the branding money ($50,000), but I think I could get behind Mr. Ross' idea of establishing a strategy for attracting new businesses to Dunwoody. Some people will say branding and economic development go hand in hand, but those 'people' are probably in the advertising industry.

Mr. Ross discussed hosting an Economic Summit, bringing all players together (PCID, city staff, Chamber, etc) to develop a plan to lure people from NY, NJ, CA, and other high tax areas to Dunwoody.

Item # 11

Green Building Policy

Council discussed how if it built a building it would be 'green'. Blah, Blah, Blah. Before we discuss Green buildings, let's get a land use plan done. We rent our current city hall real estate so I see no need for this now. By the time Dunwoody builds a city hall, there will be new 'Green' initiatives out there, created by some hippie in Kalifornia. That new school on Womack is LEED certified yet it has increased traffic in Dunwoody, and taken away thebenefits of walking and biking to schools for hundreds of kids. If going 'green' is important, let's consider transportation/location as well, and not make a mistake like the DeKalb School System. Let's move on to the next item, please.

Item #12 - Motorized Carts

Please know there are motorized carts and there are low speed street legal vehicles. There is a difference. One can go fast, the other can't. This discussion has no affect on street-legal carts as state rules override Dunwoody's. You can go buy a street legal gas cart, title and tag it, and drive it all over Dunwoody (except I 285) no matter what council says about carts. Discussion deferred.

Item #13 Off Duty Police

Can Dunwoodycops kick GPC traffic cops to the curb? Not sure, city staff will research it. Some people have an issue with how GPC police dump student cars onto local roads, holding up residents near their homes. Is it legal?

Dunwoody will soon establish a policy for hiring off duty cops for traffic control. As of now, anyone can hire a DeKalb officer to direct/redirect traffic for your benefit. Own a fast food joint that is difficult to get to during rush hour? No problem. Hire a cop to halt everyone for your customer's benefit. Same goes for places of worship.

Item #14 Impact Fees

Item #16 Marking Bicycle Paths
A council member wanted to rush through signage and marking of bike routes. A few other council folks don't want to rush into it. In short, city staff will buy some paint and make a stencil, then mark the route for some upcoming bike race.