DeKalb Cityhood vs. Annexation; Information to Educate LLCC Residents

July 27, 2014

Darian Bilski

Darian Bilski, Woodland Hills Resident
Editor’s Note: This article was recently circulated in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. With Darian Bilski’s permission, some of her original text has been edited to reflect the most recent developments in the rapidly changing issue.
Current Status
During the 2014 legislative session three groups – Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker – pushed for incorporation of a new city in north DeKalb County. If the Legislature had approved those bills, the cityhood question would’ve been placed on the ballot in 2014. The bills for those cities didn’t pass because of a shorter-than-usual legislative session due to the new elections calendar. The maps for each of the cities overlapped, creating competition among the three groups. It would be easier to pass a bill for the combined cities of Briarcliff and Lakeside in 2015, assuming the two groups decide to stick together.(From http://www.decaturish.com/2014/07/briarclifflakeside-join-forces/)
According to the following Briarcliff and Lakeside Joint Statement issued July 3, 2014, the joint Briarcliff / Lakeside city would respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration. Therefore competing interests would be eliminated.  Furthermore, if City of Briarcliff and Lakeside join forces, the bills would then have both republican (Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar) and democratic
(Representative Oliver) support. This fact also increases the likelihood that the joint city would pass the legislative hurdles.
There is no name yet for the combined Lakeside / Briarcliff City; however, a name change is possible. For purposes of this summary document, the new city will be called Lakeside / Briarcliff. The final map has not yet been defined as the cityhood initiatives are in the process of soliciting community input. The final city map will likely be larger than Lakeside’s final map, but smaller than Briarcliff’s final map.
While the financial studies conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia (“The CVI”) analyzed the prior City of Lakeside and City of Briarcliff plans separately, there is general agreement that the combined city will also be financially viable without a need for an increase in property taxes. The CVI has a track record of reliable, conservative predictions for the studies it has performed for other cities. For example, CVI estimated that revenues for a city of Dunwoody would be $18,777,904. In its first full fiscal year in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual revenues turned out to be$18,394,942, or 2.0% less than CVI estimated. In the same study, CVI also predicted that Dunwoody’s total operating expenditures would be$15,571,573; in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual operating expenditures turned out to be $13,823,811, or 11% less than CVI estimated.
 
Local Neighborhood Issues and Decisions Residents Must Make
The questions that LLCC Residents Must Currently Consider are:

  1. Do LLCC community neighborhoods want to be included in a city? (Note that even if our residents do not currently want to be included in the city options currently on the table, it is likely that we will be pulled into some future city.)
  2. Which city do LLCC neighborhoods want to be a part of? Options for discussion include, Lakeside / Briarcliff, Atlanta / a future unincorporated DeKalb City initiative.If not included in Lakeside / Briarcliff, areas like Woodland Hills and LaVista Park risk being on an “island,” unable to be serviced by DeKalb financially efficiently without cutting through city of Atlanta or Lakeside / Briarcliff. One concerning issue is the length of time it could take DeKalb police to respond to Woodland Hills and LaVista Park calls and the increase in crime that would potentially result.Emory University has advised that they do not want to be a part of City of Briarcliff or City of Lakeside, mainly because they do not want their campus divided between jurisdictions. Emory is interested in a transportation plan that will include the Clifton Corridor Transit Line and they feel that with Atlanta’s recent grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the Atlanta Street Car, financing for the Clifton Corridor Line may come easier and more quickly with the City of Atlanta’s direct federal connections. Emory is currently weighing the possibility of being annexed by Atlanta.

Briarcliff and Lakeside Present Joint Statement to DeKalb County Operations Task ForceAtlanta, GA (PRLog), July 3, 2014 — Two DeKalb County cityhood groups, The City of Briarcliff Initiative, and Lakeside Yes read a joint statement before the DeKalb County Operations Task Force (OTF) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Maloof Auditorium. The Operations Task Force was created by Interim CEO Lee May and is charged with making recommendations that can be forwarded to the Georgia General Assembly by December 2014.The prepared statement from the July 2nd meeting reads:She continues, “Both of our groups presented maps during the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. However, because our current maps overlap, Lakeside and Briarcliff have agreed to collaborate with the goal of creating a unified map free of overlapping areas and respecting existing city borders and future annexation plans. We respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration, and we respect the inclusive approach of the Briarcliff map. We will continue to work with our sponsors, Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar, residents and business owners in our community to reach the goal of local control and governance for this community. We invite the advocates of the city of Tucker to join with us so that we can present two cities with a clear path to cityhood prior to the 2015 session of the General Assembly.”He continues, “We seek to unite, rather than divide, to improve government operations not just in our region of DeKalb but in the entire county. The residents of unincorporated DeKalb deserve, and with respect we demand, the opportunity to form new cities that will become destinations where business and families can flourish. The time has come for us all to cooperate, north and south, inside the perimeter and outside, city advocates and county officials. We all share DeKalb County, and we all know the challenges we face. Cities are an important part of the solution.” He concludes, “We welcome your questions and your suggestions.”

  1. City of Briarcliff Imitative President Allen Venet read, “We are committed to working together because we agree on almost every issue except boundaries, and boundaries can be solved. As we refine our map, we are soliciting neighborhood input, and we will work with state, county and local elected representatives of both major parties and with the existing cities of DeKalb County.”
  2. Lakeside Yes Chairman Mary Kay Woodworth read, “Lakeside YES and The City of Briarcliff Initiative appreciate the invitation to present maps to the Operations Task Force. You have received our individual working maps, but we respectfully present this joint statement in lieu of focusing on a specific map.”
  3. For months both citizens and legislators have urged the two groups to communicate and work together more. Briarcliff and Lakeside have historically shared many overlapping views of cityhood, but have differed on proposed city borders. Both groups view cityhood as an opportunity to lift up the community and improve the strength of DeKalb County.
  4. Because Emory does not want to be included in a new DeKalb city, the Druid Hills neighborhood may also effectively be cut out of Lakeside / Briarcliff because without Emory, their neighborhood is no longer contiguous with the new city boundaries. Many people in Druid Hills have advised the City of Briarcliff initiative that after the DeKalb County Board of Education voted down the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, they are now considering what the City of Atlanta has to offer them. However, many Druid Hills neighbors are still interested in becoming a part of Lakeside / Briarcliff.
  5. There has been discussion of the possibility of Woodland Hills and LaVista Park being annexed into the City of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta is not obligated to annex either neighborhood, even if it is left as an isolated island within DeKalb County. There is also not an active push by our residents to be annexed by Atlanta. Therefore, if this option warrants serious consideration, immediate dialogue should be initiated. See the end of this document for a discussion of this option based on comments and research from Druid Hills’ residents.
  6. Interim CEO Lee May attended a Woodland Hills neighborhood meeting on July 24, 2014 and expressed his opinion that all of DeKalb County will be municipalized (no more unincorporated areas), having all areas flow into a new city, or be annexed into an existing city. He stated that while he was not necessarily an advocate of the cityhood movement, it is a reality and he would want all citizens to have a say in which city they join. There is already discussion of other cities being planned in the southern part of the county, which also has a lot of unincorporated land.

