Thursday, August 5, 2010

No Left Turns Please

Every once in a while I have to leave the bunker and enter society.  I've been doing that more often lately.  I placed an ad in next week's Crier on this topic, but I'll post  it here now as well.

If you are exiting Publix or Subway onto Chamblee Dunwoody Road, please use the traffic light (simply leave the Publix parking lot over by the Chase Bank, but keep the doors locked on that side of the shopping center).

Did You Hear That Noise?

That noise was the value of your DeKalb home falling lower.  DeKalb School System is managed as poorly as DeKalb County.  Unfortunately, not much we can do about it.  We can vote out our school board rep, but I don't think that single action makes much change.  Now if all those up for election were voted out, well maybe we'd turn the corner.

Two articles on the AJC about our sorry school district management.  It's a shame.  Lots of good kids, lots of good teachers, lots of good families.  Too bad the DeKalb School System has become a jobs program for friends and family members.  The school system has a very bloated central office.  Teachers are being required to have more kids in the classroom and are now required to complete even more paperwork. 

Here's an article on SACS asking a few questions.  Here's another. I actually welcome the SACS intervention.  Going further, I'd like to see the state take over control of the school system, performing an audit of money spent and the waste at the central office.  The sooner the better. 

Got all your back-to-school shopping done?  Head over to the best school blog for DeKalb residents.  Another nice blog specific to our local schools is here.

No Parking On the Dance Floor

Monday's City of Dunwoody City Council meeting is shaping up to be a real wing-dinger.  The newest hot potato for council is a proposed ordinance on Residential Parking Management.  Sometimes members of Council remind me of myself when I eat my hot salsa (Farmer Bob is growing some crazy-hot peppers at the garden).  I take a bite of my homemade salsa, then the hot peppers kick in, creating an inferno on my tongue.  Instead of toning the salsa down a bit, I take another scoop of salsa, then another, then another.  Sort of like that scene in Animal House when the pledge is getting his butt smacked with a paddle, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Now that chickens are banned and the sign ordinance got kicked back to committee, Council needs something new to bicker about on Monday evenings.  Issues like chickens and parking limits create strange alliances.  Not often will you see Farmer Bob and Ric 'GPC' W. on the same side of an issue.

From the Dunwoody Cruise Club email blast:

Fellow Cruisers,

Cruise Night Monday evening at Town Hall and DPD Car show a week from Saturday!

Two big Cruise in happenings - We need you Monday night wearing red with your 4-way flashers on, and we need you a week from Saturday for a great time, great prizes, all for some needy kids & the Cops that protect us:  (1) Something has come up that needs your urgent attention – City of Dunwoody is moving to restrict what kind and how many cars you can own/have on your own property – Town Council meeting Monday evening, and, (2) the Dunwoody Police Special Olympics car show is next Sat 8/14.  Note this new ordinance affects you no matter where you live, since it’ll easily snowball to Sandy Springs, John’s Creek etc. if they get away with it here.

Proposed car/truck restriction ordinance (see attached and see Robert Wittenstein’s comments forwarded below).  Now, you know I can rant and rave a little, but this new ordinance isn’t about over development or the over crowded college and its traffic.  Dunwoody is proposing a new ordinance to come on your private property, an ordinance where they can come into your home, and tell you what kind of cars and trucks you can have (or not).  This will restrict cars, trucks, etc. that are otherwise registered properly with the state and will restrict the number and placement even if they are parked in compliance with all the city and county driveway and garage zoning, etc.  Obviously any car hobbyist, anyone withy a large family or anyone who works with a pick up truck won’t like this, but read a little deeper.  This is your nose-in-the-air, holier-than-thou, we-know-better, bigoted neighbors telling you how you should live and spend your money on your own property.  Think “nazis” and “book burning” and you’ll be on the right track.  No telling where this could lead…

