By John Schaffner
The year 2010 was a contentious one for many who live in Buckhead. But it also was a year of new openings and opportunities, of new representation on both the Atlanta City Council and Atlanta School Board and, at long last, a glimmer of hope that The Streets of Buckhead will indeed become a reality.
Uproar over water bills
Hundreds of Buckhead residents voiced their discontent over months during the year about water/sewer bills that skyrocketed from tens of dollars to thousands of dollars and from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars—not for the year, but for the month.
On Aug. 23, Atlanta Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Rob Hunter faced an angry group of Buckhead residents at a town hall meeting arranged by Riverwood resident Bill Lucas over the water bills issue. On Sept. 7, Atlanta COO Peter Aman announced that Hunter no longer was running the department and four of his six deputies also were removed.
Hunter had become the focus of Buckhead residents’ rage over the high bills and lack of customer service on the part of DWM employees.
Dexter White was named to replace Hunter as interim commissioner and James Beard was named to a new post of deputy commissioner of finance for DWM.
Aman, along with White and Beard, then met another roomful of outraged residents on Nov.13 and promised that the Buckhead residents would be the first to receive new meter-reading equipment the city had ordered to provide more accurate billing information. Stay tuned for more on this story in 2011.
An Atlanta schools soap opera
A year-long state of crisis at Atlanta Public Schools—fueled by multiple investigations into allegations of student and staff cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests at possibly 58 of the system’s schools—finally was slightly eased in late November with the announced resignation of Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall and a re-alignment of the Atlanta School Board leadership for the second time during the year. A split in among School Board members in the summer led to a leadership crisis that ended up in court.
Reports by the end of the year indicate no Buckhead schools were involved in the alleged CRCT cheating, but what began as an investigation by a hand-picked blue-ribbon panel, escalated during the year first to having Gov. Sonny Perdue appoint two heavyweight prosecutors as special investigators and then further escalating to possible criminal investigations through the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and a federal investigation as well.
This one continues to play out in 2011 as Hall leaves in July and the cheating scandal investigations continue with possible trials down the road.
New Buckhead leadership
January marked changes at City Hall in Atlanta, as well as a new Buckhead representative on the Atlanta Board of Education. But many feel it brought the inauguration of a more Buckhead-friendly mayor, Kasim Reed (below left), even though Buckhead’s favorite candidate, Mary Norwood, lost to Reed by only few hundred votes.
What may be just as important, however, is that Reed’s COO, the man who runs the city departments on a day-to-day basis, is Peter Aman, a resident of the Chastain Park area of Buckhead.
Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook remains the councilman representing District 7, which covers much of Buckhead.
But Clair Muller, who served Buckhead’s District 8 for a couple of decades was replaced by Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean (below, right), who immediately was named chair of the powerful city Finance Committee. The Finance Committee has three Buckhead representatives on it.
Buckhead also sent a new member to the Atlanta Board of Education — Nancy Meister, a Garden Hills real estate agent.
Buckhead looks for parkland
Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook wants to improve Buckhead’s landscape. District 7, he says, is “dead last” when ranked against other city areas by the amount of parkland and green space they contain. So he went to the Buckhead Community Improvement District and Buckhead Area Transportation Management Authority (BATMA) to secure funding and administrative help in doing an inventory of existing and potential parks, green spaces and playground areas. The study will take about a year and hopefully will identify new greens pace opportunities.
Meanwhile, the North Buckhead Civic Association, working with the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood, developed and opened a new passive park, Little Nancy Creek Park, off of Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.
Buckhead Village gets rezoned
The new future look for Atlanta’s Special Public Interest District 9 (SPI-9)—otherwise known as the Buckhead Village, plus a little extra acreage—finally gained approval by the city and its stakeholders in 2010.
It was adopted as a new zoning category. That means it can be used again in other areas of the city that seem appropriate places for urban mixed-use development. The purpose of the SPI-9 two-year study was to come up with a standard for zoning and community planning with parking options, inviting streetscapes and acceptable transitions to neighboring residential areas. The Streets of Buckhead is smack in the middle of this new SPI-9 zoned district.