Additional Information from the Lakeside City Alliance Website: http://lakesidecityalliance.org/

Pros and cons of incorporation (cityhood) (Pros and cons of cityhood are considered herein; however, it is important to keep in mind that remaining unincorporated may only be a short term solution if all unincorporated areas become municipalized in the future.)
What are the benefits to becoming a city?

  1. A government closer to people and more responsive to their needs. Currently a DeKalb county commissioner represents approximately 130,000 people and 54 sq. miles. A city of approximately 60,000 residents could potentially have 5-6 commissioners, who live in the community and represent fewer citizens, thus bringing government closer to the people and resulting in more local control over city services.
  2. More control over land use (zoning) and development to decide on things like new subdivisions, teardowns, construction, nightclubs, apartments, strips malls and other uses.
  3. Mechanism to revitalize residential and commercial areas, parks and common areas.
  4. To efficiently manage our tax dollars.
  5. Tax equity. More local dollars spent locally.
  6. Improved community identity and quality of life.
  7. Advocates – elected officials and city staff — to improve quality of life. Many incorporated cities have a downtown development authority and economic development professionals on staff. Staff could work for the benefit of the city, including the collection of state and federal grants.
  8. Safer neighborhoods.

What are the risks to becoming a city?

  1. Requires a grassroots effort with a tremendous volunteer movement and popular support
  2. Must provide evidence to state legislature of financial feasibility, by funding a professional study, such as one written by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which can cost upwards of $30,000.
  3. No action leaves unincorporated area as is for the short term.
  4. County is currently experienced in providing services and new city would have no experience. Therefore there is risk that the services may not be provided more efficiently or better under a new city government.
  5. Without infrastructure, city would have to hire 3rd party, as Sandy Springs did, to take over services.
  6. Without cash in the bank, the new city would have to finance initial operations through startup financing.
  7. Unknown government entity (and officials)
  8. Budget and Revenue estimates are projected, not tested

What’s the process of becoming a city?

  1. Define our community. As some have asked, “who are we?”
  2. Define the boundaries of a proposed city boundary.
  3. Obtain community input and make adjustments to these definitions as necessary.
  4. Request that our elected officials introduce legislation (a placeholder bill in year one) to create a new city since only the General Assembly can provide authorization to create new cities.
  5. Commission a feasibility study of the defined area. Is there a sustainable balance of commercial and residential property to fund a city without raising property taxes?
  6. If it is economically feasible and the community desires to move forward, during legislative year two, legislators will discuss the bill and vote on it. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, hold a vote in our community on whether the new city should be formed.
  7. If voters approve the ballot, hold elections to seat government officials, and a transition committee would be appointed by the Governor to help the local government get up and running.
  8. The initial & ongoing operation of the local government on the date set in the bill creating the new city.There is a list of services mandated by Georgia law, and cities must provide provides at least three of the following services, either directly or by contract – O.C.G.A. § 36-30-7.1 (b)

What are the proposed services, what will it cost?

  1. Law enforcement;
  2. Fire protection (which may be furnished by a volunteer fire force) and fire safety;
  3. Road and street construction or maintenance;
  4. Solid waste management;
  5. Water supply or distribution or both;
  6. Waste-water treatment;
  7. Storm-water collection and disposal;
  8. Electric or gas utility services;
  9. Enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, and electrical codes and other similar codes;
  10. Planning and zoning; and 11. Recreational facilities.

Initially, the City of Lakeside proposed the following services, based on interest and feedback from the community:

  • Public Safety and Code Enforcement: Includes police services as well as zoning and land use violations (but not zoning or land use policy issues). Items such as creating an accredited police department and providing emergency services, traffic control, criminal investigation and public safety education and outreach are included.
  • Public works: Includes determining what services can be more efficiently and effectively provided, such as lighting, sidewalks, roadwork, street lights and drainage services.
  • Planning, Land Use and Zoning: Includes developing and enforcing regulations that govern how the city of Lakeside’s land is used.
  • Parks and Recreation: Includes inventorying current and potential parks and green spaces and creating a comprehensive development and maintenance plan.
  • All other services would continue to be provided by DeKalb County.

After incorporation: Can the City pick up additional services from the CountyWouldn’t a new city just be another layer of government? Will my property taxes increase?

