The vision for the city of Dunwoody as it heads into its second decade was a major theme in 2019, from the election of a new mayor and two new City Council members, to packed community meetings to discuss the future of Dunwoody Village. Worries about planned toll lanes along the top end of I-285 and their impact on the city and school overcrowding also made news.

New mayor, City Council members elected

Mayor-elect Lynn Deutsch.

Lynn Deutsch beat Terry Nall to become the fourth mayor in the city’s history, and the first woman. Deutsch campaigned on a vision that includes moving beyond just providing basic services to create a city where people want to live, work and play. Vibrant commercial areas, multiuse paths and sidewalks for more connectivity, an arts and culture scene are included in the vision that Deutsch said residents have been consistently telling her they want to see in their city. Community activists Stacey Harris and Joe Seconder campaigned on many of the same issues, winning seats in contested races.

Backlash against I-285 toll lanes

Dunwoody resident Bob Wolford stands in a narrow Georgia Department of Transportation right of way in the Georgetown neighborhood that could be consumed by the new toll lanes. He is among the residents worried about possible land-taking and noise impacts to homes and community facilities. (Dyana Bagby)

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to build toll lanes along the top end of I-285 brought out many residents to community meetings to voice their concerns about land-takings, noise, pollution and quality of life. The City Council included $50,000 in its annual budget specifically to pay for professional services it may need to mitigate the impact on property owners in the Georgetown community along the path of the planned toll lanes. A resident’s online petition urging GDOT to not build the lanes was signed by Deutsch and Councilmembers John Heneghan, Tom Lambert and Pam Tallmadge. Deutsch later backed off total opposition to the project and said the city wants to work with GDOT to lessen the impacts to residents and businesses.

Parents, city angered by school overcrowding

Some of the trailers added at Dunwoody High School over the Independence Day holiday weekend. (Dyana Bagby)

The addition of more portable quads, commonly called trailers, at Dunwoody High School over the Fourth of July holiday week sparked renewed community backlash against DeKalb County Schools. Parents organized to pack Board of Education meetings to voice their complaints about school conditions and make demands the City Council find ways to intervene. The city stood by its stance that it has no authority over the school district, paying for a new legal opinion saying so. Redistricting for the new Austin Elementary School was also a flashpoint for many parents, who worried their neighborhoods would be divided by new school maps, negatively affecting their children and their property values.

Revitalizing Dunwoody Village

Howard Wertheimer writes a note to add bike lanes to stick to an illustration of a possible streetscape design in Dunwoody Village. (Dyana Bagby)

The City Council approved in December a six-month moratorium on new development in the Dunwoody Village Overlay district as a rewrite of zoning regulations is underway. The rewrite is part of an update to the original master plan for the area approved in 2011. Packed meetings and community surveys showed there is a great deal of interest in reviving the area to establish a true downtown district that would include open green spaces, multiuse paths and store fronts. The commercial areas of the overlay are owned by private companies, so zoning recommendations being made now are intended to guide future redevelopment. Some residents and officials say they also support investing tax dollars into making improvements to Dunwoody Village. A final draft of the zoning rewrite is expected to be completed in early 2020.

High Street gets $19M tax break

An illustration of the planned High Street central park area. (Special)

The long-dormant and massive High Street mixed-use development in Perimeter Center got a $19 million tax abatement for its first phase from the city’s Development Authority. The developers say the tax break would help them get the financing they need to potentially break ground in the spring. The entire $2 billion High Street project that has been stalled for more than a decade would be built on 42 acres of property at the northwest intersection of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Drive, near the Sandy Springs border and the Dunwoody MARTA station. The mini-city would span 10 city blocks and include 8 million square feet of residential, retail, restaurant, hotel and office space.

No to new EMS zone

An American Medical Response ambulance in DeKalb County, from the company’s Facebook page.

A state subcommittee charged with reviewing DeKalb County emergency management system after the city continued to raise concerns about slow ambulance response times said there was no need to create a separate EMS zone. The city wanted a new zone in north DeKalb because of ongoing slow response times by the county’s provider, American Medical Response. The county stationed more ambulances in the city to try to provide better coverage and came up with a new contract that now includes different response times based on the severity of the 911 call. AMR was awarded the new five-year contract in December.

LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance

The City Council in June unanimously approved an ordinance that bans public businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people, making Dunwoody one of several metro Atlanta cities to do so in 2019.

Religious symbols banned from City Hall

Religious symbols including holiday trees and menorahs were banned from the City Hall lobby and other public areas of city buildings. The vote came after a resident requested to put up a Nativity scene at City Hall after seeing the lobby decorated in 2018 with a tree and menorah over the holidays.

Additional protections approved for cyclists, pedestrians

City Councilmember Tom Lambert.

An ordinance that adds protections for cyclists and pedestrians beyond what state law requires was passed by the City Council in November. Dunwoody is believed to be the first city in Georgia to pass a “vulnerable road user” ordinance that mirrors much of state law, such as ticketing a motorist for not stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk. The city’s ordinance, however, includes enhanced penalties for violators. They could be sentenced to up to six months in jail, made to pay up to a $1,000 fine and have their driver’s license suspended. The penalties could be waived if the motorist takes a court-mandated driver safety class.

Property tax revenues flatten, raise budget concerns

The City Council approved a “tight” $39.5 million budget for 2020, as concerns about slowing revenue growth due in part to homeowner tax breaks were raised by some city officials. More than 30% of the general fund’s revenue comes from real property taxes. The general fund pays for day-to-day operations of the city, such as paving, parks and police. In 2019, the city’s tax digest was a record $4 billion, but exemptions were also at an all-time high of $882 million. That means 21% of Dunwoody’s total value of property was exempted, decreasing overall revenue by approximately $2.4 million a year. A resident with a house valued at $450,000 pays $286 a year in city taxes.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.