It’s my understanding the ordinance is targeting two things (&BTW, no one will claim ownership):  there are a few houses that the “Dunwoody Elite” have to drive by that they feel don’t have the right amount and kinds of cars out front.  However do they survive?  Second, this is an attempt to prevent residential homes from becoming boarding houses for transient workers.  There are plenty of current zoning ordinances and vehicle registration ordinances to deal with such problems now.  This new ordinance, for the high-and-mighty to deal with a few, will unfairly restrict car collectors, large families and folks who otherwise have to work for a living maybe with their hands and a truck. This is coming from the same folks who think the Target-style mixed use high rises and one of the largest colleges in the state make us “Dunwoody.”  How come a few cars out front is killing our lifestyle and property values but 20,000 extra vehicle trips in front of our homes makes us “quaint” on a “village scale.”  Supposedly, it’s being modeled after similar ordinances that make towns a nice place to live: HORSE HOCKEY!  There is no such ordinance anywhere near us or anywhere in this country in a similar community. 

And when you look at the vehicle collectors this will unfairly target, you and me, it’s all the folks who support Dunwoody and make this town great.  It’s all the folks who provide their cars and time and talents to Light Up Dunwoody, the 4th of July Parade, the new Arts Festival, Lemonade Days, Kiwanis’ Soap Box Derby, the Cruise Night, Dunwoody Police/Special Olympics Car Show, etc., etc., etc.  Affluent, involved & disposable income?  We don’t want ya here unless you BLEND!  Read the proposed language attached – no more than one car per licensed driver, limited cars, no trailers, no trucks, no projects, etc., regardless of zoning and state registration laws.

If you are opposed to this, we need you to do two things:  (1) proposed language attached:  Contact your City Council reps and the mayor (email links below or Fax 678-382-6701and (2)  Show up for the Council meeting Monday night 8/9 and voice your opposition.  Keep political reality in mind – some powerful folks are pushing this behind the scenes.  It may be written very restrictive so we can then “compromise” to a less restrictive, equally prejudiced and unwieldy regulation no body with any decency wants.  With our banks being robbed with assault rifles and our neighbors being murdered, is this the holier-than-thou crap we want the Council wasting time on?  Don’t compromise, kill it.  I left the fax opposition form in MSWORD so you can modify it easily to your own words, BUT FAX IT IN NOW!

th - gather 6PM (city council meets at 7) at City Hall, 41 Perimeter Center East, Dunwoody, GA 30346Wear Red, print the attached sign and carry it, have your 4-way flashers going (a horn toot or two as the council arrives might be cute too!).  Meet in the lot before the meeting! Go in early and fill out a comment card and speak up!  We need speakers – email me back!  COD is getting in a bad habit of cutting off folks they don’t want to hear from, so we need a lot of folks to fill out cards and comment.

Can’t make the meeting?  Sign the attached opposition document and fax 678-382-6701

There are several 'wrongs' in the above email, perhaps enough to call it Horse Hockey itself.  Be that as it may, the issue has obviously placed some yellow liquid in some one's breakfast cereal.  I agree that the ordinance as written should concern some Dunwoody residents.  But those FarmHousers owning one Buick and perhaps one Oldsmobile are excited to see such an ordinance make its way to Council

Even Glory Jackson is throwing in her opinion (reading comments by Glory Jackson over at King John's blog can cause brain fatigue.  Chip seems to be a good match for her, so I'm trying to set the two up on a blind date at Starbucks next Tuesday morning).

Judging by the comments on this topic over at King John's site the parking issue has hit a cord with some blog readers.  Of course we don't have mob rule yet in Dunwoody so a majority means nothing.  What matters is what Council votes for or against.  Regardless of Ric's Reds showing up in force to rattle toy cars and hollow plastic sabers, the proposed Parking Management law will be tweaked and voted upon at some point.  This issue will come down to the same voting blocs as the backyard chicken issue most likely, putting New Kid on the Block Thompson in the hot seat.  His email box will be filling up soon.  With Taylor moving on to life under the Georgia Gold Dome, Thompson is the new swing vote.

Monday night you'll most likely see some changes proposed to the ordinance as it is now written. We'll most likely have lots of speakers lined up to speak against new Parking rules, and a few FarmHousers will show up in favor of the rules. My buddy owns a print shop and told me the NoParkingOnTheDanceFloor posse will be at the meeting wearing custom T-shirts that say:

"Excuse me madam, you're standing still in a no-parking zone. If you don't get a move on that body I'll be forced to (have Grogan) give you a ticket!" Beep Beep, Beep Beep.

