Ronald Koenraad walked along Brookhaven’s Woodrow Way on a recent Saturday afternoon, pointing to the cracks and crumbling in the granite curbing that lines the road along a resident’s side yard.
“You can see where it’s deteriorated,” the professional house-builder said. “They just don’t work.”
At another stop, Koenraad showed where a large slab of granite curbing has tilted over into a ditch. It was another example of granite curbing failing in the city, he said.
Walking with Koenraad was City Councilmember John Park. Park snapped a photo of the tilted granite curb with his phone and typed in information for Brookhaven Connect, the city’s mobile app that allows residents to report code violations, sidewalk problems or potholes.
Koenraad, who lives in Brookhaven and has been building million-dollar homes in the city since the 1980s, is one of several residential builders in the city unhappy with the city’s policy of mandating developers raise granite curbing to six inches above the road pavement whenever constructing a new home. The granite curbs have to be raised because layers of asphalt from road re-pavings over the years essentially bury large portions of the curbs.
It’s not just granite curbs that have Koenraad and some other city home builders upset. The city requires new 5-foot sidewalks be constructed along with any new home build. This leads to “sidewalks to nowhere,” said Ken Warlick, a Lynwood Park resident and president of the DeKalb/Rockdale chapter of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association.
“Nobody is going to walk down a street with two houses that have sidewalks and three houses that don’t,” he said.
Warlick, Koenraad and several other home builders attended a City Council meeting in November to complain about the city’s policies and decry the enforcement in recent months of the policies after an apparent two-year unofficial enforcement moratorium.
City Council members have discussed their appreciation for the history and aesthetics of granite curbs and noted a policy created in 2015 that ensures the protection of granite curbs in the city.
On his walk with Park, Koenraad said rather than raising the granite curbing, he and other builders should be able to remove them and replace them with concrete curbs and gutters.
It can cost up to $30 a foot to raise a granite curb plus labor costs, Koenraad said. Concrete curbs can cost about $10 a foot. And, he said, smooth concrete curbs are much better for stormwater runoff as opposed to the jagged and separated granite blocks.
But Brookhaven’s granite curbs are part of its history as well as its aesthetic and personal identity. Granite curbs dating back 50 years or more line many neighborhood streets and offer a distinct look. Some City Council members, including Park, are not yet convinced the city needs to completely do away with granite curbs.
But the Community Development Department only provides developers instructions on how to install granite curbs based on a 1970 diagram, Koenraad said. There are no city directions on how to raise them, he said. When builders pull the curbs out from the foundation to raise them to be six inches above the road, they are pulled from their foundation — much like a tooth is pulled from a bone — creating a weakness at the foundation which eventually results in the curb wobbling and settling bent.
In November, several residential builders, including Koenraad, showed up at a City Council meeting to complain about granite curbing and the city’s policy that also mandates new sidewalks be constructed along with new houses.
Park said the City Council is reviewing these policies, but until then, builders will be required to build sidewalks and raise granite curbing. Mayor John Ernst said new guidelines on granite curbing and sidewalks should be ready in April.
As a tax-paying Brookhaven resident, he said the city’s confusing sidewalk policy will cost the city more money in the long run.
The city doesn’t currently have a sidewalk master plan, doesn’t explain in its policies if sidewalks are supposed to be on both sides of the road, or what to do when an entire neighborhood does not want sidewalks.
Warlick suggested the city look at putting sidewalks in high traffic areas and also to correspond with its bicycle and pedestrian plan rather than simply requiring new sidewalks for new home construction.
Warlick pointed to neighboring Sandy Springs, where he has also built single-family homes. The city at one time also required developers to build sidewalks in front of new construction or where a home was undergoing major renovations. That policy created a patchwork of sidewalks throughout the city and builders and residents complained to the City Council.
In 2016, Sandy Springs dropped that policy and now only requires a sidewalk be installed in front of a new single-family home that is adjacent to a road on the city’s Sidewalk Master Plan network.
“Sandy Springs understood what was happening,” Warlick said. “Brookhaven can come up with a comprehensive plan instead of just a sidewalks to everywhere plan.”
For builders who do not want to build a sidewalk, Brookhaven says they can pay into a “sidewalk fund.” To date, no builder has paid into that fund, according to city officials. The cost to be paid to the city is $110 per linear foot of sidewalk, Warlick said. If the new house calls for a 75-foot sidewalk, that’s $8,250 that has to be paid to the city’s sidewalk fund.
Warlick said it costs between $3,000 to $4,000 to put in a 50-foot sidewalk.
“The reality is the builders will not pay into the fund because it’s so expensive and we’re just going to put the sidewalk in,” he said.