  • Forming a new city does not result in adding new taxes to your property tax bill. In fact, under the proposed city of Lakeside legislation (SB 270), property taxes would decrease for property owners compared with the taxes paid by residents living in unincorporated DeKalb County. The tax money used to provide services in the area of the proposed City of Lakeside comes from the taxes residents already pay to the county. The city of Lakeside proposes to provide services in a more cost-efficient and effective way for its residents with greater local control, using the funds which will be shifted from DeKalb County to the new city. Thus, instead of a new tax, a portion of your county property tax revenue simply is shifted from the county to the city. This shift would be reflected in two of the existing “line items” (or sources of revenue) which appear on your property tax bill. They are:
  • No, it would be a shift of certain responsibilities from the county government overseeing 700,000 to a local board representing 50-60 thousand people in this area. The resulting representation would be more direct with more accessible officials who live, work and play in our own community.
  • The city can elect to pick up additional services from the County at any time in the future. A vote from the city residents for additional services is not required except to the extent that providing additional services requires a millage rate increase, which the voters would have to approve. (This is true as of the currently proposed version of Lakeside City Charter.) County consent is not required for the city to provide additional services otherwise authorized by Georgia law.
  • People want more police officers and quicker response times in our area. They want the assurance that existing ordinances will be enforced in order to preserve neighborhood integrity, encourage community pride and protect the public’s health and well-being. They want greater control over zoning decisions so that development occurs in a thoughtful manner and so that development that does not fit with our community’s vision of itself does not materialize seemingly overnight as some nightclubs have. People also want to have well-developed and wellmaintained public spaces where people can walk, where kids can play and where pets can be outdoor. The goal would be to provide better and more efficient services in a more financially sound manner.
  1. The “Unincorporated Tax District” (listed as “UNIC TAXDIST” on your bill) and
  2. “Police Services” (“POLICE SERVC”). Together, these two items represent the bulk of what are known as “city services” and include activities such as public safety, parks and recreation, zoning, and land use, code enforcement, etc.
  3. The charge for the services listed above (and most others listed on your property tax bill) is determined by multiplying the assessed value of your home (40% of what the county estimates your home to be worth) times a fraction known as a millage rate. A mill equals 1/1000 (or .0001), so, for example, a charge of three mills equals 3/1000 or .003. DeKalb County currently charges 4.96 mills for the Police Services and Unincorporated Tax District line items. For a home valued at $250,000, this would amount to $496:
  • Home Value = $250,000.00
  • Assessed Value = $100,000.00 ($250,000 x 40%)
  • Charge for City Services + Police Services = $ 496.00 ($100,000 Assessed Value x .00496 millage rate)(Brookhaven) is capped at 3.35. On its face, DeKalb County’s rate is 48% higher than Brookhaven’s capped rate. The actual millage rate charged by Brookhaven’s government is even less, however, 2.85 mills, making DeKalb’s rate 74% higher. (In the case of Dunwoody, the County’s millage rate is over 80% greater than the city’s charge for the same services: 2.74 mills. It is worth noting that Dunwoody is running $1-2 million annual surpluses.)

Dunwoody Tax Comparison / Additional Tax Considerations What is the relationship between a city and a county with regards to school districts and zoning? Will a new city have its own school district? What impact will the passage of the proposed City of DeKalb have?

  • If DeKalb County is incorporated and becomes the “City of DeKalb”, it would prevent any community in the “City of DeKalb” from incorporating.
  • Currently, there is no relationship. A city’s boundaries have NO effect on the DeKalb County School System’s attendance districts. Attendance districts will change only if DeKalb County School System redistricts. At present, our State Constitution provides that no new school system could be established in a newly created city. It is possible, however, that this could change in the future. It goes without saying, however, that no city school system could be created in our area unless a new city is formed. Note: Decatur and Marietta school systems were created before this was added to the Constitution, and therefore were grandfathered in.
  • No city should increase property taxes as long as a sustainable mix of commercial and residential property exists. Dunwoody has not raised property taxes and has still created budget surpluses of $2-3 million annually. In the view of the Lakeside Alliance, the city charter would include a provision that property taxes could not be raised without the approval of voters in a referendum. Taxes could decrease if there was a budget surplus, but it could be that taxes will simply remain at current levels. That would be a decision for the local government and voters to decide. Please see the information under “Presentations” for information about the cost of services.
  • Perhaps the most important fact to note, though, is that DeKalb can raise its millage rate simply through approval by the County Commission. By contrast, under SB 270, raising the city millage rate would require not only a vote of the city council, but also ratification by a majority of voting city residents. Thus, the creation of the City of Lakeside could yield local control over the provision of some services as well as an opportunity to target services locally to residents and business owners. It could also provide an opportunity to cap property tax rates UNLESS city of Lakeside residents vote to change them.
  • For example, the millage rate for these same services for the most recently incorporated city in DeKalb

Additional Information Primarily from the Druid Hills Association Website: http://druidhills.org/

City of Atlanta Annexation Option PROS (from Carl Larson, druidhills.org http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-atlanta-annexation-initiative/. Carl is a proponent of Druid Hills being annexed by Atlanta):Atlanta is a city that has reinvented and reinvigorated itself. Here are some key points regarding the positives to annexation with Atlanta:

  • Atlanta has a very vibrant and diverse tax base—corporate, commercial, and residential.
  • Atlanta is home to a world-class international airport, and—to date—the busiest in the world.
  • Atlanta has, and is continuing to develop, a neighborhood feel that is very much in line with Druid Hills. This includes park and the ever-expanding Beltline—places to be outdoors, active and fostering a sense of community.
  • Druid Hills is an activist community, and taking our role as citizens of Atlanta would give us a chance to influence the emerging development of this vibrant city.
  • Last year, Atlanta had $1.5 billion in development—mixed use properties, in town housing, and business, commercial and retail. This approached pre-2008 levels, and indicates lots of optimism about the City’s future. It also grows the tax base. It is predicted that by next year, more than $2.1 billion more in investment will occur, which would be a record for the City.
  • Atlanta has a police force over double the size of DeKalb County’s force—and over a much smaller geographic area.
  • Atlanta has worked hard on its finances under Mayor Reed, and has positive and stable credit outlooks from the rating agencies.
  • Atlanta has a very good relationship with the Atlanta business community, and the latter is very involved in the directions the city is taking.
  • Atlanta and Mayor Reed have a good working relationship with state officials, including the Governor.
  • Atlanta has been effective in garnering federal dollars to help with its development.

City of Atlanta Annexation Option CONS: (See comments of John Frost Murlin: http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-briarcliff-initiative/. John is a proponent of Druid Hills becoming a part of the new DeKalb City.)

  • Schools
  • Perception
  • Corruption
  • Potential Immediate Tax Increase (though as indicated herein, DeKalb Co taxes could also increase.)

Additional Resources:

We Owe It to Ourselves

Henry R. Batten, LLCC President & CEO

ILLCC300x96’m usually not very good at writing stuff like this, but after a post on Facebook today from a friend from high school in Raleigh, I feel compelled to put these thoughts into writing.

I feel extremely fortunate to live in what I believe to be one of the most culturally diverse communities in Metro Atlanta. Several years ago many of us got together to see how we could harness this diverse populace and its unusual energy to better the lives of everyone within our “borders”.

We established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation called the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition. We then applied for and were awarded a $50,000 grant by The Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Tech to study the three neighborhoods that make up our coalition: LaVista Park, Lindridge-Martin Manor, and Woodland Hills.

During this study we discovered many things about ourselves that we didn’t know. The estimated population of this community was in excess of 10,000 people! That’s larger than many small towns in South Georgia.

