By John Schaffner
Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook, who representes a large portion of Buckhead, discussed some of the major issues facing the city—possible changes in the city’s tree ordinance, crime and police staffing, the 2008 operating budget and recommendations for the Peachtree corridor development—before a recent breakfast meeting of the Buckhead Business Association.
Shook said the administration and City Council are in the very early stages of dealing with the 2008 city budget. “I am expecting to see a relatively flat budget” and he said the mayor has assured him there will be no tax increase. He expects the city will continue to roll back the millage rate.
In terms of taxes, the councilman said he did not understand where press reports came from that suggested Mayor Shirley Franklin was going to seek a tax increase to enhance city services. “The mayor is not asking for any tax increase,” he told the group. “She was talking about where she would like the city to be in about 10 years, which would require some additional investment.”
Shook, who was sitting next to the mayor when she made those remarks, said “she plans on going to the state and federal governments and the private sector where appropriate to ask for help.” He explained that the federal government mandates that the city of Atlanta is responsible for providing homeland security for state and federal facilities throughout the city “and that comes with a big price tag. The hope is that the Democratic takeover in Congress will provide a more hospitable climate toward Atlanta and other cities in trying to get some federal help.”
On the issue of the tree ordinance, Shook told the group, “About a year ago, I wrote an ordinance that would allow homeowners to remove one tree in a year’s time without going through all the tree cutting hoops. I did that after hearing too many horror stories about people living in fear of a big tree that hangs over their kids bedroom or people who wanted to renovate their house and there was a tree in the way and they felt they were being mistreated by the city bureaucracy.
“We are all tree huggers,” Shook proclaimed. “I am a tree hugger. I am sure everyone here is a tree hugger.” The councilman told the business crowd, “People came out of the woodwork and there was a lot of condemnation. I have never been associated with a piece of legislation that was more roundly condemned by some and generated more profound thanks and enthusiasm from others who normally pay no attention to city government.”
He said he withdrew the paper “because it was going to get killed if it came to a vote” and the administration wanted a chance to work on it. He said he and Councilmember Mary Norwood, who was attending the meeting, were “startled” recently when one of his colleagues wanted it brought up for a vote. “I think the administration is about ready to make proposals for a compromise. I will support a decent compromise.”
He told the group, “The fear is that a homeowner is going to run out and cut down one tree this year and another next year and so on. I personally don’t think that is going to happen. We are going to work on that. It is going to be ugly.”
He said there is a movement in the Georgia Assembly to take the opportunity away from local governments to determine this issue. “I would rather sit down and work it out ourselves.”
Regarding crime, Shook said Zone 2 Commander Major James Sellers has done a great job. “This is the safest part of the city. The crimes that make the news have really plummeted,” he said. “We are the car mischief capitol of the world. I read the crime reports every week and it is page after page of things being taken out of cars,” he explained.
He told the group that calling 911 when there is a problem is really important “because it has an affect on the number strength of the police force that Buckhead will have. All 12 district council members are fighting for the cops as they graduate from the police academy,” he stated. “When we live in the safest part of the city, it is difficult to make the case that we need more police officers, but we do. We have been sort of losing the battle to get our share out of the police academy.”
Shook said the mayor’s blue-ribbon Peachtree corridor task force should be releasing its report in March. He is hopeful it will include recommendations for creation of parks and greenspace. “Where we see all of this increased density along the Peachtree corridor, everyone needs to be within two blocks of a park,” Shook said. “People in office towers should have a place where they can walk out of their buildings and eat lunch . They can be relatively small spaces that are a combination of hardscape and landscaping. They may be small, but we need one every couple of blocks,” he explained.
“You don’t read about zoning fights in Buckhead anymore,” Shook remarked. “That is because developers have stopped bringing problematic applications . They are paying through the nose to buy property that already has the zoning. We need to basically keep doing what we have been doing,” he concluded.