by Jeff Rader
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
When it comes to government action, the best preventive measure is to have a plan beforehand. Otherwise, a rushed decision could require more money and time to cure the problem.
All too often, county governments make decisions in a "silo", that is, looking at only some of the relevant facts. Capital spending decisions are based on the merits of building or upgrading a specific facility. Zoning application decisions are based on the merits of a developer's proposal for a specific parcel. These decisions are often made without the benefit of a relevant and specific comprehensive plan for an area, district or county.
It is cheaper and more effective to plan for the future before making decisions on specific actions. Furthermore, a good plan gives land owners relevant direction for the development or redevelopment of their own property, and a good idea of what is likely to happen in the area.
That is why I am extremely pleased that DeKalb County, specifically District Two, received a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) grant. DeKalb County was one of six recipients in the greater Atlanta region of a 2009 LCI grant awarded by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).
DeKalb County received the largest LCI grant, $120,000. In addition, the county was obligated to provide a 20 percent match in the amount of $30,000. The matching funds came from DeKalb Development Authority ($15,000), DeKalb transportation division ($12,000) and Edens & Avant ($3,000), co-owner of the Toco Hill Shopping Center.
The LCI grants are to help local governments design plans that make their communities or corridors more mobile, walkable, livable and connected to a range of services. The grant for DeKalb County will be used to develop a long-term plan for the North Druid Hills corridor, a 2.5-mile section from Buford Highway to Clairmont Road.
North Druid Hills Road has evolved from a rural byway to a regional commuter gateway primarily for employment centers in Buckhead, Lenox, Lindbergh and the Clifton Corridor. The North Druid Hills Corridor serves as the primary pathway between I-85 and U.S. 78 (Stone Mountain). Because of its central location, above-average median income and aging commercial building stock, there has been increasing development pressure in the North Druid Hills (NDH) Corridor.
Within this corridor, development proposals have been discussed for the Williamsburg Apartments, Toco Hill Shopping Center, a row of investor owned lots on NDH across from Arbor Hills Apartment, DeKalb County school property at Briarcliff, The Park at Briarcliff apartments, former Bell South training center at I-85, and the Executive Park office complex.
In addition, public facility planning processes are underway for Mason Mill Park, a new Central DeKalb senior center, and Kittredge Park/Audubon Nature Preserve. The county is building a new and larger library branch, Avis Williams, in the Williamsburg area. Lastly, there is the Quad Area Study, a plan to expand the green space and improve public access for the quadrants surrounding the intersections of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads.
The goal is to tie the corridor together with a community plan that is responsive to the needs and wants of the corridor's stakeholders. The plan should be a forward-looking document that allows for flexibility and customization.
The corridor is a mixture of traditional, stable residential neighborhoods, commercial enterprises, religious institutions and public stakeholders (schools, library, housing). The NDH Corridor plan needs to be compatible and unique for these distinct character areas.
The corridor is not a unified place, therefore it is not realistic or practical to try to impose uniformity. Some places should be identified for preservation, others for redevelopment. The intensity of land use and development within the corridor should vary substantially from place to place. A key focus will be transportation solutions addressing the congestion in the corridor during rush hours.
Once completed, the NDH Corridor plan will be incorporated into the county's comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan also allows for the introduction of supplemental plans, which can offer more details for a specific node, in a manner similar to the Quad Area Study.
Coordination and implementation of these plans will be a challenge. Perhaps the biggest will be securing the funding to implement recommendations for the public realm, some of which will have expensive price tags. Nonetheless, it is easier to build a case for funding and to spend such money efficiently when a well-crafted plan is in place, rather than to engage in piecemeal development, which has been the historical pattern. One big advantage will be eligibility for special funding through ARC to implement the transportation recommendations.
The planning process will include a series of public participation sessions throughout this year with the goal of presenting a completed plan to the ARC by the end of this year. The transportation division of DeKalb County has been assigned to coordinate the planning process. One way to keep abreast of the schedule for the community meetings is to go to my web site (www.commissionerrader.com) to sign up for e-mail updates.
Special thanks go to Debbie Schneider, our policy analyst, who worked many hours and consulted with many people, to craft and refine the LCI application on behalf of District Two. DeKalb County won the grant because of Debbie's contributions and she will continue to be involved as we go forward with this promising project.
To view the LCI application, a 20-page document, follow this link: