I. Welcome & Introductions
Tom Tidwell called the meeting to order at about 6:45 PM. A quorum was not present.
II. Chairman’s Remarks
Tom Tidwell recommended that future meetings of BCN start at 6:50. He also recommended that the committee/liaison structure be reviewed. See item VIII.
III. Approval of Minutes
Minutes for the November meeting were not approved due to the lack of a quorum.
IV. Admit New Member Neighborhoods
No neighborhoods asked to be admitted to BCN. Pedestrian bridge looking east over GA 400 towards the Stratford Road area.
V. Special Guest Speaker:
Brian McHugh, Director of Transportation and Planning, Buckhead Community Improvement District
Brian’s presentation was organized around a project map from their web site at www.buckheadcid.com. The official boundaries of the BCID are shown in blue shading. The BCID includes almost all of the Buckhead Forest neighborhood and the southern part of North Buckhead as well as parts of Peachtree Park and other neighborhoods. Each dot on the web site’s map is a link to more information about the project. Brian discussed these dots and other items as listed below.
- GA 400 / Lenox Gateway
- Buckhead MARTA Station expansion and pedestrian bridge over GA 400
- Buckhead Village Streetscape Redesign
Peachtree Phase 4 Buckhead MARTA Station expansion and pedestrian bridge over GA 400 The new pedestrian bridge will connect the Stratford Road and Tower Place areas to each other and to the northern expansion of the Buckhead MARTA Station. Brian said the accessibility of the new bridge will result in a few thousand more riders a day. The bridge was supposed to be completed by December 31, 2013 but it appears that schedule will be missed. Buckhead Village Streetscape Redesign The BCID has received permits from the City and GDOT to update the streetscape along Peachtree Road from East Paces Ferry Road to Bolling Way (opposite Loudermilk Park from the Buckhead Theater) to match the streetscape of the adjacent Oliver McMillan project. East Paces Ferry Road is also being redone with new sidewalks and new trees. On-street parking on East Paces Ferry will remain. Sidewalk bump-outs will be employed at some E Paces Ferry crosswalks to calm traffic and to reduce the distances pedestrians need to walk to cross the street. These improvements should be completed by February 2014, before Oliver McMillan’s Buckhead Atlanta opens in July. GA 400 / Lenox Gateway This project involves a “complete street” treatment for the Buckhead Loop (Lenox Road) and the beautification of bridge over GA 400 and to make changes to support the GA 400 Trail (PATH400), which will be bringing more pedestrians onto the area west of GA 400. The project will also transform the area so that motorists will get the sense that they are already in Buckhead rather than being at an intersection leading to Buckhead. There will be a pedestrian crossing along Lenox Road over GA 400. On the south side the crossing will be for pedestrians only. On the north side the sidewalk will be 10 to 12 feet wide, accommodating pedestrians and bicycles and will resemble a continuation of the GA 400 Trail. Since the free-flowing traffic onto and off of GA 400 ramps is not to be discontinued, it is not at all clear how pedestrians and biker will safely transit the entire GA 400 area – Brian calls this “our biggest issue”. Some funding will come from the BCID and grants are being sought from the Gateway Program of the State Transportation Board. Preliminary plans to route the multiuse trail to Peachtree Road suggest using a Phipps Boulevard and Wieuca Road route rather than Lenox Road. Peachtree Safety Issues The City and GDOT recently had a series of meetings about safety issues about Peachtree from the Brookwood Interchange north to the Buckhead Village. The area experiences double the average accident level because not every intersection has a dedicated left turn median. Traffic lanes are also close to the sidewalks. Consideration is being given to reducing the number of lanes from three 9-foot lanes in each direction, to two 11-foot lanes in each direction plus a median/left turn lane plus a 5-foot bike lane in each direction. Midtown is working on a bridge beautification project. GDOT is working on some segments. The BCID is working on some northern segments. Plans are still evolving and public briefings will be held before work is done. Impact of GA 400 Tolls and New I-85 Ramps Brian said traffic on 400 has increased but it is holiday season and it is not clear yet how much is due to the holidays and how much is due to the absence of tolls. He said the ARC had predicted a 12% increase in traffic with tolls removed; GDOT thought it would be 20%. Brian thought one or both estimates may be high. The higher traffic on 400 and the Buckhead Loop would be offset by less long distance traffic on Roswell Road and other routes parallel to 400.
