John F. Schaffner
Given time, it seems we can always count on certain departments of Atlanta’s city government to raise their ugly heads and produce fodder for some not very uplifting and encouraging stories — stories that always seem to pit the big bad wolf (Atlanta government) against city residents, just trying to live a calm and rewarding life in the comfort of their homes and neighborhoods.
The front page of the last edition of the Buckhead Reporter (Aug. 7-20) had two such stories: “Pipe draws raw emotion, suit from judge” and “Tanyard Creek talks break down.”
The first of the stories dealt with a builder of new “McMansion” homes in the northwest corner of Buckhead on Randall Mill Road who got a permit from the city of Atlanta’s Bureau of Buildings to construct an ugly and dangerous elevated sewer pipe along the property line of the home of 86-year-old U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob and his wife Janice.
Why? Because the neighbors fought and won a battle at Neighborhood Planning Unit A against the builder using septic tanks for the very large and expensive homes he planned.
Because he was denied the ability to put the homes on septic tanks in an area where adjacent properties are on city sewer, the builder sought and received a permit to run a 12-inch steel sewer pipe atop 15-foot-tall concrete posts, through a heavily wooded area for a few hundred feet to connect to the city sewer line on Beechwood Drive.
The pipe is not new. It was constructed in 2008. But the Shoobs have not lost their anger over the intrusion on their enjoyment of their home and environment where they have lived for 45 years. And, nor should they.
Shoob has been a lawyer for 60 years and a judge for 30. During those past 30 years, he has sat in judgment over more than a few water and sewer cases — many of them involving the city of Atlanta.
Now Judge Shoob and his wife are pursuing a case of their own against the builder of the homes, the developer who owns the property under construction, the company that built the pipeline and, yes, the city of Atlanta in order to keep anyone from using the pipe to transport raw sewage, to have the pipe removed and to recover damages.
Aside from the fact that the red pipe perched 15 feet in the air is ugly and has reduced the value of the Shoobs’ property, two engineers from Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management told the judge the pipe should never have been built that way through the woods. They acknowledged it could easily be breeched by a large falling tree and spill raw sewage onto the Shoobs’ property. And, the sewage spill could not easily or rapidly be stopped, because there is no cutoff valve along the pipeline.
The question is not only “why” the pipeline was built the way it was, but also “how” in the world did the Bureau of Buildings, which is part of the city’s Department of Planning and Community Development, ever issue a permit to allow it to be built when engineers with the city’s Department of Watershed Management, which will end up taking control over the pipe’s use and maintenance, declared it a potential disaster.
I know why and how. It is another example of two dysfunctional city departments failing to communicate on a decision that clearly should have involved both. If they did communicate on that decision before the permit was issued, then the situation at City Hall is even worse.
Tanyard Creek Park Trail
The second story on page 1 of our last edition dealt with the PATH Foundation, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and, yes, the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs attempting to totally ignore negotiated plans for the path and construction of the Tanyard Creek-Atlanta Memorial Trail.
What was being ignored by PATH was a compromise that was agreed to last year after years of negotiations between those three entities and the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park , the Atlanta Battlefield Association and neighborhoods surrounding Tanyard Creek and Atlanta Memorial parks.
Literally, hundreds of hours of meetings between the parties, numerous walk-throughs at the parks, designing and re-designing of the trail routes and construction were spent coming to the compromise agreement of last year.
But, in the end, PATH has a tradition of building its trails just the way it wants to, regardless of any agreements it might make with neighborhoods. Ask many who have negotiated in vain with PATH for something better than a cold ribbon of concrete through their backyards and parklands and they will say that PATH’s Executive Director Ed McBrayer is the king of arrogance.
Add to the one camp the equally arrogant leadership of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and the city’s Parks Department, which will bow to the wishes to get just about anything accomplished in the city’s parks so long as it doesn’t cost that department any money, and those Tanyard Creek Park neighbors and friends may have years more of fighting in front of them to preserve the beauty of a historic Civil War battlefield where 6,500 Confederate and Union soldiers lost their lives in part of the Battle of Peachtree Creek.
We can only hope that Parks Department Commissioner Diane Harnell-Cohen can stop messaging and twittering on her cell phone long enough during these new rounds of negotiations to recall she is paid by the taxpaying residents who live around the park and want the trail done right, not by PATH or Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.
One can only hope there is still time for an Atlanta victory on this historic battlefield from the Battle for Atlanta.