The mayor and City Council saw plenty of ups and downs in 2016, from being forced to settle a federal lawsuit to a brief but bitter battle with the Dunwoody Homeowners Association over conflicts of interest for members serving on city-appointed commissions.
There were plenty of high points as well, including the purchase of the city’s own City Hall building and the opening of a new park in Georgetown.
Here’s a look at some of the top stories in Dunwoody during 2016.
Theater at Brook Run Park demolished
After years of debate and efforts by activists trying to save it, the theater at Brook Run Park finally came down. City Council voted in July to demolish the theater and, in September, the council approved spending $227,000 to bulldoze it. The years-long effort to save it came to an official end in October, when the building was razed.
Danny Ross and the Brook Run Conservancy pleaded with council members at numerous meetings throughout the year to give them time to raise the millions of dollars needed to renovate the building and transform it into a performing arts and community center. Council members responded by saying the Brook Run Conservancy had had years to raise the money, but had failed to do so.
A dramatic last-ditch effort to save it occurred at an October meeting with some 20 supporters donated more than $114,000 in checks. The council voted to save the historical stained glass windows that were located in the chapel. The theater was once part of the Georgia Retardation Center, which closed in the 1990s.
DHA vs City Council
A battle brewed for months between the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and City Council after Mayor Denis Shortal on June 17 enacted a directive made in executive session forcing DHA board members who also served on city boards to resign from one or the other. The reasoning? Possible conflict of interest and the potential for lawsuits against the city.
The DHA fought back, hired its own attorney who determined such a policy gave a “Star Chamber” feel to city government. The city also hired its own outside attorneys to back up its city attorneys who opined there was a definite conflict of interest for a DHA board member to also serve on, say, the Planning Commission, because developers often appear before the DHA before submitting proposals to the city.
Backlash forced the City Council to quickly back off enforcing the policy. The State Attorney General’s Office ruled in September that City Council violated the Open Meetings Act during the June 13 executive session, when the policy was discussed. In the end, it was determined the mayor appoints people he wants to city boards and can simply not appoint DHA members.
State Rep. Tom Taylor arrested for DUI
State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) made headlines in April after he was arrested in Rabun County and charged with DUI. Taylor was stopped April 7 for driving 72 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone with four juveniles, all exchange students, in his SUV. His blood alcohol content was .225; the legal limit is .08. Taylor did not fight the DUI and was sentenced to community service. He issued a statement saying he regretted the incident.
Taylor was opposed in the GOP primary by Tom Owens, a political gadfly, but the incumbent easily defeated his challenger. Taylor faced no opposition in the November election and was easily re-elected to his third term in the Legislature.
A new City Hall
You can’t fight City Hall if you can’t find it. Now residents will have a much easier time locating the home of city government at its soon-to-be new home at 4800 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, on a main road corridor near Perimeter Mall. The current City Hall is at 41 Perimeter Center East, tucked into an expansive office complex that some say is hard to find. Cost for the new building is right at $8 million. Plans are to relocate to the new site in early 2018 after renovations and repairs are completed.
The city first announced the purchase in May of the two-story, 45,000 square-foot building that has housed Community & Southern Bank and other businesses. Four businesses remain in the building while city officials negotiate to find them new locations. The building will house City Council’s chambers, administrative and staff offices, and the police department.
State Farm receives $34 million in tax breaks
The Dunwoody Development Authority approved $34 million in tax breaks for State Farm, which plans to build two more high rises at its regional headquarters on Hammond Drive in the Perimeter Center and adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA station.
State Farm had originally sought a $15 million tax abatement for the building now nearly completed, but backed off after bad press and questions from some authority members. State Farm said it needed the tax incentives so it could begin construction on the new buildings in 2017, rather than the original start date of 2019.
The authority also gave preliminary approval to a tax abatement to Transwestern to build an office highrise across the street from State Farm on a small unused portion of Perimeter Mall’s parking lot. City Council only approved 16 stories for the building, rather than the requested 20 stories. No word yet on what Transwestern will do, according to city officials.
Pernoshal Park opens
On April 29, City Council members and residents gathered for a ribbon cutting for the opening of the city’s newest park. At approximately five acres, Pernoshal Park is the largest newly-built park created since the city’s incorporation. In addition to a multi-use trail, the park has a centralized pavilion/restroom facility, 162 parking spaces, passive and active open areas/fields for sports, and basketball courts with a pickleball court overlay. Plans for the park date to 2012 when the city began Project Renaissance, a public-private partnership to develop some 35 acres in the Georgetown area.
Austin Elementary and baseball fields
City Council voted unanimously Nov. 14 to enter into an agreement to swap Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields to the DeKalb schools for Austin Elementary and $3.6 million in cash. The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of negotiations between the city and the DeKalb County school district to find a place to build a new Austin Elementary School to help ease the overcrowding in the district.
The city will use the money to build two new baseball fields at Peachtree Charter Middle School. The fields will be used by the school and Dunwoody Senior Baseball league.
The new Austin Elementary School will be built in Dunwoody Park, adjacent to the Dunwoody Nature Center and where the current baseball fields are located. The city will get the land where the school now is located and plans to renovate it into a park space.
Crown Towers withdraws development plans
A proposed mega-development including four towers and hailed as the “gateway” to Dunwoody was pulled from City Council’s agenda May 23 when representatives for the developers said they were uncertain their rezoning request would be approved. The mixed-use development included a 35-story residential tower and 29-story hotel for a total of 380 residential units and 150 hotel rooms at the former Gold Kist site. There were ongoing disagreements with developers and city staff about how many of the residential units would be owner-occupied and how many would be rentals.
Manget Way case ends
City Council voted 5-2 on July 10 to settle for $850,000 a pair of lawsuits brought by the Center for Discovery over denial of the company’s planned treatment facility on Manget Way for teen girls with eating disorders. The city’s insurance covered $600,000 of the settlement. In 2014, The Center for Discovery purchased a house on Manget Way that was approved by a city official as a “family personal care home.” Many neighbors fought the facility and convinced the Zoning Board of Appeals in June 2014 to reverse the decision, leading to the lawsuits.
City settles police lawsuits
The city in March settled for $135,000 three federal lawsuits that claimed Dunwoody Police Officer Dale Laskowski conducted unconstitutional searches, including the use of a Doraville K-9 unit against three men during traffic stops in 2013. The city denied any wrongdoing. A fourth lawsuit was filed against the officer in August by a man also alleging an unconstitutional traffic stop in 2014. That suit still is pending. None of the four men were arrested or charged with any infraction.
The department changed its policy to require an officer to get a supervisor’s approval before requesting a K-9 unit. The department also now follows a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states, “absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” Laskowski remains on the force.