So why a Parking Patrol?  Is it an attempt to keep things looking neat and tidy around here?

There are a few properties around town that, to some, have an excessive amount of cars/trucks parked in the driveway.  I've seen a few trailers, a few boats, even a few motor homes.  What's your limit on cars/trucks for one residential home?  Is it two?  Four?  How about ten?  As many as they can squeeze on the parcel?

Is the Parking Management law a way to curtail homeowners from adding multiple apartments in their homes?  Most likely.

Is the Parking Management law a way to keep tradesmen from living in Dunwoody?  Doubtful.

Is the Parking Management law a way to rid Dunwoody of boats and motor homes?  I doubt it.

Would I want my neighbor having five or more cars parked in their driveway?  No, not really.

If the goal of some on Council is to keep homeowners from transforming single family homes into multifamily apartments, then  make rules for that.  Can anyone tell me the current rules for that?  Can a homeowner in Dunwoody chop up a basement making two apartments? 

Read the proposed Dunwoody laws here. In reading through the proposal I do not find the entire ordinance to be out of line for a residential area.  I do think some changes are needed. 

Here's a sample of parking laws for Cobb County:
Vehicles may not be parked in the grass or unimproved surface between the roadway and the home’s front setback. In the R-30, R-20, R-15, R-12, RD, RA-4, RA-5 zoned districts, parking allows only one vehicle, one boat, and one recreational vehicle (or any combination of such totaling three) in the rear or side yard on a hardened surface.
In the R-40, R-80, RR zoned districts, any combination of boats and recreational vehicles exceeding three must be screened from public roadways via a buffer (approved by the Cobb County Landscape Architect) or fencing. No materials, equipment or business vehicles may be stored or parked on the premises, except for one business vehicle used exclusively by the resident. A business vehicle with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight greater than 12,500 pounds is not allowed to be parked on residential property.
Dunwoody's Proposed Ordinance

Section  (1) restricts cars to four.  You can live alone in the home and have four cars.  The number of cars is NOT limited to the number of licensed drivers in the home. Or you can have three cars and an RV.  Or two cars,  trailer, and a boat.  Are you a member of the Dunwoody Cruiser Club?  Then get a waiver for your vintage car.  Have five drivers in your home? No problem... get a waiver.

Should we be allowed to park more than four cars on our property?  Perhaps that should be determined based on the size of the lot.  Parking can/is restricted to an improved surface (no grass). What if Council set up guidelines based on zoning?  Here's something I found from a city in Virginia:

The parking of personal vehicles in operable condition is permitted as an accessory use to a dwelling unit. Such parking may occur within a garage or carport or may be located in the front, side or rear yard of any lot. In most residential districts, there are no locational limitations for parking personal vehicles and/or creating driveways/parking pads within the front and side yards of a lot. However, in the R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4 Districts on lots for single family dwellings containing an area of 36,000 square feet or less, all vehicle and trailer parking must be located on a surfaced area in the front yard, and there is a limit on the amount of surfaced area that can occur in the front yard. In the R-1 and R-2 Districts, no more than 25% of any front yard and in the R-3 and R-4 Districts, no more than 30% of any front yard can be a surfaced area used for a driveway or vehicle/trailer parking. In addition, on all lots, all accessory uses and structures, including driveways/parking pads, which are located in the rear yard can not cover more than thirty (30) percent of the minimum required rear yard.
The parking of a personal vehicles in inoperable condition is also permitted as an accessory use to a dwelling unit, provided the inoperable vehicle is kept within a fully enclosed building or structure or is kept completely screened or shielded from view.
The parking of commercial vehicles is permitted in all residential zoning districts, subject to a limit of one commercial vehicle per dwelling unit and the following limitations:
  1. No solid waste collection vehicle, tractor and/or trailer of a tractor-trailer truck, dump truck, construction equipment, cement-mixer truck, wrecker with a gross weight of 12,000 pounds or more, or similar such vehicles or equipment shall be parked in any residential district.
  2. Any commercial vehicle parked in a residential district shall be owned and/or operated only by the occupant of the dwelling unit at which it is parked.

