There are several reasons for this prevailing dissatisfaction with the Dunwoody City Council. The first and most obvious is the unwillingness of members of the Dunwoody City Council to listen to their constituents about important issues. There have been many meetings of the Dunwoody City Council where fundamentally sound and practical and common sense alternatives were recommended by many Dunwoody citizens during public comments that were completely ignored and never even acknowledged by city council members during their subsequent deliberations that very same evening about the important issue under consideration. Repeated letters to the editor, countless e-mails and the recent Save Dunwoody poll of 1,327 Dunwoody residents have all been essentially ignored. In this respect, the Dunwoody City Council can be described as similar to a flock of 7 ostriches out along the beach somewhere with their heads buried in the sand surrounded by hundreds or thousands of Dunwoody citizens trying to talk to them - unfortunately to no avail. Occasionally a few bicycle riders come along and the ostriches lift their heads to listen and accommodate them.
The second and less obvious reason for this disconnect between the Dunwoody City Council and Dunwoody residents and voters is the lack of a strategic master plan that recognizes the key differences between the agenda needed for the PCID area and the agenda desired and needed for the non PCID area that is primarily residential and often with more narrow streets. Both of these areas are distinctly different with different requirements and desired objectives. Regardless of whether PCID or non PCID, it is important to recognize that members of the Dunwoody City Council do not have the management experience or background necessary to risk taxpayer funds in real estate development projects. For example, last year the Dunwoody City Council negotiated a multi - million dollar joint venture called Project Renaissance even though the developer John Wieland Homes was essentially bankrupt or at least in very precarious financial condition. Most Dunwoody residents and taxpayers feel that real estate development is the job of the private sector.
The third reason for this disconnect between the Dunwoody City Council and Dunwoody residents is the indiscriminate use of taxpayer state and federal grant funds that typically come with requirements that often result in projects that are not practical and not favored by the vast majority of Dunwoody citizens and voters. These grants have become to members of the Dunwoody city council what opium and heroin are to drug addicts. Use of these taxpayer grant funds are strongly encouraged by the Atlanta Regional Commission as a way to circumvent the overwhelming defeat of T-SPLOST and thereby promote their agenda piecemeal in many cities and counties. However, the smart play is to carefully and selectively use grants to help fund projects that are both practical and needed and are also favored by the vast majority of Dunwoody residents – and not use grant funds for impractical projects that involve requirements to accommodate a very small minority at the expense of and disadvantage to the vast majority - a philosophy of government not favored by most Dunwoody residents and voters. The end result of spending for unpopular grant projects is that it often takes funding away from other spending priorities such as basic road repaving programs that are badly needed and definitely favored by the vast majority of Dunwoody residents and voters. Another undesired end result of implementing these unpopular grant projects is the complete change to the unique character and charm of the Dunwoody residential community we have known for many years that continues to attract people as it has for decades. Indeed, if we stay on our current course, the Dunwoody we know will be gone.
Let us look at the Dunwoody Village Parkway project in particular. This very unpopular project was approved on August 27 last year by the Dunwoody City Council in a meeting reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live comedy show. Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch had previously acknowledged 90% of her e-mails were running against the project - nevertheless she voted for it. Councilman John Heneghan said he had not reviewed the alternatives prepared by the staff and therefore did not know how they would work even though one alternative allowed keeping both the 4 lanes and center median with sidewalks - nevertheless he voted for the project because of support from the business community – support that was very dubious had he done his homework as we shall see. Mayor Mike Davis along with Councilmen Denis Shortal and Doug Thompson stated the purpose of the project was to promote and stimulate economic development but acknowledged during the meeting they had no idea if the project would ever generate any economic development – nevertheless they voted for the project.
Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman Bill Grant in public comments just prior to the vote at the August 27 meeting said the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce had completely and abruptly changed its position stated just two weeks prior in public comments and that the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce now unanimously supports the Dunwoody Village Parkway project. What he did not reveal was that the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce did not actually have a meeting to discuss this alleged unanimous support of the project. It should be noted that some members of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce do not even live in Dunwoody and none of them actually have a business along the Dunwoody Village Parkway and none of them ever discussed the project with the businesses along the Dunwoody Village Parkway - nor did anyone from the city of Dunwoody - contrary to the blatantly false statements in a city brochure and the city website. Any such discussions would have obviously revealed information that Goodyear and Ace Hardware delivery trucks would no longer be able to make deliveries if the parkway were reduced to only 2 lanes. What was definitely not revealed at this August 27 meeting was that the Simpson Group shopping center had already informed the Mayor and Councilman Terry Nall that they had no intention of following the master plan behind this project. Moreover, another brochure entitled “City of Dunwoody – Comprehensive Plan” states the master plan for Dunwoody Village Parkway “should embody the unique character of Dunwoody” – a statement so incorrect and false it is actually an oxymoron – it does the direct opposite. With the irrational and senseless deliberations at that August 27 meeting and many other meetings, it should not be surprising that most Dunwoody citizens no longer have confidence in the decision making ability of the incumbent Dunwoody City Council.
About 5,500 cars per day use the Dunwoody Village Parkway and most of them are local residents that use the Village Parkway for easy and convenient travel. There are often times when one lane is backed up a long way with cars waiting to turn onto Mt. Vernon or Chamblee Dunwoody while traffic moves very quickly in the other lane. if the Dunwoody Village Parkway is reduced to only 2 lanes, then it is obvious to most people the free flowing traffic in the other lane will be eliminated and add to the long lines in the other backed up lane. The resulting slower traffic along the Dunwoody Village Parkway will only serve to increase the traffic gridlock at the main intersection of Mt. Vernon and Chamblee Dunwoody. For this reason, a Dunwoody police officer recently stated it would be a mistake to reduce Dunwoody Village Parkway to only 2 lanes from 4 lanes and that Dunwoody needs more lanes – not fewer lanes. The center median with trees has provided an attractive landmark that serves as a safety buffer to reduce traffic risk with openings for turns at convenient locations. It should be noted that traffic studies usually render the conclusions desired by the entity paying for the study – developers do it all the time. The best traffic engineers are the collective wisdom of the 5,500 + Dunwoody residents who use the Dunwoody Village Parkway every day – and 5,500 cars with passengers is a large percentage of the Dunwoody population.
For these and many other reasons, a recent Save Dunwoody poll with 1,327 responses shows that 78% of Dunwoody residents want to keep both the 4 lanes and center median with trees. While some individuals and bloggers have different alternative ideas about the Dunwoody Village Parkway such as eliminating 2 lanes and keeping the center median or keeping the 4 lanes and eliminating the center median, etc., these individuals are part of the 22% that generally favor the project. The vast majority of 78% want to keep both the 4 lanes and center median with trees – keep the basic footprint and convenient travel we have had for many years. Most of these 78% recognize the underlying tenet of this approved project is that it basically eliminates 2 lanes to accommodate a very few bicycle riders. Most of these 78% opposed to the project also recognize that the Dunwoody Village Parkway has not been kept up and needs to be improved with repaving and landscaping to make it better – and many feel the private sector – the shopping centers and merchants - should be encouraged to contribute to making additional improvements including sidewalks.
To be sure, the vast majority of Dunwoody residents are in favor of changes and improvements that actually make things better – however most residents are not in favor of changes that make things worse - as this Dunwoody Village Parkway project would do. These observations are based on 1,327 responses to the save Dunwoody poll that eliminates duplicate responses to ensure the integrity of the poll. These 1,327 poll responses are a meaningful number to measure the sentiment of the Dunwoody community and equal 16% of the votes cast for mayor in the November 2011 election and 22% of the votes cast for mayor in the subsequent runoff election in December 2011. These observations are also very consistent with over 400 hundred unedited poll comments posted on the SaveDunwoody.com website and the reported countless discussions at grocery stores, drug stores, barbershops, nail salons, gas stations and other places throughout Dunwoody. The message is the same everywhere - Dunwoody residents do not favor the Dunwoody Village Parkway project approved by the Dunwoody City Council – period. There is also another message – Dunwoody residents and voters want the Dunwoody City Council to start representing their interests – not just the agenda of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the bicycle riders.
Jim Dickson is a longtime Dunwoody resident who likes to tell it the way it is.