About 20% of those people are Hispanic. We also discovered that within our local elementary school, there were 23 different languages being spoken. This Hispanic population was right under our noses, but since they were concentrated in two or three “pockets”, many of us overlooked them. We began to ask ourselves how could we reach out to this large segment of people and make them more a part of our community. We recognized that there were large cultural and language barriers.

With another grant from Edelman (a large multi-national PR firm), and with the financial, physical and volunteer assistance of Westminster Presbyterian Church (an LLCC member organization that contributed as much money to this effort as some churches in Raleigh did to deny people their rights), and the cooperation of the Mexican Consulate General (also located in our community), we established a Hispanic English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. In addition to teaching students to read and speak English, the local branch manager of Regions Bank (an LLCC member) came to instruct people how to use banks and write checks, local EMTs came to teach CPR, two local police precincts sent officers to talk about community policing, and dietitians came to talk about nutrition, health and cooking. One evening a week we sponsored soccer games on the athletic field at the church so the fathers could spend quality time with their families.

This Hispanic population was very timid at first, unsure of what our true motives were. They were particularly skeptical of the police officers. We knew that many of them were “illegals,” but we never asked that question of them. It was our goal to include these people in our community, not run them away.

When the school district within the city limits of Atlanta was planning a realignment of attendance zones that would have a tremendous impact of these folks, we hosted community meetings where folks could express their concerns and ask questions. Let me tell you, these people “truly care” about the education of their children! These meetings had the largest attendance of any meetings that we’ve had! It thrilled my heart to see this kind of participation from a once marginalized population.

There are those who say that we don’t owe illegals anything and that they don’t belong here. I disagree. Not only did we owe these people the opportunity to become part of our community, we owe it to ourselves. Otherwise, we would be cutting ourselves off from the vast amount of talent, energy and cultural heritage that makes our community so special.

Affordable Lindbergh’s Last Stand

A controversial rezoning proposal in Atlanta’s Lindbergh  community, to be considered for the second time by the City Council of  Atlanta on Monday, October 01, 2012, will in part determine the fate of  some two hundred low-income families living in affordable multi-family  apartments like the San Lucia Apartments near Adina Drive, Lindbergh  Drive, Morosgo Drive, and Piedmont Road; as well as the ability of  working families to have some opportunity to afford to live in the  Buckhead area.
Developer  Jeff Fuqua wants to build high-end apartments at market rate rents; a  big box, 3.7 acre Wal-Mart superstore with a giant, 4.2 acre surface  parking lot; and a park.  This, despite the fact that the existing  shopping center there already has a Target, which already includes a  grocery store inside.
Read more >>>

Atlanta Council Delays Vote on Walmart Development

Jaclyn Hirsch – Buckhead Patch
Atlanta City Council failed yet again on Monday to make a decision on the controversial mixed-use development plan off Lindbergh Drive west of North Druid Hills that includes a Walmart.
Council voted to send the zoning request back to committee to address the land use issues, according to a note sent to residents by the Lindridge Martin Manor neighborhood association.
Developers want to build a mixed-use development that would include a Walmart off Lindbergh Drive near the MARTA station.
But the property is zoned for residential use, and Monday’s city council vote indicates that council will not approve the project unless the property is rezoned.
“The Walmart development cannot go forward with out the land use being changed,” Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association President Roxanne Sullivan wrote to neighbors. “There was lots of speculation as to what does this mean. Most of them involved the fact that the developer did not have the votes for approval. It most likely will not come back from committee.”
Developers battled with neighbors for roughly two years in an effort to move the project forward.
Many residents in and around Buckhead opposed the project due to the size of the development and the location.
Andrea Bennett, who chairs NPU-B’s Development and Transportation Committee, told Reporter Newspapers “the accusations of prejudice against Walmart are unfounded.”
“We voted against this before Walmart ever entered the picture, before we even heard Walmart was involved,” Bennett said. “Our issue isn’t whether this is a Walmart or whether it’s a Nieman-Marcus or something else. It’s about the form of the development.”

Buckhead Walmart zoning issues… a tangled web

from Buckhead View
Editor’s Note: The following is a news analysis piece by BuckheadView related to the controversial proposed “big box” mixed-use development near Lindbergh Center and the intersection of Piedmont and Lindbergh roads in south Buckhead. This piece is based on known facts, overheard statements, off-the-record conversations with public officials and civic leaders and rumors from credible sources.
BuckheadView has learned that Sally Silver, the chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit B who also works in the City Council office of Dist. 7 representative Howard Shook, has been told to stop speaking out against the proposed Sembler Co./Fuqua Development Lindbergh Center area project, which likely would include a big box Walmart store.

NPU-B Chair Sally Silver

The proposed development, which started out as a totally commercial project and has morphed into a mixed-use commercial and residential plan, has been repeatedly denied zoning and land-use changes by the NPU-B board and its Zoning and Development & Transportation committees over the past year and a half.Silver has been very vocal about her objections to the “big box” aspect of the planned development, its huge surface parking lot and its lack of urban design and transit orientation, both during NPU-B meetings and before the city’s Zoning Review Board hearing last month.
As reported this week by the Garden Hills neighborhood’s Town Crier web site, and confirmed to BuckheadView by other sources as well, both Shook and fellow Councilman Alex Wan have told people they will support the land-use and zoning changes to allow the development to move forward.
However, at the August meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Thursday night, Shook denied he had told anyone that he would cast his vote in favor of the developers and their plans. From what BuckheadView’s sources say, he may have miss-spoke to the BCN.
(For BuckheadView’s coverage of Councilman Shook’s comments on the Lindbergh area development at the BCN meeting, go here.)
Several sources told BuckheadView that Silver was muzzled on this issue by Shook himself, and, if she did not stop speaking out on the issue, she might lose her job in the councilman’s Dist. 7 office, a job she has held for many years.
Councilman Howard Shook and Sally Silver are shown together at an earlier annual meeting of the North Buckhead neighborhood association.

