By John Schaffner

Some residents who live along Wieuca Road are unhappy over the plan to build a sidewalk leading to the new Sarah Smith School. They were among the more than 60 North Buckhead residents who turned out for a special meeting on Nov. 13 to hear the Atlanta Public Works Department explain plans for the sidewalk.

The main complaint residents voiced was that they did not feel they were involved in the decision-making early in the process. Secondly, they were concerned about the number of trees that might be removed to make room for the sidewalk.

Five major things were made clear during the sometimes emotionally heated meeting at St. James United Methodist Church:

–The meeting was not called to discuss whether or not there will be a sidewalk. It is going to be constructed.

–The meeting was called to discuss the process Public Works will follow for putting in the sidewalk.

–Beginning immediately, Public Works will contact every property owner directly affected by the construction project.

–This is only Phase I of an overall program for Wieuca Road, designed to get the safety issues near the school settled before the it opens Jan. 6.

–After Phase I is completed, the city will evaluate the rest of Wieuca Road to determine what other improvements need to be made in Phase II to make it safer for pedestrians and to reduce the speed of traffic.

Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook firmly stated: “There is going to be a sidewalk in the public right-of-way. If you don’t like that, I am sympathetic.”

That sentiment was reaffirmed later in the meeting by Atlanta Public Works Director Joe Basista who stated, “This project is about pedestrian safety.”

Construction was to begin by end of the week of Nov. 23 and take 30-45 days.

Answering resident concerns, Basista said the plans call for tucking the sidewalk against the curb to minimize impact on private property. The city normally prefers to have a grass strip between the sidewalk and curb to increase safety on the sidewalk. However, this sidewalk is being treated differently in an attempt to preserve as many trees as possible, even reducing the sidewalk width in some areas to work around a tree.

However, Basista made it clear that trees in the 10-foot public right-of-way will be removed in order make room for the 5-foot-wide sidewalk. He added that the construction work will not intrude on anyone’s private property. There is a recompense replacement plan to make up for the lost trees and shrubs.

In answering a question, Sandra Jenkins, assistant director of Public Works, explained that the sidewalk will not infringe on the bicycle lane along Wieuca, except for a very short area where that lane does not now exist.

Addressing the concerns about residents not being involved in the decision-making, Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, explained that a survey had been sent out to 1,700-1,800 residents within the association’s territory—including Wieuca Road—and 310 were completed and returned. Of those, he said 75-80 percent favored the sidewalk.

Basista explained that the compressed timeline for getting Phase I of the project completed is due to the fact “it took a long time to find the necessary funding for this.” He said it now has to move forward quickly in order to be completed by Jan. 6.

As part of the project, the speed limit along all of Wieuca has been raised from 25 to 30 mph, with the exception of the school zone, where it will remain 25 mph. The 30 mph speed limit allows the Atlanta Police to use radar/laser equipment to issue speeding tickets without granting a 10 mph cushion. The project will also include signage posting the road as a “Residential Zone.”