Voters approve the new city of Brookhaven

The campaign set neighbor against neighbor. Yard signs at one house screamed “yes” while the yard signs next door shouted “no.” Arguments erupted in the state Legislature. Repeated public debates in school auditoriums or living rooms led to intemperate words among residents. Thoughtful letters ran in local newspapers.

Finally, on July 31, Brookhaven’s voters went to the polls and carved a new city from the area sandwiched between Dunwoody, Chamblee, Sandy Springs and I-85. Compared to other city startup elections, the vote was close – just 55 percent of Brookhaven’s voters approved the new city – but it was enough to conjure the 16th most populous city in Georgia.

The new city of Brookhaven opened for business on Dec. 17.

Governor appoints commission to get the city cranked up

Once voters endorsed a new city of Brookhaven, there was plenty to do and very little time to do it in. Certainly there was no time to wait for the election of a mayor and City Council to start work. So, following state law, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a five-member commission to undertake city business before the election of city officials.

The Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven – consisting of Chairman Ben Vinson, J.D. Clockadale, Todd Lantier, Jed Beardsley and Kim Gokce – located office space for the city to rent, sought bids from contractors on city services, met with DeKalb County officials about the timetable for the city’s start and studied the city’s parks and police needs.

At its first meeting, Vinson described the commission as sort of like a city council, only without any real authority or any money to spend.

First mayor and City Council elected

A surprisingly large number of people seemed eager to pitch in to run the city of Brookhaven. More than two dozen candidates filed for the five positions on the new Brookhaven City Council. Four ran for mayor and the remainder lined up for one of the four council seats.

There were so many candidates, in fact, that only one, District 2 Councilman Jim Eyre, won his seat on the first try. The other posts all required runoffs. On Dec. 4, Brookhaven’s voters chose Mayor J.Max Davis, District 1 Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams, District 3 Councilman Bates Mattison and District 4 Councilman Joe Gebbia to join Eyre as members of Brookhaven’s first City Council.

T-SPLOST splats into the pavement

Voters in a 10-county region of metro Atlanta that included Fulton and DeKalb counties sent politicians a message in July by voting down a penny sales tax intended to pay for regional transportation projects. That message? “We’d rather be stuck in traffic than trust you guys with another $7 billion or $8 billion to spend.”

The money was to be spent on a list of specific projects designed to reduce traffic jams by fixing roads, extending MARTA and adding bike and walking paths. The voters shot the program down, with 63 percent voting against it. Now planners and regional politicians are looking for other ways to raise money for the most badly needed projects, such as improvements to the intersection of Ga. 400 and I-285.

DeKalb schools face a tough year

It was a tough year all ‘round for DeKalb public schools.

In February, school officials discovered a $41 million hole in their budget for sales-tax-funded school projects. Part of the problem came from the discovery that the reconstruction of Chamblee Charter High School would cost $10 million more than expected. Also, the district got millions less from the state than it expected.

In July, the school board raised property taxes to balance its budget. In November, an outside audit found that DeKalb administrators did not fire as many employees as the school board ordered them to in 2011 and the salaries the system paid to central office employees from 2010 to 2011 exceeded the budget by millions of dollars, according to news accounts.

As year’s end neared, the accrediting agency AdvancED issued a scathing report on the system, saying board members interfered in school operations and criticizing the system for nepotism and financial mismanagement.

The agency announced it was putting the DeKalb system on “accreditation probation” for a year, meaning it could lose its accreditation – which could be bad news for some kids’ efforts to get in top colleges – if the board doesn’t clean up its act by the end of 2013.

At last, beams rise at Chamblee High

Despite its financial troubles, the DeKalb school system finally did start rebuilding Chamblee Charter High School. The steel frame of a new Chamblee High building began rising on the site of the old school building it will replace. The $72 million project includes a new academic building and natatorium, which are scheduled to be done by December 2013, and a new auditorium building, set to be done in July 2014.

Little Nancy Creek Park opens a place to play

Weeks before it opened officially in April, the playground at Little Nancy Creek Park teemed with children hard at play. Some climbed the play structure. Others slid down slides or swung on the swings. Dozens of youngsters and their parents filled the area — so many that their cars overflowed the parking lot.

The 8,000-square-foot, $155,000 play area’s popularity came as no surprise to parents who live nearby. The 5-acre park on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, they said, sits in the middle of an area that has few playgrounds that families can walk to. “It’s fabulous,” parent Laura Troup said. “It’s a great addition to the neighborhood.”

Zoning

The Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District withstood a major challenge in 2012.

The zoning district includes regulations for new development along Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive, with the intent of making the area more urban and pedestrian-friendly.

But some developers proposed projects that didn’t meet the overlay standards and asked the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals for variances.

One of the overlay’s main requirements is that buildings be constructed no more than 20 feet from the sidewalk. The goal is to make the buildings easier to access on foot, rather than having a parking lot between the building and the sidewalk, as is customary in many suburban strip malls.

Chase bank had hoped to build a branch on Peachtree Road. Chase asked for a variance to build more than 50 feet from the street to use an existing driveway.

DeKalb’s Board of Appeals denied the variances.

“The fact that they stood behind the [overlay] is very significant,” said Kathy Forbes, a member of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance. “It’s a win for Brookhaven.”

A House seat divided: Elena out, Scott in

There were other elections to watch in 2012 besides the vote on the city. The District 81 seat in the state House of Representatives, for instance.

Once the redistricting of the state Legislature was done, state Reps. Elena Parent and Scott Holcomb saw they shared more than a friendship and seats representing adjoining districts in the state House of Representatives. They shared an election district. Republicans redrawing lines for the state House put the two DeKalb Democrats into the same district, so they would face one another in the coming election.

Faced with running against her friend, Parent bowed out. Holcomb won reelection, collecting 55 percent of the vote to defeat his Republican challenger, Chris Boedeker.