At first Brian said, in answer to a question, that traffic on the Buckhead Loop would be reduced when the new ramps from I-85 to GA 400 opened. After a long series of questions Brian agreed that the new ramps from/to I-85 would increase traffic on the Buckhead Loop in the immediate vicinity of GA 400 while reducing traffic on surface streets leading to/from I-85.
Q: The islands on the Buckhead Loop are not marked and road striping doesn’t indicate that they are there, so vehicles often hit them. Is the CID going to mark them to make them safer? Brian said the BCID wasn’t involved but that Tony Peters (BATMA/BCID/LBI) had been working with GDOT to look into the issue as a “maintenance item”. He didn’t know the current status but that GDOT was OK with the idea and that improvements in markings and signage were planned. He said that BCID might have to pay for it if GDOT doesn’t.
Q. Mercy Sandberg-Wright asked if the BCID was involved in the lane markings on West Paces Ferry near Peachtree, East Andrews and Slaton. She said two eastbound lanes turn into one. She commented that a builder has taken some of the street for a year, so far. Brian said the City of Atlanta was involved and that the markings are not working as intended. He said his office had been flooded by complaints that workers weren’t able to cross to get lunch at Whole Foods. He said the city had a contractor working on resurfacing and that they made the changes to facilitate pedestrians and bicycle traffic. He said the city thinks the changes have traffic calmed the area and that it is actually safer. Mercy said it’s not. Brian said they will have their consultants try to come up with a better plan.
Q. In response to Kirk Oppenlander’s question about solutions to traffic on West Paces Ferry near Peachtree, Brian said there would be “a big burst” in traffic, mainly residential and retail, over the next two or three years and as a consequence, like other cities, the rush hour will get longer. He said it’s not possible to change West Paces Ferry to a four or five lane road, but that if it were expanded it would be like GA 400 with more cars on it. Brian said that he is available to brief civic associations at their monthly board meetings. His email is email@example.com and his phone is 404-842-2693.
VI. Committee and Liaison Updates
The committee/liaison structures were discussed, as indicated below. The Property Taxes and Redistricting liaisons were eliminated.
- Tom Tidwell asked if there was support for getting a Facebook page. Tom felt no one used web sites any more based on his recent political campaign. Others disagreed about Facebook. Dan Whisenhunt suggested a “Facebook group” because a Facebook page was advertising oriented and a group can have a specified membership. He recounted some of the problems that businesses have with Facebook if they don’t buy ads. Tom Gordon asked about ”NextDoor”. Barbara Kennedy didn’t think that NextDoor was the right place for BCN to try to communicate with other neighborhoods. She preferred Facebook. Gordon Certain said there are two kinds of people: those who use FaceBook and those who use web sites – concentrate on one and you miss people in the other. Walda Lavroff wondered if we really wanted to reach the many people on FaceBook. After much discussion, there was no conclusion.
- Tom Tidwell indicated he wanted to be Education liaison. He reported that the new BOE seemed to be very reform-minded. Glenn Delk reported that the old BOE approved its first conversion charter school, to be managed by an independent 501(c)(3), at Centennial Place. The BOE will have two seats on the board. Georgia Tech and Coca Cola are also involved. It will be a K-8 school. He also reported that the Atlanta Classical Academy’s efforts to use Wieuca Road Baptist Church’s facilities may be at risk because of traffic access issues.
- Did not meet. No report.
- Tom thought it was really important to get someone active in membership. No one is assigned now.
- Gordon Certain reported that Park Pride had awarded several matching grants to Buckhead parks. A $100,000 grant was awarded to Mountain Way Common for basic infrastructure including a 220’ pedestrian bridge above the 100-year floodplain. Little Nancy Creek Park received a $100,000 grant for a pavilion. Other awards included $92,250 to South Fork Conservancy for signage. $5,000 grants were awarded to Blue Heron Nature Preserve and Sibley Park.
