As Developer Readies 315 W. Ponce Plans, Tensions Remain High

27 02 2008

Tensions remain high among residents of the Clairemont-Great Lakes Neighborhood as neighborhood representatives prepare to see the developer’s first proposals for 315 W. Ponce on March 5th. I for one, can’t wait to see them, because I’m having a heck of a time picturing graduated 80′ development around the massive existing office building.

As part of the informal agreement between the neighborhood and the Downtown Development Authority, Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne has provided a thorough synopsis of events and facts presented up until this point. The website has it posted in full here.

Regardless of the “city slant”, Lyn’s summation gives a lot of info we had yet to receive. Here are a couple observations I have at first glance.

  • The analysis references the C2 zoning code that calls for a graduated setback and height limits when dealing with commercial property that is adjacent to R60. I’m not sure if property across the street is technically considered adjacent under law (it doesn’t specify), but it sounds like the developer and DDA are willing to work within its guidelines.
  • It sounds like this project will have to go before the city commission for approval because of its residential element. I’m assuming that should give concerned citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions. Let me know if I’m wrong.
  • The project admits its targeting singles and “Dinks”. Maybe renting apartments will fill vacancies faster than the 1 bedroom condos at the Renaissance. But don’t forget the other new apartments going in a Trinity Triangle. This won’t be the only show in town.

Relations already seem strained between the neighborhood and the city. A note to local residents from the neighborhood group claims a general “lack of regard” from the city about the neighborhood’s concerns and notes a comment from Lyn about not buying next to C2 if they didn’t want to deal with issues such as this. The neighborhood group also believes that the DDA wants the maximum number of units built at the site regardless of what it takes.

Ultimately I think its a positive development to hear that the neighborhood has some influence on how this private land is being developed. It may not be a perfect working relationship and the neighborhood certainly won’t get everything it wants (I’m really at a loss in terms of the cut through traffic argument. I’m not sure anything can be done.), but any resident input will ultimately be better than none.

Also, we need to remember that city employees aren’t the same as elected officials. When the time comes, if you make enough noise, the city commission is much more likely to sit up and listen. They sure did regarding the Oakhurst Historic District.

How a CITY of Dunwoody Affects Decatur

27 02 2008

After being killed in committee nearly a month ago, the bill to create a city of Dunwoody is back on the voting block this coming Tuesday (according to the AJC). I’m not sure what prompted the quick resurrection of the bill (maybe John over at Dunwoody North will fill us in) , but if passed this time around, citizens of the prescribed area would vote on city status this November.

So, why am I writing about Dunwoody in a blog about Decatur? Because my friends, even though we may proudly proclaim ourselves residents of Decatur first, we also pay taxes to another master: DeKalb County.

And why does that matter? Because DeKalb and all of its existing cities (Decatur, Avondale, Stone Mountain, Chamblee) love to fight over our tax money.

A quick recap: Every city that exists or is created within the county takes countless millions in property taxes away from unincorporated DeKalb. DeKalb understandably doesn’t like this and fights against city creation like an overprotective mother watching her son grow up and try to move out of the house. It also has horded much of the 1% Homestead Option Sales Tax (last estimates showed that Decatur was being underpaid by a cool $500,000) that the cities say is rightfully their’s. (The GA Supreme Court should decide this 7 year battle some time this year. A date has not yet been set.)

A quick aside…The other side of this coin is that it is usually the wealthier communities (with higher property taxes) that want to withdraw themselves from county services and ultimately that leaves the county’s poorest unincorporated areas with even less available funding to repair the countless problems that plague them on a daily basis.

So, how would the creation of another city, like Dunwoody, affect those in and around Decatur? Well, as Mayor Floyd has mentioned recently in talks about annexation, if Dunwoody becomes a city, unincorporated DeKalb residents should expect taxes to go up (due to a loss in the tax base) and county services to get even worse as a result. Around Decatur, this might affect the way people in our potential annexation areas think and subsequently vote on annexation into the city.

So, keep an eye on Dunwoody’s city creation and watch for when the Georgia Sumpreme Court finally rules on the HOST dispute. I’ll obviously report on both here. If Decatur can get its share of that 1% sales tax and/or can successfully annex more commercial land into the city, property taxes should come more in line with unincorporated areas (according to Floyd) while retaining the benefit of better services.

The New Indie Bookstore In Town

26 02 2008

Actually its right outside the current city limits.

According to paint on the windows of the old Chapter 11 bookstore in the Publix shopping plaza on N. Decatur Road, a new bookstore called The Blue Elephant will be taking over the space.

The all-knowing window paint also proclaims a March 8th opening.

I’m always glad to see another local bookstore!

(NOTE: The Blue Elephant above has nothing to do with the coming bookstore, but since I couldn’t find any info about the new store online I decided to post the next best thing: A random, cute blue elephant doll! BTW…the pic is courtesy of

Church St. Knick-Knack Stores Feel the Pinch

25 02 2008

The ever-reliable Rus has informed us that Houseworks on Church Street (next to Mingei Arts) is having a going-out-of-business sale. The owner told Rus that business has been “terrible” and that Rue de Leon and Blue Moon are also struggling.