Instead of calling out prohibited vehicles as is done in Section 1, I think we should pick up part of Cobb's law:  one business vehicle used exclusively by the resident. A business vehicle with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight greater than 12,500 pounds is not allowed to be parked on residential property.  I'm sure people will claim to have a right to own and park a bus in their driveway.  But keep in mind people will claim to have the right to not have a 12 ton bus fired up daily in the driveway outside their bedroom window. If a guy owns a short flat bed or mini dump truck for his business, OK, just like in Cobb, as long as it weighs less than 12,500 pounds. (an F350 diesel ways around 10,000 pounds). Limo?  OK, as long as it is the work car. A skid steer on a trailer?  Nope.

Section (2) airplanes and helicopters banned?  Sounds reasonable to me

Section (3) boats and jet skis on the side of house or back of house.  I say allow watercraft in the driveway, but limit the weight/length of such.

Section (4) RV (trailers and motor homes).  I think one should be allowed parked in front or side, no limit on size or weight.  But no one can live in said RV while it is parked.

People are saying Council is not focused on other issues.  People cite the armed bank robbers and the recent double murder as more important issues.  I agree those things are important, but what do you want Council to do?  Post a guard at every bank?  Put up cameras all over the place?  Higher former Blackwater guys to patrol neighborhoods?  Crime happens all over the place.  I don't think 400 police officers in Dunwoody would have prevented the recent bank robbery or the other incident/  Bad guys are all over the place.  They know no limits.  That's what makes them bad.

You want better roads and sidewalks?  You want green space?  You want less traffic?  WHY?  Because these things make a community a better place to live.  Think of that dream home in the city that has lots of bike paths, big parks, sidewalks, Hoegaarden on draft at the local pub.... that city most likely has restrictions on parking in residential areas.  Preventing your neighbor from parking a bus, two boats, a garbage truck, and seven cars in his driveway also makes a community nicer.  Do home values increase when cities have more green space?  Yes.  Will a restriction on vehicles parked on residential lots improve home values?  Yes.

There are people out there who badly wanted to break away from DeKalb.  WHY?  Because DeKalb let developers run wild.  With much of the zoning changes allowed by DeKalb, Dunwoody became less desirable.  Just last week we learned about two-year old apartments falling apart.  Perhaps with better oversight the city will prevent such things in the future. 

I don't want Council making unreasonable laws that restrict the way I want to live, but I do think we need some sort of established guidelines.  Maybe they are already in place and I am not aware of them. I've complained that some on Council act more like a homeowners association than a city government.  I agree there are important issues that Council has not taken up for discussion.  Schools tops that list.  We still have no one on Council acting on behalf of its residents and their children when it comes to nasty rental trailers at Chesnut. Our kids start school next week and some Austin 3rd graders will be subjected to a full school year of learning in a $200 a month trailer courtesy of DeKalb Schools.  Not just a music class in the trailer, but every class in the trailer for their entire year of 3rd grade.  A city as nice as Dunwoody and our kids have to walk outside and sit in nasty trailers all day.  Unbelievable.  Our school board representative does nothing to help the overcrowded situation.  Meanwhile Council tries to pull favors for wine sales and thinks a simple farmhouse with no parking and a farm with no animals are more important than taking a stand with DeKalb County School System. You want to protect property values?  Figure a way to work with DeKalb schools on a redistricting plan that removes trailers and utilizes our new $20 million dollar school or get us out of that system.  Where were we?  Oh yes, parking.

I think Council was wrong on banning backyard poultry.  I'd much rather have chickens next door than dogs.  I'd like to see that revisited sometime soon.  But I agree on some parking restrictions be put in place.  Maybe we already have bans on parking garbage trucks in front of a residence.  Maybe someone can find out and comment.

I'm headed over to NOCHAN for lunch today.  Anyone care to join me?