Here are the stories that made headlines in Brookhaven this year.
City starts up
The biggest story of the year is undoubtedly the beginning of the new city of Brookhaven. After officially beginning operations on Dec. 17, 2012, the new city council kicked off 2013 with the task of building a city from the ground up. Work began immediately to hire a city manager, a city clerk, and a finance director. Vendors got other departments up and running. Officials enacted a moratorium to give them time to get staff in place before people began applying for permits and inspections. Agreements had to be made with DeKalb County to continue patrolling the streets and operating the parks until the city could get its own staff in place. One of the City Council’s biggest accomplishments was approving a budget that included a $1 million reserve fund without having to raise taxes. The Council met often and celebrated many “firsts” as things began to fall into place.
Police force gets started
One of the most visible – and popular – elements of the new city is the Brookhaven Police Department. The new police force was officially launched on July 31, one year to the day after voters approved the creation of the city. In April, the city hired Police Chief Gary Yandura, formerly chief of the College Park Police Department, and Deputy Police Chief Ron Freeman of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to build the department. The two ordered police cars, uniforms, guns, and other equipment while aggressively sifting through resumes and conducting interviews. Out of 1,200 applications, 156 candidates were interviewed and 59 officers have been hired. Since that time, officers have been patrolling aggressively and made many arrests.
Battling the Pink Pony
Brookhaven City Council started the year off by adopting DeKalb County’s code of ordinances. One of the first the council decided to changes was the adult business ordinance. DeKalb County bans nude dancing and the sale of alcohol, but strip clubs in the county have continued to operate under a settlement agreement that allowed them to get stay open in exchange for large annual fees. Brookhaven’s attorney advised against adopting this agreement and encouraged them to draft a new ordinance. But the one strip club in the city of Brookhaven’s borders – the Pink Pony – said the new regulations would put them out of business. Attorneys for the club urged council to honor the club’s settlement agreement. Council chose instead to move ahead with its new ordinance, and the club sued. A DeKalb Superior Judge this week dismissed the lawsuit against the city.
Century Center/Chamblee Annexation: On July 1, Highwoods Properties, owners of the Century Center office complex, applied for annexation into the city of Brookhaven. The move sparked a turf war between Brookhaven and neighboring Chamblee, which already had included the property as part of a Nov. 5 annexation referendum. Chamblee filed a temporary injunction, and a DeKalb County judge agreed that Brookhaven should have to wait until after the referendum to vote on annexing Century Center. Brookhaven disagreed, and brought on some heavy legal artillery, including former governor Roy Barnes, who filed an emergency motion with the Georgia Supreme Court. The high court sided with Brookhaven on the grounds that a judge should not be able to stop an elected body from voting. However, the court said the rest of the judge’s injunction should stand. On Nov. 5, voters in the unincorporated annexation area south of Chamblee voted convincingly to join the city. Under pressure from the residents, Chamblee officials, and even state legislators, Brookhaven City Council dropped its bid to annex the office complex. In November, the council voted to discontinue any funding for an appeal process.
Zoning Issues: The city of Brookhaven in November launched a full audit of the city’s zoning map after it discovered that the information it adopted from DeKalb County was incomplete. Planning Director Susan Canon told the council she believes as much as 20 years of data may be missing, which leaves the city no choice but to check each parcel to make sure it has the correct zoning data. The issue was brought to light in part by Ashford Park residents angered by a home under construction in their neighborhood. The home is flanked on either side by homes in different residential zoning categories, causing confusion about whether rules governing setbacks apply.
Central DeKalb cities: In the wake of Brookhaven’s incorporation, several groups have announced their intentions to create a city in the unincorporated area south of Brookhaven around the intersection of I-85 and I-285. Three groups – The City of Briarcliff Initiative, The Lakeside City Alliance and Tucker 2014, successfully raised the money to commission studies into the feasibility of their proposed cities. Reports from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia found that proposals for Lakeside and Briarcliff would be feasible.
MARTA development kicks off: In October, people began thinking about what the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station might look like in the future. A planning and brainstorming session was held for architects, urban planners, transportation experts and stakeholders to discuss ways to encourage “transit-oriented development” at the MARTA station.
Andrea Sneiderman : Just days before her July murder trial was scheduled to begin, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced that he would drop the most serious charges against Andrea Sneiderman. Sneiderman had been charged with conspiring to kill her husband, Rusty Sneiderman. Andrea Sneiderman’s former boss, Hemy Neuman, was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for shooting Rusty Sneiderman in front of a Dunwoody day care center. Andrea Sneiderman’s trial proceeded on the remaining perjury charges, and a DeKalb County jury found Sneiderman guilty of 9 of the 13 counts against her, such as lying under oath and concealing evidence. She was sentenced to serve five years in prison.
DeKalb Board of Education: It was a tumultuous year for the DeKalb County Board of Education. In February, Gov. Nathan Deal removed six members of the school board after an accrediting agency put the school system on probation. A report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools cited the school board members with financial mismanagement and meddling in the operations of the schools. Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, a former labor commissioner and state legislator, was brought on to help lead the struggling school system.
Chamblee High School completed: 2013 was the last year students went to class in the long-standing Chamblee High School building. Students will start the new year in 2014 in a brand-new school building.
City takes over parks: In December, Brookhaven made the long-awaited announcement that it had hired a parks and recreation director. Better management of the parks in Brookhaven was one of the main motivators for creating the new city. Ray Holloway, the former parks director from Clinton, Miss., will take over as Brookhaven’s parks and recreation director in January. He will also assist in the parks master planning process, which will create a vision for Brookhaven’s parks for the next 20 years. In September, Brookhaven took over the management of its parks from DeKalb County.