In response to a phone call from BuckheadView asking Sally Silver if she had been told not to continue speaking out in opposition to the proposed Sembler/Fuqua development, Silver provided the following email, which she said would be the full extent of her reply:“As current Chair of NPU-B I have 1 1/2 yrs of involvement with this case. At no time during this process did I receive direction or instructions from Councilman Shook. As NPU-B overwhelmingly voted to oppose this rezoning, I attempted to do my best at explaining that stance to the Zoning Review Board (ZRB). Although NPU-B voted to deny the rezoning, Planning Staff, and the Zoning Review Board support the rezoning.
“This project has now moved forward and will be heard by the Council Zoning Committee and Council Community Development/Human Resources Committee. Both of these committees are aware of NPU-B’s stance regarding this case.
“I can report that the Zoning Committee will be meeting the morning of 8/20 (before the scheduled Council meeting) and the case will be held (deferred).”
That likely will be the last we will hear from Silver on this issue, as a public servant (chair of NPU-B, which is directly involved with this project, and a member of Howard Shook’s council staff) or an Atlanta resident. She may, however, be heard relaying the Dist. 7 office’s public line.
District 7 Councilman Howard Shook

Speaking to the BCN Thursday night, Councilman Shook defended the Lindbergh Center area project by saying, “With well-connected developers and their attorneys, and an administration that would love to see us start crawling out of our depression, I don’t have a monopoly on the outcome of this,” Shook said.He went on to explain that council members are going to be told that the development meets the legal criteria as asserted by the planning department, ZRB and some neighborhood members — even ones that don’t like the project.
The telling point Shook made in that statement, however, was that the mayor wants development to get us moving out of the recession and to add tax monies in the city’s coffers—providing we don’t then give Sembler and Fuqua tax credit incentives to build the project. But he said the mayor definitely is involved in the outcome of this.
BuckheadView also has learned that Mayor Kasim Reed may be personally calling the shots on getting this development approved because of commitments he made to Walmart to help the company obtain other locations in Atlanta as a result of Walmart agreeing to take over the failed Publix market location in Atlanta’s West End Village.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Several credible sources have told BuckheadView that Mayor Reed has “a very good relationship with the Walmart people.” These sources say Walmart wants to expand its presence in Atlanta and that Mayor Reed supports them in that. Word is he also may be helping facilitate Walmart being able to open a store in the Cascade area. BuckheadView is told that is not yet approved, but will be very shortly.One thing for sure, the processes and procedures for granting land-use and zoning changes for this particular development have been escalated in the past couple of months and at the same time, the scheduling has become totally screwed up.
For instance, the request for changes in zoning for the project went before the Zoning Review Board on July 12 and narrowly was approved by the ZRB. However, it has been determined that it should never have been presented to the ZRB at that time, since a required Development of Regional Impact (DRI) study had not been done.
That DRI study was not even requested by the city’s Planning Department until July 13, the day after the ZRB hearing.
But the confusion does not stop there. City Council also cannot take action on either the zoning or land-use changes for this project until the DRI study is completed and presented to Council. However, the City Council’s Zoning Committee had scheduled a hearing on the zoning issues last week, but was unable to act on it because of a lack of a quorum.
This was the latest site plan presented to NPU-B earlier this summer. The 150,000-square-foot bix-box Walmart is the brown area at the top left.

The Council Zoning Committee deferred action on the zoning issue until its Aug. 20 meeting, the same day the full Council returns from summer recess and was to have voted on the zoning issue related to this project.To even further confuse the issue, the Council’s Zoning Committee apparently cannot take action on the zoning issues on this case until the Council’s Community Development/Human Resources Committee first votes on the requested changes in land-use, which involves the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan. The CD/HR Committee does not meet until Aug. 28.
But in reality, none of these city bodies can vote on any aspect of this project until the DRI study is completed, and that is not likely to happen before Aug. 20.
A photo of a fairly typical modern Walmart big-box store.

Does this not make Atlanta residents wonder if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing down at City Hall? These procedures are nothing new. But it could be that the process is being forced forward to meet someone’s agenda—possibly Mayor Kasim Reed’s.You have to wonder why the city’s Planning Department staff originally denied the developers’ plans and then ended up approving them.
You have to ask why the DRI study was not applied for until July 13, the day after the ZRB voted on the zoning issue involved with the development. And why would the developers say they were told a DRI study was not necessary?
At one of its last NPU-B board meetings where the site plan
was discussed, Silver and others on the board said they
likely would be willing to accept one of Walmart’s new
Neighborhood Market grocery stores, but not a big box.

Why did one of Mayor Reed’s top policy advisors show up at a zoning meeting for the very first time when this development’s zoning issue was being considered?Oh, and should be ask why Walmart is putting up the $25,000 for the winner of the contest to design the park across the street from City Hall? Will there be a Walmart there too?
Should we ask why a member of City Council might ignore the wishes of his constituents and vote for a development the NPUs and neighborhoods have said they do not want?
And, you have to ask why Sally Silver, the chair of NPU-B, had to leave Aug. 7 at the end of the regular NPU-B board meeting and before several members of the NPU board met to discuss the Lindbergh area proposed development in a special executive session.
Those who attended that meeting decided to draw up a formal document outlining how the proposed development conflicts with both the letter and intent of the SPI-15 ordinance by which the development must be judged.
Like Councilman Shook, BuckheadView is awaiting that document and will bring it to our readers as soon as we get it.

Council of Neighborhoods grills Councilman Shook about stand on Lindbergh area ‘big box’ proposal

from Buckhead View
Those attending the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods August meeting Thursday evening wanted to know where Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook stands on the issue of the changing 21 acres off Piedmont Road in the Lindbergh area from high-density residential to commercial zoning for a planned ‘big box’ development.

Many walked away from the meeting not knowing if they got a commitment from Shook on how he would vote or not. But the Buckhead councilman told the audience he is in a listening mode.
City Councilman Howard Shook makes a point at BCN meeting.