- Barbara Kennedy reported that she thought that Tad Linder should be removed from the Public Safety Liaison since he is no longer head of his neighborhood association and that Kim Kahwach had not been involved in the committee’s work in years. Gordon Certain reported he was asked to represent the Buckhead area in a police recertification hearing at APD Headquarters in November. The Atlanta Police Department was seeking renewal of its accreditation through CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies). Accreditation by CALEA represents compliance with the highest standards of public safety excellence. Representatives from four other parts of the city participated.
Transportation, Development and Infrastructure
- Ron Grunwald reported that the Deering Road project is complete. He understands that the Northside water main replacement from I-75 to its end near Moore’s Mill and the Collier intersection project will start in 2014.
VII. Committee Assignments
Chair Tidwell recommended that the committee/liaison structure be streamlined and that the personnel assignments be reviewed. Changes were made as shown at the top of page 2 and as discussed in VI, above.
VIII. Mission Statement
Tom Tidwell explored the question of what we want BCN to be. How can we increase our political effectiveness? He felt that if we could increase voter turnout in Districts 7 and 8, we can get more attention from local elected officials. He thinks that starts with membership, getting all the neighborhoods involved and attending. Tom referred to the draft Mission Statement that he prepared, shown below slightly edited. Draft MISSION STATEMENT FOR BUCKHEAD COUNCIL OF NEIGHBORHOODS BCN’s mission is to provide a more unified and stronger voice to address and protect the common interests and quality of life issues shared by all of the individual Buckhead neighborhoods, such as education, transportation, traffic, community development, and government services; and to enhance our neighborhoods’ influence in the larger arena of local government politics and funding. By providing an independent forum for homeowners and neighborhoods to share common concerns and propose solutions for community betterment, BCN hopes to create an effective vehicle for making headway on larger Buckhead-wide issues. BCN will thus empower our neighborhoods to address matters in a more unified and influential manner that will get positive results. Kirk Oppenlander noted that the NPU system tends to limit cross-Buckhead Neighborhood communication. That was one of the original reasons BCN was formed. Neighborhoods in one part of Buckhead were less likely to know what’s going on in other parts unless they happened to be in the same NPU. A lot of our problems transcend NPU boundaries. Kirk said the draft mission statement was a good summary of BCN’s purpose. Further, different NPUs have different constituencies: while almost all NPUs have residential board members, in NPU-B half are business representatives. Further NPUs have a focus on zoning issues and when the economy slows down, participation drops. Walda Lavroff said a problem with the NPUs is that every NPU has its own bylaws and they don’t have any coordination at the city level or any guidance there. She said there is very little coordination between NPUs because they are not talking the same language. Kirk observed that NPU-B has a committee based structure whereas NPU-A has an executive board structure. Tom felt it was extremely important to BCN’s effectiveness to get all Buckhead neighborhoods to join, noting that only 26 of the 43 neighborhoods belonged. Gordon Certain, pointing to the map in the November minutes, noted that the vast majority of Buckhead’s territory was already made up of BCN member neighborhoods. Many of those neighborhoods which did not belong to BCN were small or didn’t have an active civic association. He thought BCN already had enough neighborhood participation to be effective. He thought BCN had done well and is strong. The question was asked if we had a count of households that were represented in BCN. Tom thought it was a good question. Gordon: We don’t have households but we do have population – “my neighborhood is 8,270 people”. [I checked the statistics after the meeting and found gaps in population counts, especially for neighborhoods with fewer than 500 people. However, I estimated that roughly three quarters of Buckhead’s 78,000 residents are in BCN-represented neighborhoods. –Gordon] Gordon suggested that to boost recognition of BCN’s presence he would recommend BCN putting together a BCN publication that we could distribute electronically to the neighborhoods. Right now we have emails distributing minutes and a web site, and that’s about it. Tom Gordon said, “That’s a thought.” John Schaffner said, “one of the things you could do is communicate with the media, which you