Friday, December 16, 2005

Why a City of Dunwoody

Why a City of Dunwoody

In the decades to come, will Dunwoody be the kind of community to which our children (or grandchildren) will want to return to raise their children?

Neighborhoods, schools, churches, and caring, family oriented neighbors. These are the things that make Dunwoody what it is -- things we should work to preserve and make better.

Who will be the better stewards for our community in future years? The CEO and county commission? Or neighbors whom we elect to serve as mayor and city council members?

If the latter, then we should incorporate to take control of our own destiny – to shape our own vision for the future.

A related question worth pondering: How would Dunwoody be different today if we had incorporated ten years ago?

Government Closer to the People. Smaller, more responsive, government is better. It is closer to the people. The CEO and each commissioner serve 700,000 and 140,000 residents, respectively. DeKalb is larger than six states. The mayor and each council member will serve 40,000 and 8,000 fellow Dunwoodians, respectively.

City Limits. Tentatively, the city boundaries are 285 to the south, the Fulton line to the west and north, and the Doraville city limits to the east (i.e., homes in unincorporated DeKalb west of Peachtree Industrial Blvd.).

City Services. Dunwoody will take over zoning, parks, code enforcement, police, roads, and fire. Dunwoody pays more for these services than the county spends. A new city would keep the revenues currently paid to the county. There will be no “duplication” of services.

The county must continue to provide these services for up to two years after Dunwoody starts to operate. This allows time to plan.

County Services. The county will continue to provide other services such as water, sewer, sanitation, courts, sheriff, and health department.

Feasibility Study. We are raising funds for an independent feasibility study by the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA. The cost for a full study will be $50,000. The study will project revenues and expenses. Expenses depend on the level of services desired.

Taxes. The city charter likely will cap the millage tax rate. It could be raised only by referendum.

Partner With Sandy Springs. The two city councils could work closely together and partner for the delivery of services, allowing the larger Dunwoody community, including the Sandy Springs “panhandle” along the river, to remain cohesive. We could also contract with the county to buy services from it.

Parks and Green Space. Dunwoody contributes about $4 million per year. For every $5 we contribute, we get about $1 back. That’s why Dunwoody voted 75% against the recent bond referendum. A City of Dunwoody could have opted out of the referendum. On the downside, some fear that the county might withhold the $11 million pledged from the bond referendum.

Dunwoody would negotiate to buy Brook Run and the Nature Center, just as Sandy Springs is now buying parks from Fulton. Dunwoody could create new parks and green space. For example, for several years we have looked for a way to build a natatorium. A city could make it happen.

Zoning, Congestion, and Overcrowded Schools. The explosive growth of apartments continues. A developer could tear down older office buildings in Dunwoody Village and build apartments without further review. Meanwhile, the county commission is pushing low-income housing to be built in Dunwoody.

The result is congestion and overcrowded schools. For example, Austin is already well over capacity at 680 students and the BOE projects the population at 1,369 in seven years. The other elementary schools have similar projections. If these projections are correct, Dunwoody will need four new elementary schools, not one.

The county is not working to abate the growth. The county has failed to close the zoning loophole that allows 5 story apartments to be built without review. At the last DHA meeting, an attorney for a large apartment developer presented plans for another 330 apartments on Ashford Dunwoody. The attorney is a law partner of one of the county commissioners.

Police. The precinct on Ashford Dunwoody serves one fifth of DeKalb. The officers there spend a disproportionate amount of their time outside of Dunwoody. Dunwoody pays for more than it gets. The City of Dunwoody could choose to increase staff to reduce response time, address speeding (particularly in school zones), or simply create a safer environment.

Support for Community Organizations. The City of Dunwoody could support organizations such as the Stage Door Players, the Spruill Center, and other new community organizations.

Home Values. City residents will see increased home values as a result of the city’s efforts to preserve and improve our family oriented neighborhoods, schools, and churches.