The strongest statement Shook made on the issue was “I have never told anyone that I would vote for this development,” which would be in opposition to the positions that Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B) and many neighborhoods in his district have formally expressed.
That remark by Shook was directly in response to a posting by a report by the Garden Hills neighborhood’s Town Crier report earlier in the day, which said Shook and Dist. 6 Councilman Alex Wan both had committed to vote in favor of the development.
Over almost 18 months of negotiating, NPU-B repeatedly denied plans for the mixed-use development with a 150,000-square-foot big box store near Lindbergh Center that is proposed by The Sembler Co. and Fuqua Development. NPU-B denied both land-use changes in the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan and changes in zoning for the entire 21 acres from high-density residential to commercial.
Since 2001, the area surrounding Lindbergh Center has been designated a Transportation-Oriented Development (TOD) and Special Public Interest District (SPI) by the city of Atlanta, with specific zoning regulations meant to maximize transportation resources and create more pedestrian-friendly, urban development.
Shook told the group his vote has to be governed by whether or not the development plan submitted by The Sembler Co. and Fuqua Development meets the criteria laid out in the SPI-15 (Special Public Interest district 15) legislation or not. “That is what I have to look at,” he said.
He said he sees a plan that has a 3-acre park or greenspace, and less than 50 percent of retail and a little over 50 percent of residential development. And he said the parking spaces meet the SPI-15 criteria.
Early in the meeting, Howard Shook (center) and Bob
Schneider of the Garden Hills neighborhood (right) listen
to presentation from George Dusenbury, commissioner of
the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
“Tell me point by point how the final plan submitted violates SPI-15,” Shook challenged the group, which included representatives of both NPU-B and neighboring NPU-F as well as representatives of neighborhoods which are BCN members.
Shook said that, although the NPU-B full board almost unanimously denied both the land use and zoning changes for the property, the city’s Zoning Review Board approved the plans by a vote of 4-3 and the city’s Planning Department also approved the final plans. He also indicated that the Development Review Committee for SPI-15 approved the developer’s plans.
NPU-B board member
Abbie Shepherd
NPU-B board member Abbie Shepherd, who also is a member of the SPI-15 Development Review Committee, challenged Shook on that, saying the DRC “tore the plan apart during its discussion” but then decided it could not take a vote on the issue “because there had not been a change in zoning approved for the property.”
Shook said he will seek to have the zoning change from residential to commercial held in the City Council’s Zoning Committee for further study when the committee meets Aug. 20, the same day the full council was originally scheduled to discuss the issue.
That all may be moot, since the Community Development Human Resources Committee of City Council first must approve a change in land use for the plan before any zoning change can be considered by the Zoning Committee.
NPU-F Chair Jane Rawlings

Another wrinkle in the process was brought up by Jane Rawlings, chair of NPU-F which also has gone on record as opposing the proposed 21-acre development bounded by Lindbergh Avenue, Morosgo and Adina drives and is behind the Zesto;s on Piedmont Road.
Rawlings pointed out that the Atlanta Regional Commission is required to conduct a Development of Regional Impact study on the proposal because of its impact on regional transportation arteries and the additional traffic it is likely to create. She said that study was only requested on July 15 and would take some time to complete.
Both Rawlings and Shook agreed that no city action can proceed until that Development of Regional Impact study is completed and submitted to the city for review.
After several in the audience questioned that the developers would stick to their “mixed-use” site plan and turn the site into an all-commercial development, Shook said,  “I am aware that there is a back door issue that needs to be locked up to make sure that somehow this doesn’t end up being totally commercial, which I have committed to do.”
Rawlings asked Shook point blank if he would vote in opposition if he was presented with a list of how the development violates SPI-15.
“If you show me facts, I will follow you around all day long,” Shook replied.
BCN Chairman Jim King

To the approval of many attending the meeting, BCN Chairman Jim King challenged Shook to vote with the neighborhoods in his district and his constituents and vote to deny the rezoning for the development and the plans as proposed.
King urged Shook to work on his colleagues to get them to also vote against the development plans saying, “I would think out of respect for you and your vote they would follow your lead,” Shook said his colleagues certainly respect him and his positions, but he is not “entitled” to having them vote the way he would like.
King then said to Shook, “I have not heard you ask for help in convincing your colleagues” to vote to against these land use and zoning changes and against the development plans.
“The neighborhoods want you to vote no,” King said. “It is your district. I think they [other council members] will respect you if you represent your neighborhoods. I’ve seen you vote many times on principal before on other issues and I think this is an issue to the neighborhoods that is a matter of principal.”
“With well connected developers and their attorneys, and an administration that would love to see us start crawling out of our depression, I don’t have a monopoly on the outcome of this,” Shook said.
He went on to explain that council members are going to be told that the development meets the legal criteria as asserted by the planning department, ZRB and some neighborhood members – even ones that don’t like the project.
“They are going to listen to me, some more than others, although there will be some that, the more they become aware with Buckhead’s displeasure with the project, the more enticing it will become to vote for it,” he explained.
“It is zoned residential and they want to change it to commercial. That doesn’t seem like people are acting in good faith with whatever SPI-15 is, however weak it is,” King said. “If that is what the agreement was, that it be residential, the City is not acting in good faith on that. That is the way it comes across and i think that is what is rubbing everybody wrong.”
NPU-B Development & Transportation
Committee Chair Andrea Bennett
NPU-B Development & Transportation Committee Chair Andrea Bennett, who was attending the meeting and supported the actions of her committee and the NPU-B in denying the zoning change for the property, said she heard no real commitment of support from Shook during the meeting.
“If he votes against the zoning change and the development plans, there is at least a chance some other members of City Council will follow his vote,” Bennett said. “But if he doesn’t take a strong stand against it, there is no chance other council members will vote against it.”
Bennett said those that might follow Shook in denying the development plans could be Dist. 6 Councilman Alex Wan, Dist. 9 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, At-Large Councilman Aaron Watson and maybe Dist. 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore. That would provide five votes against. With just three more votes the controversial issue would be denied and go away.
Shook urged those at the BCN meeting to send him emails with their thoughts, but cautioned them to sign their emails. He indicated he does not pay much attention to emails from people who refuse to say who they are.