don’t do. You sent out an email two or three days ago about Brian speaking tonight. There wasn’t any time to get anyone interested in coming to this meeting.” Tom said he was all about communication and letting people know what we’re doing. We know who our speakers will be next month (Commissioner Shelby and Roxanne Smith). John said a lot of people don’t understand that BCN’s board meeting is a public meeting. Barbara Kennedy said she had tried to get other neighborhood involved. She said some of the neighborhood leaders have no interest. She thinks it would be a good idea to focus on them again because leadership in many neighborhoods changes once a year. One president might say, “I’m not coming to a nighttime meeting.” The next president might say, “Tell me more about what BCN does.” Tom agreed. We need somebody to reach out to very active neighborhoods like Springlake, Wildwood, Castlewood, and Peachtree Park. He thought there were about eight neighborhoods – “not a huge amount of work”. John suggested asking each of the NPUs to send a representative to BCN meetings. Tom asked, “Should we have an NPU committee?” There was discussion of condos which were not represented by neighborhood associations becoming “vertical neighborhoods”. The situation in southern Buckhead was mentioned, where new development has spurred many residents to want to get involved in neighborhood associations because of issues like traffic. Tom said he needs help in coming up with interesting and relevant speakers so that more people will want to come. Tom thinks he can get the Board of Education members more involved in BCN meetings. Tom mentioned the web site “Financial Deconstruction” – he said that the site’s analysis of the recent election was “spot on”, that District 4 (~Buckhead) would decide the election. He said that is exactly what happened and that Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Jason Estevez were on the board purely because of us – they got about 70% to 80% of our vote. It was suggested that Public Works should be asked to return again. Ron Grunwald said it was important that BCN have an agenda. We need to let elected officials know that “we’re here, we’re interested, we represent a big block”. But not only should we get Public Works here, we “should get GDOT, our elected officials, we should get everybody sitting at a table and listening and talking with each other here”. BCN should be proactive and get ahead of issues, because everybody has been sleeping for three years now. He said NPU-E meetings used to be an hour; now they are 3½. With all of the development that’s going on in south Buckhead, in three years we are going to have a big mess down there. He said that there is so much going on but the City does not have a plan – they do not prioritize based on where the development is coming. We have to influence that process more. Tom said the same thing is true of education. We need to have the collective body that has a lot more knowledge than any individual. Tom said it is so much easier to try to shape legislation than it is to try to change it after the bureaucrats have decided what they want to do. Kirk thought it was important for BCN also to be involved in land use issues – he thinks we should have BCN representatives attending NPU meetings. John commented that BCN doesn’t have a lot of impact with the business community. He said we really need to have more impact. He suggests, January 16 Dean Oliver, head of Oliver McMillan is going to speak to the Buckhead Business Association for their annual luncheon meeting. Maybe the BCN Executive Committee ought to have a table. Have a presence. A lot that is going on in this area is driven by business and the neighborhoods need to be in touch with it. John said the Buckhead Business Association has a seat on the Buckhead Coalition. This organization with 26 neighborhoods ought to have a seat on the Buckhead Coalition. Kirk supported the importance of active involvement, recalling the stalled I-85 interchange at GA 400 – nothing happened for years. Then Jim King contacted our congressional delegation about it, involved Ed Lindsey, had congressional staffers here at BCN, had the head of the State Road and Tollway Authority talk to BCN and BCN was ultimately instrumentally responsible for getting the ball rolling. Gordon agreed, saying 19 BCN neighborhoods signed petitions supporting completion of the interchange, a package which we were able to hand to GDOT and elected officials and tell them ”we want that interchange”. He said, other people got the awards for it, but we paved the way for it to happen. Tom Gordon said, “It doesn’t matter who got credit for it!”
IX. Community Concerns/New Business
Tom Tidwell announced that henceforth BCN meetings would start at 6:45 PM.
XI. Next Meeting – January 9, 2014
XI. Adjourn – The meeting adjourned at about 8:30 PM.