The owner also claims that his neighbor, the T-Mobile store, is also closing shop.

I think it’s pretty interesting to see how Decatur development patterns reflect the local and national economy. Most of the recent closings (smaller restaurants and “knick-knack” shops) have seemed the most vulnerable to the negative shift in the national economy. But at the same time, you can see the strength in the Decatur market as these now defunct stores are being bought up and replaced quickly, while Decatur’s residential real estate market shows many area homes under renovation and there has even been some new construction activity. What a rarity!

Belly Dancers Take Over Decatur

25 02 2008

…and I’m two days too late.

AccessAtlanta reports

This year is the fourth Decatur gathering for tribal belly dancers, women whose dancing springs from an amalgam of feminism, a touch of punk, “modern primitive” ideas such as tattooing and body piercing, and a love of combining different ethnic offerings, such as Japanese jewelry and Indian music.

“It’s less glitz and more dust,” said Zi’ah McKinney-Taylor, who like many of the performers this weekend prefers to go by her stage name, “and more about the dance and the costuming as opposed to the female body.”

Zi’ah, who teaches belly dancing at Several Dancers Core in Decatur, started TribalCon in 2005, with just 80 people signed up and a surprise ice storm that canceled the first day. The convention, which pulls women from all over the United States, has grown so that Decatur’s Holiday Inn Conference Center can barely hold it at 300-plus attending. The weekend’s workshops are sold out, and about 50 remaining tickets will be available at the door for the big show at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The Holiday Inn can’t contain more than 300 people? Lord, it sounds like we really do need an additional hotel in this city that can accommodate more moderately sized conventions. Obviously we couldn’t (or would want to) compete with the likes of the GWCC or the larger convention centers in Cobb and Gwinnett, but a walkable community like Decatur would seem the perfect host for smaller gatherings.

Making Sense Out of the Senseless

24 02 2008

Decatur neurologist, Suzette LaRoche, has organized a women’s hike at Blood Mountain today in honor of murdered hiker Meredith Emerson.  Around 35 women are expected to participate in a tree planting ceremony and 7-mile hike.

Gary Laderman, Emory’s religion dept. head remarks in this morning’s AJC that the hike “…is a way to transform the senselessness into something that is meaningful”. 

As I wrote a few weeks back, every hiker across the country and especially in the state of Georgia has had to cope with this bizarre random act of violence in their own way.  Suzette’s walk will hopefully help a handful of women begin to dissolve the fear that has blanketed something they love to do since this case first came to light.

How Did the City of Decatur Vote in GA Primary?

23 02 2008

Atlanta Public Affairs wades through the data and has the answer.

Sharian Rugs Looking Better Than Ever

22 02 2008

Renovations at Sharian Rugs look to be almost complete and the buildings are looking better than ever. The showroom window is making much better use of street-front property and the iconic art-deco main office building is cleaned up and looking better than it has in years.

This morning 11Alive highlights Decatur’s oldest continually operating business and assures us that they’re still open. (Yes, we were already aware.)

Cheers to you Sharian! You win the Decatur Metro award for being really cool about investing in the look and economy of our lovingly hip Decatur. It’s kinda like a Hometown Hero award, but there’s no physical award or ceremony and its given out randomly by single dorky blogger instead of the active and intelligent city commission.

h/t: InDecatur

Got $1 Million To Spare?

22 02 2008

The AJC reports that after Lake Claire residents made their appeal to the Atlanta Tree Commission on Wednesday they were given two options. Buy the land from owner and potential developer, Adam Gaslowitz, for $1 million or appeal the ruling in Superior Court.

Wow…not the greatest set of options. How long has it taken for historic Olmstead Linear Parks along Ponce to raise close to $1 million? Like 4 years? Yesh! (as Mooch would say)

Hopefully area residents will let us know what their next course of action will be.

Random Atlanta Tree Ordinance Fact: It’s illegal not to kill known poison ivy/sumac on your property.

(Photo courtesy of AJC)

Slumming It in Your McMansion

21 02 2008

If you’re an urban planner, preservationist, or follow developments in either field, you may have heard the theory that one day soon many of the nation’s newest subdivisions that sit on the very fringes of our metropolitan areas will take the place of the inner city as the nation’s new slums.

Well, according to this recent Atlantic article (which is now free to all), this speculation is already showing clear signs of becoming reality. As populations begin to move back closer to the city center after years of fleeing to the manicured lawns and weekends of sameness, these poorly constructed McMansions will become the tenements of tomorrow.

Here’s a tease…

Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading.

At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge—many once sold for well over $500,000—but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

So, if you’re into development patterns or you just want to feel better about paying an arm and a leg for a more modest-sized Decatur/Atlanta house or condo, take a few minutes and check it out. It’ll make you even happier that you’re not living on the fringes in poorly constructed luxury.