Atlanta’s quality of life to improve if we transform our ‘red fields’ into ‘green fields’

By VAL PETERSON, first lady of Georgia Tech for SaportaReport.com
Since coming to the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009, one thing I have learned is that the City of Atlanta has truly benefitted from projects created by our students, faculty and alumni.  From our skyline to Atlantic Station to the Beltline, Atlanta would be a very different place without Georgia Tech.
A new project is being proposed by Mike Messner, a 1976 Civil Engineering graduate who grew up in Atlanta and still cares deeply about our city. In Mike’s mind there is far too much non-productive real estate and not enough green space in Atlanta.
Thus, in 2009, Mike and his wife, Jenny — through their family foundation: the Speedwell Foundation — created and funded a program to bring more green space to urban areas. They call it “Red Fields to Green Fields.”
A “red field” is a property that is deeply in the “red” financially. These properties can ruin neighborhoods. Today there are an estimated 27,000 “red” properties in metro Atlanta. They can become hangouts for criminals. They can become a blight to surrounding neighborhoods.
Regardless of how hard homeowners work to keep their houses looking decent, an abandoned house or vacant strip mall in the neighborhood drags down everyone’s property values.
Messner’s solution is to turn “Red Fields” into “Green Fields,” knocking down financially distressed real estate and replacing it with “green fields”—creating parks and green space.
Kevin Caravati, a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, and his team are employing this approach and working to make this vision a reality.
Trees, plants and flowers are filters. They clean the air and cool cities in the summer; and they help with storm runoff and flooding.
Parks help to build community. They make people feel calm, boosting spirits and adding beauty to our neighborhoods. Being in nature can ease the symptoms of depression.
Parks and greenways also make surrounding property values climb. Knock down an unused building and the surrounding property values go up, sometimes up to 200 to 400 percent, researchers have discovered.
The Atlanta Beltline, another former Georgia Tech student’s class project, is one example of Red Fields to Green Fields.
Atlanta was originally a railroad town. Today, there are 22 miles of historic rails that are being pulled up, creating linear parks, playgrounds and bike trails.
Community gardens could also be built on these spaces. A partnership between the Atlanta Beltline, the PATH Foundation (which builds bicycle and walking trails) and Georgia Tech’s “Red Fields to Green Fields” research program to create a citywide initiative should be explored.
When you compare park land in Atlanta with park land in other similar cities, Atlanta ranks near the bottom of metropolitan cities nationally. Only 4.6 percent of Atlanta is parks. We can do a lot better than that, and “Red Fields to Green Fields” can help.
The initiative can help in other ways as well.
Georgia has had more bank failures (70) than any other state due to this economic recession. Many banks that lent aggressively during the housing boom suffered when the bubble burst. The commercial real estate business was growing, but was stopped in its tracks by the downturn—and the economic engine stopped as well. Let’s knock down the Red Fields and get them off the ailing banks’ books.“Red Fields to Green Fields” can help create jobs in Atlanta—jobs to help locate and process purchasing of the land, conducting environmental impact studies where needed, employment for park construction, jobs recycling old building materials and positions for the maintenance and operation of the resulting parks.
These are all real jobs that can be created here and stay here. Messner has proposed that cities form land banks. They would create parks and greenways until the economy improves and we can start building again and add properties to the tax rolls.
US financial institutions have lost over $70 billion in assets since 2007.  If the federal government can loan money at near zero interest rates to banks, why not form a land bank, a public/private partnership to invest in these properties?
The federal dollars could go straight to the land bank to buy properties at the current, discounted rates. This would remove these properties from the banks’ rolls and help to clear bad debt, so they can have resources to lend again. This would lead to the creation of parks and green spaces and elevate property values of adjacent neighborhoods.
Setting aside a small amount of the purchased land to build on and sell would generate funds to help sustain the “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative in Atlanta.
Caravati and Messner have met with individuals from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; U.S. Sen. Johnny Isaacson; the Metro Atlanta Chamber; the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, and Interior; and the White House. Additional meetings are being planned.
And it is my hope that they meet with First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been a proponent of eliminating childhood obesity through her “Let’s Move” campaign. Parks can help kids to be healthy—particularly the one in three who are overweight—by helping them to become more active.
Building the necessary partnerships and consensus for a citywide “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative is similar to problems faced in solving Atlanta’s transportation issues.
We will vote next year on whether to have a penny tax allocated to T-SPLOST, dedicating resources to improve transportation in metro Atlanta. There are so many small entities involved that it was impossible to discuss this and come up with a solution until the state legislature got involved. A list of potential projects was drafted by a roundtable of local leaders.
Let’s take the same approach with a “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative for Atlanta. Such an initiative can make all of Atlanta a better place to live and raise families.

Transportation Roundtable job is much harder because the state doesn’t fund transit

From SaportaReport.com
 

It all boils down to this.
All the hand-wringing that’s going on this week with the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable can be traced back to one player — the State of Georgia.
The Roundtable has until Oct. 15 to submit its final list of projects that will be included on a penny sales tax referendum that will be presented to voters next year. The tax is estimated to generate $7.2 billion over 10 years with 15 percent of that will go directly to local governments, leaving $6.1 billion to be divvied up by the Roundtable.
The leaders in the 10-county region are agonizing over whether it should add $80 million (in addition to the current $100 million) to fully fund the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress buses over the next 10 years by taking away from four other transit investments.
The Roundtable will meet on Oct. 11 to try to find consensus on the four toughest amendments that must be addressed before the Oct. 15 deadline.
An amendment proposed by Henry County Chair B.J. Mathis would remove that $80 million from MARTA’s allocation to keep its system in a state of good repair, from the Atlanta BeltLine streetcar project, from the Clifton Corridor transit line and from Cobb County’s light rail line.
Also on the table is another amendment proposed by Douglas County Chair Tom Wortham to shift $34.5 million from MARTA’s state of good repair to go to fund GRTA’s Xpress buses.
A third amendment, submitted by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, would shift $297 million of funding along Georgia 400 towards expanding MARTA east line along I-20 corridor.
The fourth amendment was proposed by Clayton County Chair Eldrin Bell to invest $350 million in the Atlanta to Griffin commuter rail line, and the proposal has called for reducing all other transit projects by 10 percent to pay for commuter rail.
Watching this agonizing tug-of-war between the various jurisdictions chipping away at proposed transit projects is painful.
And while regional leaders are tempted to turn on each other, the real culprit here is the state and its lack of funding for transit, in particular, and transportation in general.
GRTA is a state agency that was created to be a vehicle for the state to become a regional player in transit. But GRTA has been lobbying to get $180 million from the metro Atlanta tax to fully fund its system rather than rely on any financial support from the state to pay for the regional bus system.
Earlier in the Roundtable process, a dramatic moment occurred when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Roundtable Chairman Bucky Johnson took advantage of a break in a meeting to go see Gov. Nathan Deal. At that meeting, Deal assured Reed and Johnson that he would help the state invest $80 million in GRTA over the next 10 years.
That’s how the GRTA allocation in the project list was reduced from $180 million to $100 million.
Now GRTA backers are trying to restore that $80 million because they say the governor can not make a financial commitment to support the regional bus system because it would be up to the legislature.
Mathis actually called on state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Cobb) to describe the appetite for GRTA funding in the legislature.
“The state has not shown a commitment at this time,” Stoner said. But Stoner added that he did not believe that funding for GRTA should come out of MARTA’s state of good repair, which is essential to having a regional transit system.
Atlanta Mayor Reed said that when the economy recovers, the state will be in a much better financial position than local governments that have a ceiling on what they can collect on property taxes. And he continued to believe the state would rise to the occasion to invest in a regional transit system.
“The governor was willing to try to get it figured out,” Reed said.
The mayor also added that on Wednesday, Oct. 5, the state had “a wonderful meeting around transit governance” — an effort that would create an umbrella entity to oversee all the transit operations in the Atlanta region.
“I think the transit governance conversation really is the key to getting the state interested in long-term funding,” Reed said.
Speaking about the entire Roundtable experience, Reed said: “I never expected this to be an easy process. I focus more on results than the journey.”
For decades, metro Atlanta has been under-investing in MARTA — the region’s largest transit system by far. Most of that can be attributed to two facts — the lack of state funding and the fact that only two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) provide financial support for the system.
Until the state becomes a significant player in transit funding, the region’s leaders will continue fighting over the limited dollars that exist.
And while it would be easy to get frustrated by the situation, MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott has managed to remain hopeful that the process will lead to a favorable outcome for the transit backbone of the region.
“There’s a solution,” Scott said. “We have come too far to have it fall apart now.”