Time Line. With republican control of the governor’s office and the general assembly, we have a window of opportunity that might close with this November’s elections. We are considering the following timeline: (a) pass a city charter this spring, (b) complete the feasibility study by July 2006, (c) conduct a referendum in late 2006 or early 2007, (d) elect city officials in July 2007, and (e) start operations in December 2007. This timeline allows sufficient planning time in accordance with recommendations from Sandy Springs representatives. During this time the county would continue to provide all services.

Please volunteer to work on the steering committee, contribute funds, and help solicit funds. Email

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

City of Dunwoody Proposed

December 6, 2005
By Cathy Cobbs
For The Crier

Following on the heels of the successful incorporation of the city of Sandy Springs, several local leaders are floating the idea of creating a city of Dunwoody. State Sen. Dan Weber (R-Dunwoody) held an informal meeting at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church last week with a hand-picked group of local activists and outlined his analysis of financial and political reasoning behind the move to incorporate Dunwoody.

“As I present these facts, I’m going to try to be objective, but, at the same time, I’m going to admit I’m biased,” Weber told the group of about 50 attendees. “I want a city of Dunwoody and I think we need it.”

With a series of storyboards and power point slides, Weber laid out demographic facts and financials regarding the idea. The city would stretch south to I-285, north and west to Fulton County and east to Gwinnett County, with a population of about 40,000 people.

Emphasizing that the projections are extremely preliminary, Weber said his analysis indicates that, maintaining current levels of service being provided by the county, a City of Dunwoody would generate about $25 million in revenues, while cost of operations would run about $15 million.

“These are very rough numbers,” he emphasized. “This is just a starting point.”

Weber listed several pros and cons to forming a city. On the positive side, he said, it would provide an opportunity to develop a greater sense of responsiveness to the needs of citizens, the ability to complete more quickly the master plan for Brook Run Park and expand other area parks, local control over zoning issues, the opportunity to build community spirit and a chance to provide better police services.

On the negative side, he said, the effort would take time, money and the commitment of many to make the city a reality, a concern that a city of Dunwoody might not be able to provide a high level of services to its citizens, that taxes might have to be raised to achieve the city’s objectives, and the possibility that the projections of a surplus may not be accurate.

Another important factor to consider, Weber said, is the fact that schools in the Dunwoody area would not be autonomous. State law dictates that schools remain under the auspices of the county, regardless of an area’s incorporation.

However, he pointed out, having control over zoning laws would help regulate the amount of new housing in the area, and thus regulate growth. Currently, there are more than 2,000 apartment and condominium units being planned or under construction in the Perimeter area, which will strain the area’s already overcrowded elementary schools.

That construction is moving forward at a rapid pace as a result of a loophole in the O & I zoning, which allows developers, without any form of rezoning procedures, to tear down office properties and construct an apartment complex of five stories.

DeKalb County District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer, along with members of the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association, has been working to close the loophole, but the issue has not been resolved.

The next steps, Weber said, would be engaging a feasibility study by an independent entity, one that would cost about $30,000. Following a decision to move forward would mean the forming of a charter, which the Georgia Assembly would have to pass. The initiative would have to be voted upon with a referendum, possibly in late 2006 or 2007.

After lengthy discussion, the meeting was adjourned without a decision regarding the next step.

After the meeting, DHA president Ken Wright said he was intrigued by the idea of a City of Dunwoody, but said the DHA had not taken an official position on the matter.

The DHA board did, however, decide at its Sunday meeting, to listen to a presentation at the group’s annual meeting in late January.

Wright said that he saw merits in the formation of a city, but added that DeKalb County also provides good services, with some exceptions.

”DeKalb County is certainly a great county, and seems to overall have efficient operations, but I’ve personally had many sleepless nights about the ongoing zoning issues, like the O&I apartment loophole,” he said. “I have personally seen that the O&I loophole has had an extremely detrimental effect on our community.”

Wright emphasized that the issue is more about Dunwoody than DeKalb.

“This isn’t about DeKalb County,” he said. This is about our community. The question is, would we be better off in 10 years as a city of 50,000 or as a county of 700,000? I don’t know the answer to that question, but if the residents of Dunwoody-DeKalb to individually decide whether forming a city would be something they would favor, then they need to step up to the plate and be vocal and financially supportive of that initiative.”