Theater life back in Buckhead
Buckhead’s old Roxy Theater—vacated and dark for years—was reborn and reopened in May as the Buckhead Theatre after Charlie Loudermilk spent millions of dollars purchasing and renovating the theater where he watched movies for 25 cents when he was a young boy
The theater, located on Roswell Road just north of the intersection of Roswell and Peachtree roads, has already brought many shows to Buckhead, along with a marquee that states “theater district” in bright digital lights and graphics.
The Buckhead Theatre is just one part of a package that is meant to make that small triangle of Buckhead into a showcase focal point for Buckhead. The other part is plans for rejuvenating Charlie Loudermilk Park across the street and in the triangle. That project is being spearheaded by the Buckhead Alliance.
Brookwood focuses on future
The Brookwood Alliance of five neighborhoods worked with the Georgia Tech Urban Design Studio on a year-long study of the Peachtree Road corridor through Brookwood in south Buckhead to come up with a model for future development of the area.
In late November, David Green, a Tech professor of architecture who headed up the study, said the model for Brookwood, combined with a new look at Midtown’s Special Public Interest District (SPI), may become a model for rezoning throughout the city of Atlanta.
The plan addressed street scenes, development and accessibility along the Peachtree Road corridor.
Peachtree Boulevard Phase II
Work began on Phase II of the Peachtree Boulevard streetscape project in May, to mirror the walkable urban environment that was first completed in 2007 between Maple Drive and the MARTA rail station and continuing it north to Roxboro Road.
The project spearheaded by the Buckhead Community Improvement District will bring wider sidewalks with a buffer between the sidewalks and street, a widened street with bike lanes, raised and landscaped medians, limited left-turn lanes, underground utilities, shade trees, benches and street lamps.
The 1.5-mile, $52 million project passes right in front of two of Atlanta’s biggest and busiest malls, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, and through the heart of Buckhead’s commercial district. Road work was halted, however, during the holiday shopping season. Work will resume in January.
Tanyard Creek trail opens
It took years of planning, a lot of haggling and some contentious meetings, but on a warm, sunny April Saturday afternoon, the one-mile stretch of the BeltLine’s Atlanta Memorial Trail through Tanyard Creek Park and Bobby Jones Golf Course was officially opened to nothing but praise. The trail stretches from the CSX railroad trestle at the south end of Tanyard Creek Park, through the park, under Collier Road and through Bobby Jones Golf Club to Colonial Homes.
“This trail was an idea that made a lot sense. It was the execution that took a lot of figuring out,” BeltLine, Inc. President Brian Leary told a crowd of more than 100 gathered in Tanyard Creek Park for the ribbon cutting April 10. “The BeltLine is all about connections” Leary said. “This trail represents a connection between three neighborhoods that you could not get to before.”
Leary said he believed most people would agree “this is first-class.”
Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation that was responsible for planning and building the trail, acknowledged the neighborhood participation: “Had they not been so vigilant trying to protect their park, we would not be the better trail builders we are today.”
Controversy over school site
Told in February that Atlanta Public Schools was going to build a new high school in Buckhead to replace North Atlanta High—which it planned to use for middle school students—parents, civic leaders, real estate agents and residents have been waiting to hear where the new high school would be located.
In October, word got out that the primary site being considered for the new high school was on the north side of East Andrews Drive, between West Paces Ferry and Roswell roads. The 30-acre site is the present home of The Paces Apartments and is owned by John W. Grant III. Grant got a letter from APS telling him the site was being studied for the school and indicating APS would use their powers of eminent domain, if necessary, to obtain it.
Residents, parents, area business owners and civic leaders became outraged and began a letter and e-mail campaign to the APS, school board members and media objecting to that location.
In December, APS sent a letter to Grant saying it no longer was interested in his site. It is now thought the preferred location might be a 50-acre tract known as the IBM site on Northside Parkway north of the intersection with Mount Paran Road. Stay tuned for more on this in 2011.
11 homes bought in flood fallout
A year ago, flooding was the top story in Buckhead. Almost exactly a year later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it would provide the city with $5,507,725 to purchase 11 flood-damaged properties along Peachtree Creek in south Buckhead. The properties will be bought and turned into passive green space—not city parks with swings or benches, but just green space.
Chastain’s new tennis center
The ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 18 at the new Chastain Park Tennis Center at Powers Ferry and Wieuca road marked the opening of the Atlanta’s first public green building built to Earth Craft standards under the city’s new sustainability program.The new center also represents the first of the projects in the Chastain Park Master Plan of improvements to be completed.