Sembler grocery store plan for Lindbergh and Piedmont area hits a few major approval snags

From BuckheadView by John Schaffner
 

Those who read early in August that a large grocery store might be coming to near the intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Road, and were anticipating their first shopping trip, might want to put those shopping bags back in the closet.
That grocery store, which was anticipated as part of a Sembler Co. commercial retail strip development on 10 acres bordered by Lindbergh, Morosgo and Adina drives has run into a heap of denials for land use changes and likely will be a long time in the future if it happens at all.
At its Aug. 2 board meeting, Neighborhood Planning Unit B approved unanimously two zoning ordinances, which amended the Piedmont commercial corridor regulations to remove a minimum residential requirement for the property. The NPU board recognized the need for a major grocery store to fill a huge void and provide a needed amenity in the area.
From the August NPU-B meeting to its September meeting, the support seemed to dramatically erode. When it came to deciding on whether or not to approve an amendment to the land use element of the 2011 Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the September meeting the NPU board questioned a number of factors.
First of all, while the NPU-B board had been envisioning a Public or Kroger grocery store as part of the development, the Sembler people had mentioned a Wal-Mart Super Store during discussions with the Design Review Committee. That was not acceptable to the NPU board.
Then board members asked to see a site plan for what Sembler was planning to build. They were told there was no site plan and would not be one until after all the approvals for the project. That too was unacceptable to the NPU board members.
The NPU-B board offered attorney Larry Dingle, who attended the September meeting representing Sembler, the opportunity to defer action on the land use amendment request until Sembler could present a site plan for the board to review along with assurances of what the grocery store would be.
The board even agreed to wait for a day or two to hear from Dingle if his client wanted that or wanted the NPU board to vote on a denial of the request. The board had agreed to do a formal vote by email after hearing from Sembler.
Dingle said there was no reason to wait, he knew his client would prefer for and up-or-down vote that night from the NPU on either approval or denial. The NPU board voted 25-9 for denial of Sembler’s request.
The request for the amendment then went before the city’s Zoning Review Board and Sembler asked for a deferment and received it.
The issue of the CDP amendment was up for a public hearing on Sept. 12 and NPU-B chairperson Sally Silver presented that the NPU board had voted 25-9 for denial of the amendment change for this proposed development. Silver told BuckheadView that the city’s staff also recommended denial.
On Sept. 13, the issue again went before the Design Review Committee, which decided it could take no action, according to Silver, because there was no site plan and no support of the proposal by the NPU or city staff.
The issue is destined to again come before the NPU-B Zoning Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 26, and Silver is sure the committee will vote for denial.
According to Silver, the issue is not necessarily dead in the water, but it certainly has been delayed at this point. She said she has placed a call to the Sembler people to see that they plan to do—proceed along the path they have chosen thus far, or make some changes and come back through the process—but she has not yet heard from them.
In August, Silver was one of the most excited over the prospect of having a grocery store in that area. “That is the big important thing that is going to make Lindbergh work,” she said at the time.

Atlanta Forward / Another View: A smart regional plan must prioritize transit

By  Burrell Ellis

At 5.5 million people, the Atlanta region makes up the 10th-largest  metropolitan area in the United States. Over the last 20 years, our region  has been one of the fastest-growing urban centers in the country. This is  largely the result of investments in infrastructure that have not only  created new jobs, but which have afforded us access to the global  marketplace. Our transportation investments, in particular, have kept us  economically competitive and enhanced our quality of life.

Traditionally, cities and counties have individually invested local tax  revenues in infrastructure and then leveraged those investments with  matching contributions from the state and federal governments.
As the federal government grapples with the deficit and the state government  deals with its own revenue reduction, the competition for matching funds has  become fierce. It is no longer Atlanta versus Cobb County, or DeKalb versus  Gwinnett.
With fewer federal funds available to disburse, our key competitors are other  metropolitan communities such as Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and  Seattle. It is those regions that address their needs collaboratively and  smartly that are the most competitive, both in securing federal funds as  well as new industry.
That’s why a smart regional transportation plan … one that addresses the  transportation patterns of the people within the region irrespective of  which city or county they may reside in … is a necessity. A smart regional  plan is vital to our growth, economic prosperity and quality of life.
The most vibrant and sustainable metropolitan areas throughout the world have  regional transit systems. While a 1-cent sales tax cannot fund all of our  region’s transportation needs, a smart plan should prioritize a transit  system that is regionally funded … if that plan is expected to reasonably  reduce traffic congestion and gain the trust of the people it is designed to  serve.
Over the past several months, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable has put together  the framework for such a plan.
Over the next two months, there will be more opportunities for public input  before a final plan is put before the roundtable members for a vote.  Ultimately, the voters within the 10-county region will decide whether they  like the plan and are willing to fund it.
We have a tremendous opportunity to show that Atlanta has grown, not only in  size but also in progress. That will require shared sacrifice and regional  thinking.
 
Burrell Ellis is DeKalb County CEO.